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Alka-seltzer?


#1

Ok, I confess to occasionally watching “Queer Eye for the Straight
Guy” - one of my guiltier pleasures on the rare occasion when I
actually watch TV.

The other night, in the little style tips at the end, there was a
comment about making your cufflinks sparkle by dropping them in a
glass of water with some Alka-Seltzer tablets.

I’ve heard of using denture cleaner, but not anything like
alka-seltzer. The active ingredients are:

  • Aspirin
  • “heat-treated” sodium bicarbonate
  • citric acid

In water, it basically becomes “sodium citrate” and “sodium
acetylsalicylate.”

Now I realize that citric acid can be used as pickle… is that
what’s going on here? or is there some additional chemical magic in
this formula that makes it work? Will it work on both gold and
silver?

This is just the type of tip I like to be able to give clients…
like the baking soda/aluminum foil tip for cleaning silver. But I
also like to understand the science behind it a bit.

Thanks!
Karen Goeller
@Karen_Goeller


#2
This is just the type of tip I like to be able to give clients...
like the baking soda/aluminum foil tip for cleaning silver. 

Can you, please, elaborate on this “magic”? what does it do? Thanks
for sharing.

Ayalla D.


#3

Aluminum Foil, Baking Soda, and Salt: Place a sheet of aluminum foil
in the bottom of a pan, add 2-3 inches of water, 1 teaspoon baking
soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Add silver pieces, boil
2-3 minutes, making sure the water covers the silver pieces. Remove
silver, rinse, dry, and buff with a soft cloth. This method cleans
the design and crevices of silver pieces. Toothpaste. To clean off
tarnish, coat the silver with toothpaste, then run it under warm
water, work it into a foam, and rinse it off. For stubborn stains or
intricate grooves, use an old soft-bristled toothbrush.

Source: http://doityourself.com/clean/silver.htm

Why does baking soda, aluminum and boiling water remove silver
tarnish?

First, we need to understand how and why silver tarnishes. Silver
undergoes a chemical reaction with sulfur-containing substances in
the air. Silver combines with sulfur to form silver sulfide, which is
the black tarnish you find on silver. Remove the silver sulfide, and
the silver is bright again. The easiest way to remove the tarnish is
a chemical reaction that converts the silver sulfide without removing
any of the silver.

Oxidization is when a molecule loses electrons. Aluminum has a lower
ionization energy (energy required to remove electrons from an atom
of the element) than silver. When the aluminum is oxidized, the silver
gains the electrons. Depending on the amount of tarnish, the silver
will be bright and the aluminum foil may be brown with tarnish. The
silver tarnish is “transferred” to the aluminum via a chemical
reaction.

The silver and aluminum must be in contact with each other because a
small electric current flows between them during the reaction. This
type of reaction, which involves an electric current (because atoms
are charged), is called an electrochemical reaction. Source:

http://creativekidsathome.com/activities/science_experiment1.shtml

Seasons Greetings,
K. David Woolley
david.woolley@unb.ca


#4

Hi Karen,

This is just the type of tip I like to be able to give clients...
like the baking soda/aluminum foil tip for cleaning silver. 

If you are referring to using this “tip” to remove tarnish then you
need to be recommending washing soda (sodium carbonate) not baking
soda (sodium bicarbonate). One actually works to remove tarnish the
other doesn’t.

James Binnion
@James_Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


360-756-6550


#5

This is just the type of tip I like to be able to give clients…
like the baking soda/aluminum foil tip for cleaning silver.

Can you, please, elaborate on this "magic"? what does it do?
Thanks for sharing.

Sure!

Use either an aluminum pie pan or a glass dish lined with aluminum
foil. Place your silver in the pan so that it’s in contact with the
aluminum and sprinkle with a fair amount of baking soda. Add hot
(almost boiling) water and allow to soak until all fizzing stops,
even when you sprinkle in more baking soda.

As I understand it, it sets up an electrolytic reaction that removes
the tarnish from the silver.

It works and gives off a slightly sulfury scent (I always tell my
clients to expect that so they aren’t surprised).

Enjoy!
Karen Goeller
@Karen_Goeller


#6
Use either an aluminum pie pan or a glass dish lined with aluminum
foil. Place your silver in the pan so that it's in contact with
the aluminum and sprinkle with a fair amount of baking soda. Add
hot (almost boiling) water and allow to soak until all fizzing
stops, even when you sprinkle in more baking soda. 

Calgon water softener, liquid or powder, will take the place of
washing or baking soda. Make sure you get water softener, not any
other Calgon product. We just use room temp water to make it, and use
it at room temp. We have a retail store and do hundreds of sterling
pieces each week. If you leave the foil in the solution, the foil
dissolves over time.


#7

Karen,

This is just the type of tip I like to be able to give clients...
like the baking soda/aluminum foil tip for cleaning silver. But I
also like to understand the science behind it a bit. 

Isn’t it washing soda?

J. S. Ellington
http://www.jsellington.com


#8
Use either an aluminum pie pan or a glass dish lined with aluminum
foil. Place your silver in the pan so that it's in contact with
the aluminum and sprinkle with a fair amount of baking soda. Add
hot (almost boiling) water and allow to soak until all fizzing
stops, even when you sprinkle in more baking soda. 

Now, I’ve heard that if you do this too often, it can pit the
silver. Is that true? I’ve never actually tried it myself because of
that reason.

Elizabeth Schechter
RFX Studios


#9
you need to be recommending washing soda (sodium carbonate) not
baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). One actually works to remove
tarnish the other doesn't. 

Jim, I don’t like to contradict you, but I’ve done this treatment,
using baking soda, and it does work. Possibly washing soda would
work better, I don’t know, but bicarb does get the job done. One of
those things that “may work in practice but will never work in
theory”?

Noel


#10

Washing soda vs Baking Soda

Karen,

You are correct baking soda does indeed work for this tarnish
removal technique.

In the mid eighties I first got one of the “magic” tarnish removal
plates ( a cleverly packaged piece of perforated aluminum) while
visiting in England. I was told that you must use washing soda
(sodium carbonate) with it and not baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
and warm water so I dutifully have been using washing soda with this
method and have been told by others that you must use washing soda
and even noted that the packaged version of this tarnish remover
sold by Rio Grande also includes washing soda. This was the basis for
my post about using washing soda vs baking soda. I never was very
impressed with its ability to remove tarnish however. So after
making my previous post and then reading the links from David
Wolley’s post I went out to the shop and tried an experiment, two
beakers filled with 500 ml water and two tablespoons of washing soda
in one and two tablespoons of baking soda in the other. Both heated
to a low boil and a sheet of aluminum foil and a sheet of sterling
silver “tarnished” with liver of sulfur placed in both. The one with
the washing soda started releasing huge amounts of bubbles as soon as
the aluminum foil was placed in it and it very quickly removed all
the black from the sterling sheet. A second sheet foil and silver
were likewise placed in the baking soda solution and once in contact
with the foil and aluminum it too started to bubble but with much
less vigor. However it also cleaned the tarnish away in short order.

Upon removal from the solution both sheets of silver were free from
tarnish but a very dull looking surface was created by the process
that required the use of a brass brush and some soapy water to
return the shine to the sterling sheets.

I followed this experiment with a second one where I placed my
wedding ring, a yellow,red and white gold with etched sterling
mokume band that was badly discolored from recent work with liver of
sulfur and just general abuse in the container of sodium carbonate
and water with the aluminum foil and was quite amazed with how well
it cleaned it. It removed all the gunk and grime from the ring as
well as the tarnish. I am guesing that the huge amount of bubbling
really helps with the grime removal as well as the electro galvanic
tarnish removal. The gold areas on the ring were bright and shiny
after removal from the solution but the sterling was dulled but
tarnish free.

I then got some copper brass sterling mokume and patinaed it with
the liver of sulfur and placed it in the both soda solutions. They
both attacked the patina but did not remove it rather it was left as
a soft wrinkled layer that was easily brushed off but the copper and
brass were not returned to their normal clean color but were easily
cleaned up with a little pumice paste and a toothbrush.

So my experimental results

Both Washing soda and baking soda work. Hot water makes a huge
amount of difference in the effectiveness of the process. With the
heavily tarnished surface the surface after cleaning was dull and
almost burned or etched looking but with a burnishing from a brass
brush a shine was returned to the surface but I would not call it
"good as new". I do not know how different it would be with a more
lightly tarnished surface but at least it was no longer black.
However I would probably suggest to clients to follow the tarnish
removal with a polishing with a stiff paste of baking soda and a
rouge cloth if they happen to have one.

James Binnion
@James_Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


360-756-6550


#11

Hey James,

I have used plain ol’ baking soda and aluminum foil with hot water
(always in a glass or plastic container) to remove tarnish from
holloware. It works. Maybe we need our resident chemist (John from
NZ) to explain.

Judy in Kansas


#12

The only way baking soda and foil will work is if you add salt.


#13

What a wonderful and informative posting, James… thank you for
doing the experiments! (I was hoping to get around to it after the
holidays, now I don’t have to!)

Now… can anyone shed any light on my original "Alka-Seltzer"
question? (i.e., if/why it supposedly works to clean silver… does
it work to clean gold… etc.)

Thanks!

Karen Goeller
@Karen_Goeller


#14
Both Washing soda and baking soda work. Hot water makes a huge
amount of difference in the effectiveness of the process. 

Thanks for the controlled experiment, Jim, as well as the tip about
cleaning gold. I neglected to mention in my post on this subject
yesterday-- whoever first told me about the soda-foil-hot water
trick also specified adding about a tablespoon per gallon of
dishwashing soap, so that’s what I do. I haven’t done a side-by-side
so I don’t know for sure that it makes a difference, but it might
help.

Noel


#15

Hi Noel,

I've done this treatment, using baking soda, and it does work.
Possibly washing soda would work better 

As I mentioned in my followup post I had been told repeatedly that
only washing soda would work. That was the basis of my first
response. However my little experiment showed me that both wold work
so once again I learned something from this wonderful forum.

Jim

James Binnion
@James_Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#16
The only way baking soda and foil will work is if you add salt.

I did not add salt and it worked in my test.

James Binnion
@James_Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#17
Now, I've heard that if you do this too often, it can pit the
silver. Is that true? I've never actually tried it myself because
of that reason. 

In my studio experiment the other day I found the surface finish to
be attacked by the process. I think it will depend on how much
tarnish is there. In the pieces I used I heavily tarnished them with
liver of sulfur, they were black. As tarnish is a chemical reaction
between the silver and sulfur and the silver is turned into silver
sulfide I imagine that the reaction in this process may actually
dissolve the silver sulphide from the piece and leave the silver
below it free from the sulfide but pitted where the sulfide layer
was.

Jim

James Binnion
@James_Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#18
Now... can anyone shed any light on my original "Alka-Seltzer"
question? (i.e., if/why it supposedly works to clean silver...
does it work to clean gold... etc.) 

Alka-Seltzer is primarily made of sodium bicarbonate, citric acid,
and asprin. All of these “ionic” cleaning methods rely on creating a
PH shift to kick the reaction off. It’s just a different delivery
method. Maybe the citric acid acts as a weak pickle effect.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL
@Ron_Charlotte1 OR afn03234@afn.org