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Polishing tarnished thin sterling silver chain

Thanks very much for your thoughts about selling gold. For me it was
just a one-time thing since I don’t do any gold work as a hobbyist.
I did weigh each type of gold before sending it to them so I did
have a pretty good idea of what to expect and I am satisfied that
they did what they promised on their website.

I have a very thin sterling silver chain that is tarnished. It is so
small that I think trying to polish it with a buffer will be
difficult to do without risking damage. I wonder if there is some
other way to remove the tarnish safely.

Thank you in advance! You are all so gracious with your advice and
help! It means a lot to be able to “confer with the experts” on such

John in Indiana

chains and power buffers don’t mix…you could injure yourself if you
don’t know what you’re doing (using a vise to hold the ends is
sometimes equally dangerous when using a flexshaft or micrmotor and
handpieces -your chain being fine, can slip out of even "soft jaws"
placed on the vise’s heads).

…Try a simple “sunshine” brand cloth. (rio grande or any number of
vendors:, even fire mountain gems and beads (a beaders site) etc-)
Also your local jewelery stores sometimes stock them -at a 2.5 retail
mark-up though! it has microabrasives and does the trick easily,
quickly and safely I actually eccommend this above all other cloths
it can be used on any metal and helps prevent tarnish if the piece is
stored properly after cleaning…

There are unfinished wooden tools specifically made for chains (a
section of a baseball bat cut into 3 for mandrels will work, or a
very large dowel will also do.) and using. compound on a cloth,
clean the section of chain by wrapping it around the tool holding the
ends and gently pulling it round the base…An ultrasonic bath will
also do. Whatever non-power tools you have that are safe given your
degree of expertise will take off heavily deposited tarnish

You can remove tarnish from silver using a bath of hot water, sodium
carbonate and aluminum.

Place some aluminum foil in a glass or ceramic container. Cover it
with very hot water in which you’ve dissolved a fair amount of sodium
carbonate. Dip the silver into this “bath”. Make sure the silver
makes contact with the aluminum foil. When clean rinse the silver
with water and leave to dry. You might need to give it a gentle rub
with rouge to brighten it.

Sodium Carbonate is sold in the laundry section of the supermarket
as washing soda or water softener.

Here’s the paragraph about this process from Richard Gardner
Antiques’ website:

"A safe method of cleaning plated items without removing the
silver is to use a chemical dip. Lay aluminium foil in a plastic
bowl and place the item on it. Wearing protective gloves,
dissolve half a cup of sodium carbonate (washing soda) in two
pints of very hot water and pour it over the item. The solution
will bubble as the corrosion is transferred chemically from the
object to the aluminium. After a minute or two, remove the
object from the solution using wooden tongs or a wooden spoon and
rinse it under hot water, dry and burnish it immediately. This
dip can also be used for copper and brass but do not clean
different metals in the same dip and never dip inlaid or
enamelled pieces."

John- Do not use a buff.

You can do this a couple of ways.

1: Dunk in cyanide and rinse. Then put in a tumbler.

2: Place a small amount of baking soda in the palm of your hand.
Then gently rub the chain with it.

Jo Haemer

Whatever you do don’t polish the chain with a buffer. Dangerous.
Either use a tumbler, or dip it in the solution that cleans silver,
bought at Wal marts, etc. Or use the Japanese polishing cloth,
Sunshine Cloth from Rio. Another suggestion is dental powder cleaner
with a brush and then baking soda in addition.

Chemical dips do indeed remove silver!

The following article is from my Web site:

Dangerous & Destructive Chemical Dips

As a silver restoration and conservation specialist, I have many
years of knowledge about chemical dips. I routinely receive objects
for refinishing due to damage from these horribly destructive

Chemical dips, such as Tarn-X, work by dissolving the tarnish (and
silver!) on an object at an accelerated rate. Dips are used by silver
restorers when heavy black tarnish cannot be removed with liquid or
paste polishes. Chemical dips are wiped over the object with a
cellulose sponge or cotton ball, as submerging the piece for long
periods will remove factory-applied patinas and cause pitting of the
object’s surface. These surface defects will act like a sponge and
more readily absorb tarnish-producing gases and moisture. The object
may then require professional polishing to restore the original

Chemical dips are made up of an acid and a complexing agent. Acids
are corrosive and will damage niello, bronze, stainless steel knife
blades, and organic materials such as wood and ivory. The ingredients
can also be harmful to the user, which is why silver restorers wear
nitrile gloves and work in a well ventilated area. Chemical dips
should never be used on objects that have sealed components, such as
candlesticks and trophies with hollow feet, or teapots with hollow
handles. Once the dip leaks into the cavity through small holes or
imperfections in the joints, it becomes virtually impossible to wash
the chemical out. If you’re working on a baby cup with this type of
rim, do you really want an infant drinking from it after using

The following is from their own MSDS:

"Potential Health Effects…

Routes of ExposuRe: Eyes, Skin, Inhalation and Ingestion.

Target Organs: Blood, liver, bone marrow, thyroid, reproductive
system. Probable carcinogen and mutagen: Thiourea causes cancer in
rats. Wash hands thoroughly after use.

Eye Contact: Can cause blurred vision, redness, pain, severe tissue
pain, and eye damage. Effects may vary depending on length of
exposure, solution concentration, and first aid measures.

Skin Contact: Causes skin irritation.

Inhalation: May cause mucous membranes and upper respiratory tract
irritation. Symptoms may include burning sensation, coughing,
wheezing, laryngitis, shortness of breath, headache, nausea, and

Ingestion: Harmful if swallowed. May cause gastrointestinal
irritation with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. May cause burns to the
digestive tract.

Chronic Effects: Prolonged or repeated exposure may cause
reproductive and fetal effects. Laboratory experiments have resulted
in mutagenic effects."

For all the above reasons, this cleaning technique should only be
used by individuals with training in its proper use.

Jeff Herman

Try lying the chain on a cotton towel and use a moist cellulose
sponge with Tarni-Shield or Twinkle (both are extremely gentle
polishes with anti-tarnish ingredients) and follow the length of the
chain. Turn the chain over and do the same on the other side with a
clean part of the sponge. Since with warm water and pass through a
cotton towel to dry and set the tarnish protectant.

Jeff Herman

There are a couple or should I say there were, I’m not sure of the
current status is all, products that are made for just dipping your
fine jewelry in to and then wiping them off. and like magic the
tarnish is gone. If memory serves me correct one of the products was
called “Dipit silver polish.” I’m fairly certain there are still
other dip it type of polishes available.

John (Jack) Sexton

I hold a chain, “top and bottom” with a piece of tanned cowhide and
polish from top to bottom, moving the chain with each subsequent
stroke against the wheel. (This is a regular Baldor-type 1/2 HP
motor just like everyone uses to polish with)

When I first learned this technique it was often like trying to hold
onto a moving chain-saw blade, but after a couple or so years at it
I’ve mastered it.


Thanks to everyone for your chain polishing tips! I do remember from
previous threads the dangers of polishing chain with a rotating
buff, and this chain is so delicate that I wouldn’t risk that in any

A while back I tried to polish some copper disks in my little El
Cheapo tumbler. It turned the copper dark brown. I ran a test
yesterday with some scrap silver and it came out with a lot of black
on it.

I am in the process of running the tumbler with detergent to see if
I can get the shot nice and clean once again.

I think the rubber tub on this inexpensive (Harbor Freight) tumbler
is made with a sulfur compound which is why it turns copper brown.
Prior to that it did a good job on silver. This might be a caution to
remember - no copper in the cheap rubber tub tumblers!

I anticipate that it will be back to normal once the shot is
thoroughly cleaned.

Again, thank you for your kindness!

Be careful if you do use aluminium with washing soda - the chemical
reaction will produce a gas which is harmful. It’s worth noting that
the reaction with caustic soda is even more intense, and will produce
hydrogen. None of these processes should be done in a poorly
ventilated area, and if you were doing this with a large vat of
liquid, I would be very concerned.

Jamie Hall


I was told years ago by an engineer at Gesswein Co. to clean my
tumbler with ammonia. It might take 2-3 changes, rinsing, and added
ammonia to get the grease and so on out of the barrel. He suggested
20 min. periods of cleaning and then repeat the process. It helps a
great deal.

Ruth Mary

Be careful if you do use aluminium with washing soda - the
chemical reaction will produce a gas which is harmful 

It mostly produces CO2 and a very tiny amount of hydrogen but no
where near enough to be a danger in the typical amounts we work with.

James Binnion

Below is another article from my Web site, which are all focused to
help silver collectors:

Electrochemical (Galvanic) Reduction

This process uses an aluminum or aluminum alloy plate and a warm
solution of sodium carbonate (washing soda). When the object comes
into contact with the plate in the solution, it removes only light
tarnish, not the thick, black tarnish produced by years of neglect.
Pitting of the object can occur if the aluminum plate is not
periodically cleaned. Another not-so-obvious problem is scratching of
the object when in contact with the plate.

Objects cleaned by this method may tarnish more quickly than silver
that has been polished, for the object’s surface will act like a
sponge and more readily absorb tarnish-producing gases and moisture.
The solution can also seep into hollow areas such as coffeepot
handles, unsoldered spun beads around the tops of lightweight
holloware, weighted pieces with minute holes, and any porous

Jeff Herman

My favourite tool - the tumbler!

Well this has probably been said already, but I’m lazy so I’m not
hunting it out:)) I wrap my delicate silver chain around a 1" dowel,
tape each end…easy peasy:)):)-ann

My favourite tool - the tumbler! 

Have you ever put a herringbone chain in a tumbler?

My favourite tool - the tumbler!

That reminds me of my first local jewelry class.

I signed up for a jewelry making continuing education course at my
local community college. I got there and found out I was the only guy
in a class full of women - including the teacher. They had all been
working together for some years and apparently I was the only guy -
ever - in their class.

That first night our instructor was demonstrating the “marriage of
metal” technique. (You fit two different metals together and solder
them, then polish the surface so that no seam is visible between the
two pieces. Obviously there must be one, but you can’t see it as a
seam, just as a change of metals.)

The women were passing the piece around that our instructor had just
made and were oohing and aahing over it. One sighed, “It’s a marriage
of metal.” The next quipped, “It’s a good marriage!” A third looked
me straight in the eye and said, “That’s what we are, girls, we’re
the sandpaper in the marriage that makes everything fit together

I looked her in the eye right back and replied, “Yes, but men prefer
tumbling as a polishing method.”

After that, they decided I fit right in.

john - here’s what once worked for me: after dipping the chain in a
bowl of warm water and dish washing liquid i laid it on a wash cloth
and gently ‘scrubbed’ the length with a soft toothbrush until it
looked like skin oils, any dirt, etc, was gone. snagged the chain
across the toothbrush bristles - like a hook - to rinse it several
times. then stretched it out across a dry towel. dried the
toothbrush, ran it across a ‘fabuluster’ bar and started polishing
the chain with it - kept rolling the chain across the towel and
gently rubbing chain with the towel to remove the compound. finished
up by polishing the whole length with another clean, dry soft
toothbrush until it was shiny - no harmful liquids were involved (if
you don’t count the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time riesling fueling
the process at the time).

good luck -
people, think more now, regret less later.

Hey John - run your tumbler with a can of regular, flat Coke. It
will clean the shot, the tumbler and the pieces. Rinse thoroughly.
Your problem is likely from dirty jewelry or too little detergent -
plain soap doesn’t work well or reliably.

Judy Hoch