Question regarding the foil baking soda technique for removing tarnish on sterling silver electroplate


I have a question regarding the technique used for removing tarnish from sterling silver electroplate, that utilizes:

hot water
baking soda

after immersing a Gorham electroplated candelabra in the above solution bath, for about an hour, i pulled it out to see the results.

the candelabra went into the bath a shiny, mostly dark grey black color

after the bath, the candelabra was a matte light grey color

this matte grey coating easily flaked off when i polished with a muslin buff and greystar on my flexshaft.

i am assuming chemically, part of the tarnish dissolved and was the brown coloration left on the foil, and the other part of the tarnish remained on the surface of the metal as thus matte light grey layer…

I am curious to to what this matte layer is, and what the brown stuff on the foil is…


I used to work as a liturgical and restoration silver smith. I also own and cherish some lovely Gorham silver. I am so sorry to tell you this but you have likely destroyed a Gorham candelabra. At this point it will need to be sent to a professional silver restoration person to be re finished and re-plated. Chemical dips like Tarnex and aluminum foil with TSP or salt baths should never be used on solid or plated silver. Here is a link to Jeffery Herman’s site. He is a BFD in the silver restoration world. When you open the link scroll down to the Polishing and cleaning silver. There you will find of Chemical Dips and Aluminum Foil Techniques. Also plated surfaces are super thin. Like microns thick. Any chemical strip or abrasive that is coarser than a good cream silver polish will remove the plating. And while you are searching online, type in Jeff’s name and go to images to see the most awesome collection of vintage hammers and stakes.
Don’t beat yourself up about this. When I was a newbie and even to this day I f**k things up. When I publicly taught I always started out my classes with “Failure is NOT an option in my class. It’s a requirement.
The only reason I’m a decent metalsmith is because I have f*ed up everything there is to fk up.” Silver polishing, silver cleaning, and silver storage



Jeff is a wealth of knowledge and he is willing to share it as evidenced by his website. I got to know him over the phone and email when I bought my PUK 5.1. He is also an expert at using a pulse arc welder to repair damaged silver. Take some time and go through his website. I have a link to it on mine…Rob


Hi Jo,
Oh my! i should have gone straight ti Jeffereys website before taking any action!!

oh well…they seem to be shiny “silver” color after polushing lightly with my flex shaft and balloon cloth with greystar…did i jusy pilush the base metal?…di you hapoen to know what base metal Gorham usually is?…

the candelabra (pair! oy!) were given to me, and they have holes ynceremoniously drill in them…i was going to also experiment with repairing them using my welder…or not…


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The base metal depends on when they were made. But most likely it’s what used to be called white metal. It’s really low temperature. So a tin or lead solder is used when working on it. Repair Silver Plate White Metal Candlesticks — Harriete Estel Berman


Jeff Herman knows more about how to clean and remove tarnish and repair silver than anyone I’ve ever found. Silver polishing, silver cleaning, and silver storage look under silver care.


Hello Julie,
In my experience, the boiling water with aluminum foil and baking soda shows an immediate effect. However, as others have noted, the silver plate is thin and soon the base metal is revealed. At that point, it’s an expensive replating process and most likely not worth it.

May I suggest a fun alternative - spray the piece(s) with enamel. No one dictated that silver is the only finish :wink: Choose a quirky color or go with classic black. The holes you mention might have been to suspend/attach crystals, but you can do other things. Your imagination is the only limit!

In no way would I do this with a STERLING piece! However with damaged plated items, sure I would and have.
Judy in Kansas, where yesterday was 70 degrees F. Set records for warmest temp in several places. Weather weirding???



The candelabra were “wired” to be electric, for some reason…holes were unceremoniously drilled by the cups…

i removed the electrical…

i initially tried buffing with my flex shaft, and that seemed to “work” but was slow going…

then i tried Blitz silver polish, with no effect…

then i ignorantly tried the foil method, and got the matte white result

so then i went back to buff polishing

the right candelabra has been polished, lightly, and it appears shiny… but not finished yet

oh well, one lesson learned

i am using this experience to experiment with all the flex shaft polishing attachments i have, but rarely use…ie: goat hair brushes…chamois buffs…various fluffy unnamed buffs…3M radial discs…



using baking soda and aluminum foil in a hot water bath will remove silver oxidation from anything, including silverware and jewelry… sulfide and oxide from silver are transferred to aluminum, which turns into Al+3 oxide, brown if complexed with sulfide ion, gray if oxide, in the form of aluminum hydroxide…the grayish residual on silver is a microscopically thin layer of amorphous silver that can be buffed shiny with a cloth or other soft material… if you are using salt, NaCl, then some of the gray color left on the silver could be silver chloride…which converts to metallic silver spontaneously…
Using this technique to clean tarnished silverware is almost miraculous… the tarnish dissolves away in front of your eyes…more stubborn tarnish requires simply letting the silver sit longer…and adding more aluminum if needed… I don’t think that salt (sodium chloride) is necessary at all…if salt is used, some of the silver will be converted into silver chloride… the redox potential between silver and silver chloride is almost zero volts…gentle heating will turn silver chloride into metallic silver again (boiling water)…
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, a weak base… washing soda is sodium carbonate, which is a much more basic or alkaline… washing soda will react much more vigorously and even burn the aluminum directly…turning it into aluminum hydroxide…and evolving flammable hydrogen gas… stick with baking soda…
The same effect can be attained by putting tarnished silver into an aluminum pie pan with baking soda…the pie pan will become oxidized and tarnished…using foil, which has a larger surface area, instead or in addition to putting it into a pie pan or aluminum baking pan will speed up the reaction.

I’ve told other people to use this technique to clean tarnish from silver coins, silver spoons and other flatware and even silver bowls and larger pieces. it does work very well

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in the post that was deleted by myself: it read that the proviso is that silver plating can be polished off. I am reposting it with amplification: This is VERY IMPORTANT as cheap silver plating can be only a few micrometers thick…sometimes only 1 or two microns…using chemical agents, even baking soda an aluminum will eventually strip off the plating. even polishing it by hand with silver cleaners will do the same…using salt, NaCl chlorides the silver which gets buffed off… it will revert to metallic silver with heating gently but silver plating is too thin to sustain this process, especially repeatedly and the metallic silver that results from dechloriding is a gray powdery film… using salt is unnecessary with baking soda… washing soda is too alkaline and reactive to use on plating.
you don’t run into this problem with solid silver pieces just using baking soda and aluminum… sterling, coins which are 90% silver and sterling jewelry will clean up with baking soda and aluminum… if anyone has had problems using this technique with sterling, please let me know…


well…the candelabra were left by a friends old beau…she was going to throw them away…

i said… “hey, if you guys happen to see candelabra when thrifting, i need a 20”…or a pair”…and my friend said “wait, i have some!”…and proceeded to trot out with several!…serendipitous!!!

i am going to put a ring of faux roses around each cup, use led candlesticks, and use in head table decorations at an event coming up…

i had thought about painting them black…because they were really tarnished shiny black…i was going to hit em with my flexshaft 3m scrubby wheels to raise a “tooth”…but after seeing the “Gorham electroplate” stamp, i decided to see if i could raise a polish on them…

i think the polish will be ok for my purposes…i am going to leave some “patina” to bring out the details…

i am later going to read up first! and then try my hand at repairing the holes…with my welder…

i think it will be a good learning experience…

the tarnish was shiny black grey and very tenacious!



it looks shiny as new, at least where polished…

Question for you Steve, This has nothing to do with the aluminum. My mother when I was young made me polish the silver with potato peels. Her mother had made her do it growing up. Which had been handed down to her. It’s something that goes back at least 150 years or more. Potatoes are more on the acid side. Yet the diligent rubbing with those blasted peels worked. After rubbing the hell out of the peels, I had to use a soft cloth soaked in water to wipe the residue off, then a dry soft cloth to dry it well. The only job on our farm I hated worse was cleaning the chicken house. Why did the potato peels work so well?

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No. Just No. The techniques you offer are just about the wort thing you could do to silver. Especially old coins. Once cleaned they no longer have any numismatic resale value.
Please do not recommend silver dips and foil/ salt immersion. Please look at this link from my silver restoration compadre Jeffery Herman Silver polishing, silver cleaning, and silver storage


Aggie- Boy howdy. I’m gonna stop feeling sorry for myself for all of the years my mother made me hand polish our silver with silver paste. I’m also gonna stop remembering how hard it was to pull weeds from the yard compared to cleaning out a chicken house. Ack! The smell! The only farm work I had to do at my grandparents’ was picking peaches, and doing duty on the screened in back porch where all of the chicken plucking, and canning and preserving was done. Oh, I forgot making butter. But that was actually fun.
As for the potato peels, they are not particularly acidic. Only 6.5 which is only slightly acidic. I’m guessing that the very mild abrasiveness of the peels were what did the job.

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Jo, we were born in a different era/age.

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“The only thing good about glue is the advertising” - (from HEB) under many metalsmithing and stone setting situations, an excellent thing to bear in mind!

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Saying baking soda/aluminium should never be done with solid silver is kind of misreading Jeff’s point.

Reasons he gives for not doing this:
-It can remove a factory patina
-It can get into areas that you don’t want it to get (holes, seams, bad solder joints), which can cause issues.
-You can scratch things by dragging it across the aluminium.

If none of those are an issue for your use case, it’s a fine method for removing tarnish on silver.

I’d never do it on plated materials or something like a coin or a piece of historic value. But on simple solid silver, it’s just fine.

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where Jo is QUITE RIGHT is that using electrochemical methods like baking soda and aluminum will erode fine lines and sharp edges…, fine silver in the form of amorphous nanocrystalline silver is left after the sulfide is reduced… that gives the gray tinge to any silver cleaned this way… that has to be buffed off with a soft cloth to restore shine, and that silver is lost…heavy black tarnish converted back to silver metal, will mean more silver lost… most tarnishes have places that are more tarnished than others…immersion in an electrochemical solution will be difficult to control, with some areas cleaning up faster and others still remaining tarnished… the heaviest tarnish will lose the most silver… patinas, coatings will be stripped off also…anything patinated by oxidation or blackened using liver of sulfur (it creates black sulfide tarnish deliberately) will be stripped away…
using a battery or two 1.5 volt batteries in series to create 2.7 volts will also accomplish the something.,… the positive post of the battery connected to the silver piece will reduced sulfide, when the negative end is connected to aluminum…the half cell potential for aluminum going to aluminum oxide is 2.7 volts… using a copper cathode will slow the reaction down considerably, as the copper is oxidized, but a lower voltage, 1 volt will suffice… that still doesn’t get around the problem of fine silver being created in place of silver sulfide… you still need baking soda as an electrolyte to transfer electrons…but the end result is the same…
I don’t see anyway around losing some detail even using commercial cleaning compounds… even the mildest abrasive will grind away some of the detail… (Do Not Use Toothpaste!.. even toothpaste is too abrasive, most contain colloidal silica)… the Mohs hardness of sterling and that of silver sulfide are the same (2 to 2.5)…if silver sulfide tarnish is polished off, the amount of silver in the sulfide tarnish is also lost…other home solutions for cleaning silver delicately are still unsatisfactory… some advocate using vinegar, others just baking soda… no aluminum., other yet, ammonia solution…or isopropyl alcohol or organic solvents…the latter are only good for removing greasy fingerprints that will, if left, tarnish the silver…using ammonia to clean gold and silver jewelry only removes grease and not tarnish. it also can react with silver, albeit very slowly…
Commercial cleaners that are supposedly safe, guard their ingredients as trade secrets…one of them does state at an inert ingredient is calcium carbonate which has a hardness of 3, harder that sterling. baking soda scrubs have a hardness of 2.5, enough to wear away both tarnish and silver…So I’m not convinced that there is any completely safe way to restore silver to its original condition without some damage… even if microscopic…

I’ve not used aluminum and baking soda for fine jewelry nor numismatic coins… I’ve experimented with cleaning bullion coins such as mexican silver coins and sterling flatware, where a microscopic loss of silver doesn’t make a difference…electrochemical methods work fast and are good enough…numismatic coins are best left alone… professional cleaning of fine jewelry is better than do it yourself at home…

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Sorry but it’s not “just fine”.
The techniques of using silver dips leaves microscopic holes in the surface of the silver which makes it prone to more tarnish. Again more quotes from Jeff H.

"Chemical dips, such as Tarn-X, work by dissolving the tarnish on an object at an accelerated rate They work by dissolving the tarnish (and silver!) on an object at an accelerated rate.

Chemical dips will quickly remove factory-applied patinas (if left in the solution for more than a few seconds) or gradually (if dipped quickly each time the object requires cleaning). You’ll notice a soft white surface develop over time.

Chemical dips will quickly strip the shine from silver, leaving a dull, lifeless appearance.

Chemical dips will 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 will eventually require professional polishing and possibly repatination to restore the original finish.

Chemical dips are made up of acidified thiourea (a strongly suspected carcinogen). Acids are corrosive and will damage silver, niello, bronze, stainless steel knife blades, and organic materials such as wood and ivory.

See the results from chemical dips here.

Aluminum Foil Technique ©


Above: The top sterling fork was left unpolished. The lower fork is another piece from the same lot that was that was subjected to the aluminum foil technique for only two minutes, resulting in stripped factory-applied patina. The whiteness is the result from copper that was etched (as seen under 10X magnification) from the sterling, leaving fine silver behind. Here’s another shocking example.

This process, known as electrochemical (galvanic) reduction, uses aluminum foil (or an aluminum plate); a ceramic or other non-heat-sensitive bowl or pan; sodium carbonate (washing soda) or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda); and boiling water. The aluminum is placed in the bottom of the bowl with either the washing soda or baking soda distributed on the aluminum surface. Boiling water is then poured over the powder and the sterling, coin silver, .800 (or other silver-copper alloy) object is immersed. When the object comes into contact with the aluminum in the solution, the tarnish (silver sulfide) is converted back to silver. And as with silver dips, factory-applied patinas will be dissolved. These pieces will eventually require repatinating. Case in point: This action will happen to both tarnished and polished silver. (Note: washing soda etches more severely than baking soda.)

Pieces cleaned may tarnish more quickly than silver that has been polished with a paste or liquid, for the object’s rough surface will act like a sponge and more readily absorb tarnish-producing gases and moisture. This same solution can also seep into hollow areas such as coffeepot and teapot handle sockets, unsoldered spun beads around the tops and bottoms of some holloware, and weighted pieces with minute holes that developed from over polishing. Another not-so-obvious problem is scratching of the object when dragged over the aluminum. For all these reasons this tarnish removal technique is not recommended."