Removing silver tarnish with Naptha

Recently I purchased an Antique Sterling silver gravy ladle, with a
Repousse handle, which was tarnished almost black. To remove the
price label in the bowl, I used lighter fluid. The label was not only
easily removed, but the black tarnish seemed to melt away. With the
aid of more fluid, plus an old toothbrush, the ladle gleamed like
new, when washed. My neighbor said I had removed a layer of silver as
well. I looked to see the fluid content and all it said was that it
contained Naptha and was flammable. Have I found an easy way of
removing silver tarnish or am I also doing damage ?



That’s interesting isn’t it? I am no expert but can’t imagine that
damage is being done. If any silver was being removed the metal would
be showing signs of pink in the top layer (copper) wouldn’t it?

Take care,

Have I found an easy way of removing silver tarnish or am I also
doing damage ? 

Naptha isn’t, so far as I know, a solvent for silver. Or for silver
sulphides, as far as I can tell (the usual form of tarnish on silver
is sulphides). so I suspect what you found was a good cleaning
solvent for dirt, wax, paint, or something other than actual tarnish.
Might have been, for example, a lacquer coating that had discolored
or something. Naptha might well be a good solvent for stuff like
that. Use with good ventillation, though.


Naptha Can Kill You!

Try this lacquer stripper: Ready Strip A non-flammable,
biodegradable, non-combustible remover that won’t harm silver.
Contains no methylene chloride! It’s heavy-based so it can be
painted on the object without running, then washed off. Back to
Nature Products, Englishtown, NJ 07726, 732/792-2001, hardware stores

Jeff Herman

If any silver was being removed the metal would be showing signs of
pink in the top layer (copper) wouldn't it? 

No, you wouldn’t see a layer of pink. Sterling silver is an alloy
(mixture) of silver and copper - not a laminated structure. When we
make sterling silver jewellery and polish it, thus removing very
thin layers, we don’t see copper appearing. The copper atoms are
completely interspersed with the silver atoms.

I can’t see how you could be removing silver by using naptha either
Shirley. I’d be very interested to hear others’ views on this. With
the traditional method of removing tarnish - the aluminium foil,
bicarbonate of soda and hot water method - although it allegedly does
not remove silver, it essentially does, because although it converts
the silver sulphide back into silver, its surface is left dull and
frosty and so it needs to be buffed back to a shine, which removes
silver. So your method does sound very intriguing indeed.



Naphtha is a petroleum based solvent and while it is indeed a
hazardous substance it is less so than acetone and slightly more
toxic than denatured alcohol. I would not use it without good
ventilation, and standard safety gear (safety glasses, gloves, apron
etc). It can kill if ingested in a large enough amount and causes
problems from prolonged inhalation exposure but I am not seeing why
it requires such a strong admonition.

If you read the Ready Strip MSDS there are a lot of unknowns in the
areas that address the toxicity and health hazards of its
components. In the section on precautions it suggests the same level
of personal protection one would use with naphtha. So other than it
being significantly less flammable than naphtha I don’t know if I
would consider something that can dissolve paint and lacquer all that
benign. That said the fact it doesn’t contain methylene chloride is
a huge plus and I will look for it when I next need to strip paint or

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts