Silver Flood Damage Recovery

The Silver Lining for Your Silver
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Judy Walker

The first thing to remember about cleaning and restoring your flooded
silver: Don’t hurry. (This also applies to your china and crystal, by
the way.)

Rinse it, but put aside cleaning “until you don’t feel rushed,
because that’s when things break,” says Jeffrey Herman, founder and
executive director of the Society of American Silversmiths, based in
Rhode Island. He’s restored many a candelabra arm that was broken off
in haste.

Herman shared some general guidelines for cleaning silver, applicable
to both sterling and silver plate.

For more specific questions, he has a Web site, (see below) and even
a phone number, (800) 461-6840, where people can call him for advice.
He has already received pieces from this area that have been damaged
from steel wool during improper cleaning and need refinishing.

Basically, he says, “Don’t do anything that can’t be reversed.”

If your silver pieces were flooded, shake any piece that might have
hollow spaces. (Such pieces might have ivory or wooden insulators
around a handle, for example.) If you can hear water swishing within,
take these pieces to a professional for restoration.

Here is what you can do yourself:

– First, rinse the piece so it’s clean to the touch (that way you’re
not scratching the surface with grit when you polish it). Then, wash
with a gentle cleanser and warm water before polishing.

– If the piece has a hollow handle or wooden handles, or any area
where water might seep inside, don’t soak it in water; use hand
sanitizer to clean it before polishing.

– Do not put silver in the dishwasher. It will eventually turn white
and need to be refinished.

– Use polishes made specifically for silver. (Several are listed on
the Web site.)

– Flatware tarnished by floodwater can be sterilized by boiling: Put
the pieces in a pot, add water and bring to a boil. Continue to boil
for 10 minutes. Do not add anything to the water, and do not soak
anything that might be hollow, Herman says, such as hollow-handle
flatware and candlesticks.

– Do not boil any piece coated with lacquer. Lacquer may be present
if the piece has never shown any trace of tarnish.

– Use ammonia to remove corrosion from saltwater. (The Web site
explains why silver salt shakers should never be stored with salt
inside them).

– Rust may be present on carbon steel knife blades of older pieces,
or on the worn edges of knife blades coated with silver. Do not use
steel wool to remove the rust. Take such pieces to a professional,
Herman said.

Anything can be redone or restored, he said. For old sterling dresser
sets, “hairbrushes… can have new bristles put in, mirrors can be
resilvered, nail buffers can be rechamoised.” To find someone to
restore your silver, Herman recommends calling a museum, a reputable
silver house or auction house.

See the Web site for

Jeffrey Herman, Founder & Executive Director
Society of American Silversmiths
PO Box 72839
Providence, RI 02907
Fax: 401/461-6841
E-mail: @SAS