Sterling and silverplate sooner or later will tarnish. By using it frequently, you will retard that tarnish everytime you wash it. Don't put it in the dishwasher - those high heats and caustic dishwasher cleaning compounds are not your silver's best friend.
Tarnish is a brownish discoloration, but longtime tarnish will appear almost black. It is caused by moisture and by sulphuric acids found in air pollutants. We're not talking about moisture as in washing your silver. Instead, it's the lightweight moisture that is in the air, as in high humidity. So storing your silver in a place that with 40-50% humidity is better for it, than - for example - in a damp basement. And the air pollutants? Think car and truck exhaust.
I used to have two retail antiques shops. One had an entrance doorway on the side of the building, away from the busy 4-lane street by about 50 feet. The other had it's main entrance directly facing the street, only 15 feet from 4 lanes of continual heavy traffic. I displayed silver tablewares in both shops, both on a table top about 15' from the front door. Guess where I spent the most time polishing silver? The shop with the door facing and closest to the highway. Those fumes, especially from the big trucks, really sped up the tarnish process, and I polished silver about twice as often as I did in the second shop.
Here are some hints for caring for your silver and silverplate:
- Hand wash your silver - polishing it with a dry cloth after washing will help retard tarnish. You don't have to rub hard - just a simple drying with a soft towel will help remove tarnish if you are doing it regularly.
- If you aren't using your silver regularly, store it in special tarnish-proof bags which can be found in department stores or local jewelers.
- Certain items speed up tarnish, or cause corrosion, spots and stains - eggs, salt, olives, vinegar, perfume and some fruit acids are all culprits. Try to wash your silver as soon as possible after your silver comes into contact with these items.
- Don't wash sterling and stainless steel items together - sometimes the two together will cause a chemical reaction which will tarnish the sterling and corrode the silver.
- When polishing silver, rub the silver cleaner between your fingers first. If you feel grit in the polish, don't use it. That polish is too rough on silver and will produce minute scratches. Wright's Silver Polish is non-gritty, and I use it on my silver. Remember to rinse your silver with warm water to remove all traces of silver cleaner.
- Sometimes it's just a mild tarnish needing removal. Try a paste of baking soda and water, applied with a damp cloth, then rinsed with warm - not hot - water. Afterwards, just dry with a soft towel.
- Don't wrap silver for storage in plastic wrap. It won't prevent tarnish, and will trap moisture.
- Don't leave salt in silver salt shakers. Over time, salt will cause corrosion and pits. Empty, wash and dry shakers completely after each use.
- Absolutely do not use any of the tarnish dips to clean silver!! Your silver will come out dull and looking like it was made yesterday. Is that how you want your antique silver to look? One of silver's best attributes is the oxidation down in the ornate areas that make the design stand out. These dips - often advertised on TV around the holidays - remove that oxidation and makes your silver look brand new.