Top tips to preserve your precious metals

July 29, 2015

If you have precious metals, you know that they don't require much care, but some upkeep is necessary. Over time it is likely that your metals will lose some of their brightness, tarnish will develop and wax will build up on those nice silver candlesticks — here's how to handle it.

Top tips to preserve your precious metals

Polish metal to keep it bright

  • Many commercial metal polishes and silver dips are highly abrasive and may leave scratches on your fine silver.
  • It's usually best to lightly polish silver pieces on a regular basis with a silver-polishing cloth.
  • Many museums polish most types of metal by making a runny paste of calcium carbonate (chalk), mixed with equal amounts of ethanol (denatured or ethyl alcohol) and distilled water.
  • To use, rub the paste across the surface, using cotton rags, cotton balls, or cotton swabs to work a small area at a time.
  • Then rinse the piece with distilled water to remove all residual polish. (You can accelerate drying by adding some ethanol to the rinse water or by giving the object a final wipe with the alcohol.)

Remove wax from silver candlesticks

  • The safest way to remove dripped wax from your silver candlesticks is lay them down on soft, absorbent cloth or paper towels in a warm room for about an hour so. (If you're impatient, you can try using a hair dryer.)
  • Once the wax softens, use a blunt wooden stick to slowly peel away and chip off the wax.
  • Buff with a silver polishing cloth.
  • Never use a knife to slice off the wax; you're more likely to scratch the candlestick. And never, as is commonly advised, put silver candlesticks in the freezer to harden the wax.
  • Some metals may have an adverse reaction to extremely cold temperature, especially if two metals were used to make the object (for example, silver over an iron core), and they contract at different rates when they get cold.

Don’t get uptight over tarnish

  • Silver tarnishes as a reaction to sulfur gases that are naturally present in the air. Humid conditions also promote tarnishing.
  • Although it's unsightly — especially those dense black or purplish rings evident in its latter stages — tarnish itself does not pose a threat to silver artifacts.
  • In fact, most damage to silver occurs during the polishing required to remove the tarnish.
  • Overpolishing often results in a loss of detail definition over time.
  • On silver-plated objects, frequent polishing can actually remove the plating, leaving dull areas of exposed base metal that can be mistaken for stubborn spots of tarnish.
  • It's easiest to remove tarnish in its beginning stages, when it appears as a yellowish or light brown staining.
  • You can usually remove these early formations of tarnish by washing silver items in water mixed with some phosphate-free detergent.
  • Avoid immersing the metal if possible; try rubbing it with a cloth moistened with the solution first.
  • After washing, rinse gently; then dry and buff it with a soft, clean cloth or flannel.
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