Wednesday, March 23, 2011

P is Also for Polishing

The majority of Jewish homes have within them at least a few items made from silver--lachter, bechers, Chanukah menorahs among those. Along with the beauty of the items comes another dreaded P word--polishing. Following are some ideas about cleaning and storing those silver items. Storing: Silver exposed to outside air tarnishes faster than silver in an air-tight cabinet (and if the air is humid it will increase the rate of tarnishing--one reason why silver seems to tarnish quicker in New York's steamy summers.). It's one reason why lachters that may sit on display in the open air tarnish much faster than pieces displayed in a closed cabinet. In addition, articles that are used with candles--lachters and menorahs--get added tarnish coatings from the particles from the flames that waft up and then settle back down on the silver. Obviously then one solution is to keep all silver inside of an air-tight cabinet. This does not mean that the silver will never get tarnished but it will extend the period between needed cleanings. In addition, there are anti-tarnish strips which can be placed inside these cabinets, adding extra protection against tarnishing. I use those strips with my own silver and they work as promised--they extend the time between cleanings by reducing tarnish buildup. If your lachter won't fit inside a cabinet you still have an option for closed storage. Any of the furniture or decorator places that make plastic seat covers for dining room chairs can also make up for you a zippered large rectangular "box" of that heavy plastic material in which you can place the lachter during the week. Not a "pretty" wrapping but a very effective one. A tip given to me long ago by someone who owned a silver store is to make absolutely sure that any silver that is being placed back in the cabinet is 100% dry. When you wash those bechers and lachters after Shabbos take the time to dry them thoroughly. Wet or damp silver attracts tarnish at a faster rate than dry silver does, in addition to having water spots. Should you happen to see that one of the pieces in your cabinet is obviously starting to tarnish, take it out and polish it. Once one piece has that obvious tarnish it will be a "good neighbor" and start spreading that tarnish throughout the cabinet. Now, about those products used to clean silver. There are any number of these products on the market--creams, pastes, dips, sprays, gloves etc.--but they don't all work in the same way. Silver experts recommend using only a cream or paste cleaner. Jeffrey Herman, a silver restoration and conservation specialist, has an excellent article as to why those silver dips should NOT be used. They are not only not good for the silver but they have some truly horrific possible health affects as well. See the article at There are other experts that put those misty spray cleaners into the same category as the dips--unsafe for humans. Note, however, that some of those pastes and creams also contain ingredients that can be bad for you. Most recommend that you use rubber gloves when using the product. Ironic really, since rubber and latex can promote tarnish. Nonetheless, better to use the gloves than not to. Also note that the Environmental Protection Agency lists silver cleaner, dips in particular, as Hazardous Household Waste and discourages throwing it out with the regular trash. Yes, silver is a part of our lives and yes, it is going to need to be cleaned. A bit of care in storage and handling will extend the time between cleanings. And some common sense when choosing cleaning products will make that cleaning process safer for humans and the environment. For where to get anti-tarnish strips see:


Trudy said...

Leave it to you to find another P word to hate. Couldn't we find a little love for a different P word like procrastinate or maybe put off?

Abba's Rantings said...

i like the polishing gloves (not that i really clean the silver more than once a year, if that often)

"If your lachter won't fit inside a cabinet you still have an option for closed storage"

maybe it's a sign the lachter is too large in general?

an alternative to the ugly zippered plastic is a plexiglass case. my friend made one for his wife, but presumably you can get one custom made as well from the "professionals"

JS said...

Has anyone heard of the ability to lacquer silver to prevent it from tarnishing? I heard there was a coating that could be put on items but I have no idea what it is or whether it's a good idea.

ProfK said...

There is a dip JS that will provide non-tarnish protection for an extended time. Here's the thing: the coating is not permanent for the life of the object but can wear away. Those who have their lachters dipped (and you need to take it to a silver store to do) say they get about 1 to 1-1/2 years before they have to have it dipped again. The lachter still needs regular washing because of possible dripping wax and/or smoke residue--this helps to wear away the coating. Same for bechers that get used and washed regularly.

JS said...

Good to know. Thanks for the information.

While I'm asking...any tips for removing wax from lachters? Or do you just use hot water?

ProfK said...

Hot water, the hotter the better, is what I find works best for removing small wax spots. But don't soak the item in the hot water since the melted wax will just settle back on another spot on the item.

Also, if there are thick spots of wax, as you can see on Chanukah menorahs, I find that a minute of being blown at with a hairdryer set on hot will loosen the wax sufficiently so that hot water will take care of the rest.

Also, this note of caution. If you have a lot of wax that is being removed, place a paper towel inside the sink drainer to catch the melted wax. Take care that the wax doesn't get under the drainer and get into the pipes. Sufficient wax build up in the pipes can cause a backup.

Anonymous said...

Of course if jews would stop buying obvious luxuries like silver that they lust after while asking yeshivot for tuition breaks no one would have to worry about how to polish it. Just saying.

Leora said...

Just what is wrong with some people?!!! Anon, plenty of people who own silver and who don't ask for scholarships and who never did. And no, they aren't lusting after silver--liking something is not lusting.

And thanks profk for the cleaning tips. Some of us look at them as just what they were--useful information.