We find it helpful to understand your metal pieces and how to care for them. While nothing can truly duplicate the shine achieved through professional polishing, there are trustworthy at-home cleaners on the market, such as Brasso, Goddard’s, Hagerty’s, or Wright’s. Beware of advertised cleaners on TV and the Internet. In addition, we recommend that you keep on hand Q-tips, triple-O steel wool, and soft towels (but not terry cloth, they can scratch) to assist with your polishing.
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; two parts of copper are usually used to one part of zinc. Oxidation causes brass and copper to darken and lose its luster. Tarnish on brass and copper can be removed by simply polishing the metal with a metal cleaner, such as Brasso. However, heavy corrosion on brass and copper, such as on exterior door hardware, cannot be effectively treated without the proper skills and tools. It is almost impossible for a homeowner to successfully return exterior door hardware to its original luster.
Brass and copper usually have a protective finish such as lacquer or a clear coat that has to be broken down before polishing. If the coating is not removed, it will be extremely difficult to polish the underlying metal and improve the appearance of a piece. Removing lacquer should be left to skilled metalsmiths who have the proper facilities and chemicals to work safely.
Brass and copper do not have to always be highly polished. Classic butler, antique, patina, and oxidized finishes are choices offered at Greenwich Metal Finishing. To apply a dull/matte finish at home, simply use a metal polish (Brasso) combined with triple-O steel wool and rub gently until the desired finish is achieved.
In brass and copper plated items a coating has been applied to another metal, usually steel, but sometimes white metal (also known as “pot metal”). One test is to scratch the bottom of the article; if white comes through, it is not solid brass or copper. Another test is to use a magnet. If the magnet sticks, it is not brass or copper. The care of re-plated brass and copper is very similar to silver with regard to polishing; however, be careful about applying too much pressure.
Sterling silver is a term used to specify that the metal contains at least 925 parts of silver to 75 parts to copper. Pure silver is rarely used as it is too soft. The term “sterling” is derived from the English penny coined in the Middle Ages. “Sterling” became the standard for British coins.
Silver should be washed promptly with hot suds after each use. By rinsing in hot water and drying immediately, silver will not need to be polished often. When using silverware, rotate it in daily use so that the finish will mellow uniformly. Dust ornamental pieces regularly and wash them once a week to keep them bright. Silver does not need to be polished each time it is cleaned.
There are several methods for cleaning tarnished silver, but hand rubbing with a soft cotton towel and a quality silver polish such as Goddard’s, Hagerty’s, or Wright’s is best. At Greenwich Metal Finishing, we only use soft diapers when we hand polish. Never use terry cloth – it will scratch the silver. Soft Q-Tips and a horsehair toothbrush can aid in polishing very ornate pieces.
Sterling silver can be polished until it is flawless. However, this is not a job that can be performed at home. It takes a tremendous amount of skill using the proper tools. At Greenwich Metal Finishing, we specialize in polishing sterling silver.
With silver plate, a coating of silver is applied over another metal. The care for silver plate is the same for solid silver, except that polishing should be done with less pressure. It is important to be careful with plate items, as the silver may be burned through, thereby exposing the copper or other basecoat. If your silver plate has deep scratches, do not try to remove them through polishing; the energy required could damage your piece. On the other hand, sterling silver can be polished until flawless. However, this is not a job that can be performed at home. It takes a tremendous amount of skill using the proper tools.
Dull or satin finish silver becomes bright after many polishings. There is no satisfactory method of restoring a satin finish to silver at home; this is a skill that should be left for skilled metalsmiths only. At Greenwich Metal Finishing, we offer butler, antique, and satin finishes if you want to maintain or restore a dull finish.
Silver, like gold, is chemically inactive. This means it does not oxidize when exposed to air, but its surface tarnishes from exposure to certain gases. Therefore, if air is kept away, the tarnish is diminished. Other enemies of silver are pollution, perspiration, table salt, olives, eggs, salad dressing, peas, gas, sulfur, vinegar, fruit juices, perfumes, and toilet water. Don’t let any of these come in contact with your silver for long. Empty silver salt dishes after each use or the salt will pit them, causing permanent damage.
For silver pieces that are not taken out very often, use specially treated flannel bags for storage. Never wrap silver in felt or chamois leather – both are sources of hydrogen sulfide, a strong tarnish inducer. Never wrap silver in old newspaper because the ink will eventually remove silver.
Storing your silver in zip lock bags is an excellent way of preserving your silver only if you place a 3M anti-tarnish strip in each bag. This is critical in removing all moisture. Without these strips, moisture will collect and your silver will tarnish.
Many of our clients prefer a dull gray patina for their pewter pieces. In the case of a low-luster pewter, soap and water washing is the most maintenance the finish will ever need. If you need to remove staining or prefer a more satin finish, lightly rub with triple-O steel wool. It is very important to rub your piece in a specific direction so that you achieve an even finish. When polished by a skilled metalsmith, pewter can look very similar to sterling silver; however, this finish is not as popular as is the dull patina finish.
Caution should be observed when using an acid dip. Because of their highly corrosive nature, acid dips can ruin some finishes and damage stainless steel knife blades as well as other materials. We recommend that you do not use acid dips on any metals and to beware of all advertised cleaners on TV. There is no “secret” to keeping your silver looking beautiful.
Removing engraving on plated silver is possible and done quite often; however, the piece must be re-plated. On sterling silver, engraving and deep scratches can be removed and polished to perfection because the piece is solid. At Greenwich Metal Finishing, our craftsmen can remove engraving and scratches for an absolutely flawless finish.