During the holidays, we all love to gather our family and friends around our most beautifully set tables. Do you love to use your most beautiful, heirloom silver too?  I call it jewelry for your tabletop!  A table set with gleaming silver, glowing in the candlelight, brings so much history, personality and a welcoming, gracious touch to the table, doesn’t it?  I know lots of you have a love affair with silver like I do, and have been anxiously awaiting this post with tips on how to clean and polish your heirloom silver.





I’ll give you my best tips for taking care of your silver, what products I use, and how to polish silver to bring out its natural beauty.








Before I share how to polish your silver, both the pieces you use often, as well as those larger serving bowls, tea sets and punch bowls you only use for the holidays, I want to answer this question which many of you have asked me about, namely what are the differences between sterling, silver plate and coin silver.







What is the difference between sterling, silver plate, and coin silver?  

Sterling: Sterling Silver is 92.5% pure silver,  with a 7.5% additive, usually copper. Sterling is almost always marked,  especially for pieces made after the 1850’s, either with the word STERLING, 925/1000 or the Lion Passant. {You can find most sterling maker’s marks on the internet.} This is the most valuable form of silver for your table.

Silver Plate: Silver Plate has a thin layer of silver deposited on to a base metal of copper, brass, or nickel. Most commonly used in producing flatware or hollowware, the pieces are usually marked Silver Plate, EPNS, EP, or Silver on Copper. Most plated silver from the 1800’s is marked Quadruple Plated.

Coin Silver: In Colonial America, silver objects were made from melted down coins because there was little silver available to early American silversmiths. Most Coin Silver is 90% pure silver. It’s marked Coin.






Like you, I have silver that I use or display on a daily basis, but also larger bowls, trays and tea sets that I bring “out” for special occasions and holidays.  Right about now, I take some time to plan my table settings, and “tea time settings” for the holidays.  It usually involves an afternoon of drinking tea, eating cookies, and maybe watching a holiday movie, while polishing silver.







  • 1. Wash your Silver first. Line your sink with an old Towel, so you won’t scratch your pieces, and fill with hot water and a little dishwashing soap {non-lemon-scented phosphate-free.} Wash your piece, then dry off gently.
  • 2. Provide a Soft Place. I place old, folded towels on my table when polishing silver to protect the pieces from scratches.
  • 3. Use the Right Polish. A good quality polish dissolves tarnish, leaves a lasting shine, and provides a tarnish resistant barrier.

  • 4. Use a Soft Clean Cloth. Apply the polish according to the instructions on the container with a soft, clean cloth. Turn the cloth around often, so you are using a clean, unsoiled surface to apply the polish.
  • 5. Rub the Right Way. Use straight, back and forth motions, not circular motions.
  • 6. Use Enough. Especially for ornate objects, use enough polish. Remove the excess with a soft, wet sponge.
  • 7. Dry. Buff. Once the polish has dried, buff the Silver to a soft luster, using a clean soft cloth and as little “elbow grease” as possible. Over-enthusiastic polishing can rub off hallmarks and remove the silverplate, revealing the base metal underneath.






Here are a few other tips that will get or keep your silver occasion ready:

Wear the Right Gloves.  If you want to wear gloves to protect your hands or manicure, make sure they aren’t rubber or latex. You can wear disposable Nitrile gloves, or cotton gloves.

Avoid scratchy Things. Make sure you aren’t tempted to use steel wool, abrasive cleaners or steel wool. You will ruin your silver.

Use Cotton Swabs. One of my favorite tricks is to use cotton swabs to get into small tight areas. I put a handful of them in my silver polishing basket, use both ends, move on to another one once the end gets black.

Don’t Mix Your Metals.  Make sure you separate your silver from stainless steel if you insist on washing your flatware in the dishwasher. {I hand wash, lovingly!} A chemical reaction between the two of them can cause ugly black spots which are impossible to remove.

Put Your Mitts On. To keep your Silver Bowls, Trays, Candlesticks and other decorative pieces gleaming, all they really need is a brief buffing, maybe once a week, using a pair of special silver mitts or special polish cloths. I love these!  The benefit of cleaning with mitts or a polish cloth is that when those special holiday dinners sneak up on you are almost there, it takes a lot less work to clean and polish your silver.


Now that you know how to clean and polish your heirloom antique, please use it.





Silver, when taken care of correctly, is such a luminous ornament to your home. It’s a joy to share your gleaming treasures with your guests. I hope these polishing tips makes you want to take out the silver pieces you have, grand or simple, shine them up, and use them at home to celebrate this joyous season.



Be sure to pin this to your Pinterest  boards for future reference.