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My house is slowly returning to its natural state after the Christmas holidays. The tree and most of the decorations are packed away, the surfaces are dusted, and most of the needles are swept up. There will always be a few that will make an unexpected appearance throughout the year.

I missed a “December job” in the hustle and bustle of preparing for the holidays and it’s always nice to start the New Year fresh. I polished my silver. My silver tea set was a wedding gift from my grandmother and I need to polish it about once a year.

Let’s say you’ve had a tea party…but the party is over! You need to clean the pot, creamer and sugar bowl.

First, remove your jewelry (i.e., rings, bracelets) so you don’t scratch any surfaces. You may want to trim your fingernails too. Most silverware isn’t pure silver and the other materials used can be soft and scratch easily.

Dishwashers are out. The high temperature and rough action of a machine can discolour or damage it. Hand wash it gently in soapy water with a soft cloth (preferably cotton). Abrasive cloths can cause damage but so can forceful rubbing. Don’t use a detergent that has citrus in it because it can cause spotting. Always wash silver by itself; other dishes an cause damage and other metallic pieces can cause discoloration.

Rinse it well with warm water and dry it well with a soft towel before putting it away. Some experts suggest wearing soft gloves whenever handling silver, except for pouring at your party. This reduces oils and other substances from smudging the shiny exterior and accelerating tarnishing.

Silver tarnishes or changes into copper or black, when it comes into contact with moisture, sulfur, and other components in the air. It will tarnish faster in places with higher humidity or higher levels of air pollution. Silver kept in a box will tarnish slower and it may be several years in between the hard work, but why store it when you can use?

Anyone who has ever seen a period piece, like Downton Abbey, has most likely witnessed the “staff” polishing the silver. While regular maintenance decreases the time-consuming task of cleaning a blackened item, who really has the time (or the staff) to polish silver?

Removing tarnish is pretty much the same process as washing: No jewelry, soft cloths, and warm water.

I use a commercial silver polish. Mine is a cream, but they also come in liquid form. I moisten my cloth and rub it lightly on the silver. As the colour is transferred to the cloth, I switch sections on the cloth so that I’m not wiping “dirt” with “dirt”. I use warm water to rinse, and rinse it well. Sometimes, I have to repeat the whole rub and rinse process to ensure I get it all or so I can see where I missed! I dry the silver very with a soft cloth.

Some silver pros insist on back-and-forth motions, while others insisted in small circles. Do what works for you!

Alternatively, commercial grade “dips” are available but they use very strong chemicals and could damage the silver, so read the instructions carefully. They can often be used the same as polish if you want to reduce the risk.

I was given a homemade recipe for a “dip” process. I tried it once, but didn’t find it very effective. The first item was a silver bell and it was badly tarnished, so this recipe may not have been strong enough to tackle the years of neglect. I also found it less effective for larger items, like my tea pot, because I could only fit so much of the pot in at a time, and it had awkward angles. But here it is for the adventurous:

Cover the bottom of a glass or plastic pan with aluminum foil. Add 1 cup of boiling water, 2 tsp. baking soda and 1 tsp. salt to the pan. Drop the silver in the liquid, making sure each piece is touching. Rinse and buff dry. Repeat as necessary.

It can be labour intensive, but with proper care, your silver can always stay shiny for years to come. Don’t be afraid to use the good dishes!

Here, on this clean balcony, white and impersonal with centuries of sun, I think of half-past-four at Manderley, and the table drawn before the library fire. The door flung open, punctual to the minute, and the performance, never-varying, of the laying of the tea, the silver tray, the kettle, the snowy cloth.

Daphne Du Maurier