Keep Your Silver Well
Aside from the fact that it is soft, and therefore scratches easily, silver is durable, and the only problem generally associated with it is tarnish. In the days when wealthy families could employ a platoon of help, the daily upkeep of silver was not a drawback. Nowadays, it is more common for silver to go a long time between cleanings, and the build-up of tarnish can be quite extreme, making the cleaning process more intensive. Silver molecules will combine with certain other elements for which it has an affinity to create a corrosion product which we call tarnish. It follows then that removing tarnish (usually by means of an abrasive polish) means removing some of the silver itself. Therefore, tarnish formation should be prevented as much as possible to avoid this gradual loss of silver. Sulphurs are the strongest tarnishing agents, as anyone who has eaten an egg with a silver spoon or fork will know. But sulphurs are also present as pollutants in the air from the burning of fossil fuels, and even generated in our homes from such products as foam rubbers, carpet padding, paints, wool or felt. Chlorides in the air and high humidity also promote tarnishing. Even normal handling of silver leaves oily salts from our fingers which then develop into distinct corrosion patterns. Silver kept in a cabinet or cupboard that closes securely enough to prevent air exchange is at least somewhat protected from air-borne sulphurs and chlorides. If the cabinet is made of wood, the interior surfaces should be well sealed. Other objects stored with the silver should be compatible – plastics and fabrics may generate tarnishing agents, while china and glass are undoubtedly safe.
Avoid touching clean silver with your hands; use a dish cloth or tissue as a buffer. In museums, cotton or latex gloves are always worn by staff handling silver and other metals to prevent the transfer of body oils and salts.