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Old 03-09-2010, 06:45 PM
Sycorax Sycorax is offline
Join Date: May 1999
Location: northeast Florida USA
Posts: 1,407
Rust on silver-plate? How to clean?

My husband does WWII reenacting as a British officer. In an antique store, he found a small tea service that is labeled as silver-plated (the label is a tiny paper label glued loosely to the bottom of each piece.) The service includes a small teapot, a sugar (with lid) and creamer (no lid), and a round tray to hold them. He expects to use this tea service in one of his living history events. It had been sitting on the kitchen counter near the sink. After a few weeks, I noticed what appeared to be rust stains on the tray. Hubby moved it away from the sink, assuming that the “rust” was caused by splashed water. He’s made no attempt to clean up the items. Today, I washed them with dish soap and a scrub pad, which did nothing. I just examined these items closely. The teapot (with attached lid) appears pristine inside, but has a lot of tarnish (blackish spotting) on the outside. The sugar (with lid) and creamer (no lid) both have what appears to be rust inside on the bottoms, but very little tarnish on the outside. The tray appears to have some tarnish and a lot of rust. I’m thinking hubby got taken (but I don't want to tell him that); true silver plate wouldn’t rust, would it? I wanted to clean up the set for hubby, but don’t want to take chances on making it worse. I know there are rust removers, but not how they might affect silver plating (if indeed it is silver plating). Is this tea set beyond repair? Your advice please.
Old 03-09-2010, 08:23 PM
matt matt is offline
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: A Brit in 'Stralia
Posts: 1,964
Steel rusts; silver doesn't, although it can tarnish. Silver-plated steel is an unlikely material for a teapot set. Silver is more commonly plated on brass, copper or nickel-silver.

If you have orange-brown rust stains, I'd bet you actually have a chrome plated steel set, and not that well plated (ideally you have nickel plating first and the chrome goes on top.) Chrome and silver plate look quite different though - silver appears"whiter" while chrome is more mirror-like. Try comparing the set with jewellery and bath taps (faucets).

Most rust-removers are acidic - typically oxalic acid or phosphoric acid. They may take the stains off, but you'll risk new rust forming straight afterwards. Personally I'd try oxalic acid, flush with lots of clean water afterwards and dry quickly.

Last edited by matt; 03-09-2010 at 08:25 PM. Reason: translate "tap" into American
Old 03-10-2010, 02:47 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Join Date: May 2001
Location: England
Posts: 57,244
Even normal polishing of tarnished silver (i.e. with a proper silver polish compound) is removing some of the material - because the black stuff you're rubbing off is a silver compound (oxide? - not sure) - this makes little real difference to solid silver items and you can get away with it for a while on silver plate, but eventually, you're going to wear through the plating and expose the substrate (I hate eating with EPNS cutlery for this reason)

If it's a valuable item, it's best left to the professionals to restore. If it's just a decorative piece, then it should be possible to get it cleaned and re-plated.

Last edited by Mangetout; 03-10-2010 at 02:49 AM.
Old 03-10-2010, 03:31 PM
Rodd Hill Rodd Hill is offline
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Victoria BC
Posts: 2,022
I won't speak to the metallurgical end of the situation, but I have to ask: what is he re-enacting that a tea service would be a requirement?

If it's a formal mess dinner or a headquarters building somewhere, then I could see it. But if he's portraying an army officer in the field, or an RAF type waiting for the Jerries to come over the briny, then either the brown enamelled tin mug or a thick white vitreous mug (preferably cracked) would be more appropriate.

I suppose on some of the larger Navy ships they might have still used pre-war tea services (but again for formal dinners, not up on the bridge for a quick cuppa).

Last edited by Rodd Hill; 03-10-2010 at 03:33 PM. Reason: Mispeling Vyrus attack.
Old 03-11-2010, 09:12 PM
Sycorax Sycorax is offline
Join Date: May 1999
Location: northeast Florida USA
Posts: 1,407
I think he intends to use it more as a demonstrative living history thing. He rarely does actual reenactments of battles or skirmishes. He was in the US Army and I know he does research on the Brits' role in WWII (books and online). He's never been very receptive to my suggestions for researching, or inclined to take my inquiries seriously. (In other words, when it comes to things military, he thinks he's proficient and I'm ignorant -- which I am.) I don't think he paid a lot for the tea service, but I wanted to clean it up for him. Since he hasn't shown much interest in it so far, I think I'll let it go until he decides he wants to use it. Thanks everyone.
Old 03-12-2010, 04:26 PM
Hari Seldon Hari Seldon is offline
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Trantor
Posts: 11,495
Although this doesn't answer the question, the way to clean silver plate that removes only a tiny amount of the silver is to immerse it completely in a pot, add some baking soda (the amount is not critical) and a good hunk of aluminum foil, and simmer for a while. You will smell a bit of hydrogen sulfide as the silver sulfide (which is what the tarnish is) is reduced to metallic silver and the aluminum foil will be somewhat eaten away. This will not restore the shine, but it does restore the metal. As has been pointed out, using polish just removes the tarnish, silver and all and you eventually not have silver plate.
Old 03-12-2010, 05:42 PM
Sycorax Sycorax is offline
Join Date: May 1999
Location: northeast Florida USA
Posts: 1,407
I appreciate the info, but I'm reluctant to do anything that might further damage the set. I'm just going to leave it be for now. Thanks all.
Old 03-13-2010, 09:53 AM
ianzin ianzin is offline
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Near London, UK.
Posts: 4,202
May I ask if there was any particular reason for the Yoda-fication of the thread title? I'm just curious. I'd have gone with, 'How to clean rust on silver plate?'
Old 03-13-2010, 04:10 PM
Sycorax Sycorax is offline
Join Date: May 1999
Location: northeast Florida USA
Posts: 1,407
Wouldn't Yoda have said it backwards, like, "clean how to"? It think it's more a search engine-fication. (google-fication? put the key word or short phrase first, then modifiers. Also, there's a limit on the title length, and I prefer to get the title on one line.


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