Toothpaste (not the gel kind) will definitely work but if the tarnish is fairly bad it would take a lot less elbow grease to use good old fashioned silver polish remover that you can buy in almost every market or hardware store.
You would be better off trying to re-sell the items on eBay, Craigslist, a second hand store, or consignment store 'after' you've polished them to fetch a higher price. (10/27/2008)
Silver tarnish is a coating of silver sulfide on the surface of the piece. If you use a silver polish, or toothpaste, or a baking soda paste, you are rubbing a bit of the silver off each time.
When you use the hot water and aluminum method, you are creating a chemical reaction that transfers the sulfur from the silver to the aluminum, which is why the aluminum looks dark when you have finished the process. The aluminum is now "tarnished", as it were. The salt or baking soda, or combination of these, in the water as well as heating the water just speeds up the chemical reaction. You can also use Calgon. I suppose you could use caustic soda, but it is corrosive to your skin, so there is no point in doing so. Some sources also suggest vinegar. What you are doing by adding the substance, whatever it is, to the water, is producing an electrolyte which enhances the chemical reaction. Sometimes you also get a bit of a rotten egg smell, which is some of the sulfur escaping as a gas, hydrogen sulfide. Not enough of this is produced to be harmful in your kitchen. Open a window. It is just stinky.
In my experience, cleaning my collection of silver coffee spoons with this, some spoons cleaned up better than others. Some seemed to be slightly dull. I would polish the dull ones with a silver polish. They were not tarnished, but just didn't seem to be a shiny as the other spoons. I suspect it was the quality of the silver that made the difference. (10/27/2008)
I have heard that if you put water softener in a pie pan lined with aluminum foil, it works. I use white king water softener. (10/27/2008)
By chris t.
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