A silver tea set is an elegant addition to a home's decor. It may be an heirloom passed down through generations, or a meaningful recent addition to its owners' collections. Whether the tea set is pure silver, or silver-plate, it is a demanding mistress. Left to tarnish, silver becomes corrosively black, and it may be impossible to revive the luster. Infrequent deep cleansing can remove layers of silver and destroy a carefully etched design. Maintaining silver, and silver-plate, ensures that the treasured tea set survives the centuries.
Caring for Silver-Plate
Careful polishing is the only restorative for silver, whether it's silver or silver-plate. A reaction to atmospheric sulfide gasses and humidity causes silver to tarnish, and the soft metal cannot tolerate cleansing abrasives. Layers of the silver itself are rubbed away with each stroke. The key to maintaining all silver is to use it and then clean it afterwards.
Frequent Use of Silver-Plate
A proper silver tea set consists of a teapot, coffeepot, sugar and cream servers and possibly an additional pot for hot water. All the pieces are displayed on a silver tray. While it may not be feasible to use the set on a daily basis, treating yourself to a pot of tea or coffee served from your tea set not only gives pause to your day, it lengthens the life of your set. The more it's used; the more it's cleaned. Tarnish buildup is avoided, and deep cleansing is rarely required.
The under-metal of silver plate is copper. Do not submerge the tea set pieces in water for any length of time as the copper may corrode the silver. A quick dip in a mild, phosphate-free detergent is enough to wash away the tea or coffee stains. Wipe immediately with a soft, cotton cloth. A second cloth should be used to buff the silver, catching any latent soap residue. A wipe with a silver cloth also brings the silver's shine back to life.
Deep Cleaning a Silver-Plate Tea Set
Household products that are safe for cleaning silver-plate include a mild dishwashing liquid, without added citrus fragrances. Non-aloe hand sanitizer is also safe. Investigate the ingredients of commercial silver cleaners and find one that has a high chalk content and low abrasives. A window cleaner with vinegar is gentle on silver-plate as are cleaners with tarnish-protective polishes built into the formula.
Wear cotton, not rubber, gloves while cleaning your silver to protect it from the oils in your hands; rubber gloves emit damaging sulfurs. Museums use a paste consisting of chalk and water, and while you may not want to grind up your children's pieces of chalk, a quick glance at a cleanser's contents reveals those that fit the standard. Cotton balls and swabs are good for deep-cleaning intricate designs. The spouts of teapots and coffeepots are best cleaned using a cloth-wrapped skewer, many of which are made specifically for cleaning decanters. Use soft cotton towels to thoroughly dry your silver-plate.