To polish silver: Wash items, then place on aluminum foil in the bottom of a pot. Add a baking-soda solution (1 cup soda, a few teaspoons salt, 1 quart boiling water) and cover for a few seconds. The result? A chemical reaction that gets the black off the gravy boat.
I work with silver on a daily basis at my day job as a jeweler, so I not only have every tool imaginable to polish silver, I also have heard the crazy way people clean their jewelry. Everything from mouthwash to toothpaste has been mentioned to me. But this, this is not only a really amazingly simple way to clean jewelry or silver dishes, flatware and vases, it WORKS. This is honestly how I polish 99% of the items that come to me highly tarnished.
Before we get into the how to, lets talk about what tarnish on silver is. Tarnish is basically a thin layer of the silver that is corroded away. Because of this it's very important - especially for antique or silver plated items - that you try your hardest to prevent tarnish in the first place. Something as simple as tarnish preventing strips or a tarnish resistant bag is perfect for that. The more tarnished a piece gets, the more times you have to polish it, the more damage is done to the finish. Especially with silver plated items, which often just have a thin silver coating over base metal like nickel, this is important, otherwise over time the silver will fade away leaving the darker base metal exposed.
I would highly suggest testing this on just a spot if you're working with an antique or silver plated item. Just an FYI.
So lets get down to it - how to polish silver pieces with out scrubbing, buffing, or nasty smelling polishes.
Simply layer a small glass dish or sink depending on the size of the items with aluminum foil, set your pieces on the foil, add in a handful or 2 of baking soda and cover with boiling water.
Yep. That's it. I guess I should also mention that often times you will smell sulfur when you do this - don't worry. The tarnish is produced by sulfur. In fact in jewelry making we USE sulfur to pre-darken pieces.
Why does this work though? Well the science nerd in me loves knowing why things like this work, and I found a great write up here about it. Basically the sulfur producing the tarnish is more drawn to the aluminum than it is the silver, so with the add of the hot water and baking soda, it transfers to that instead of staying on the silver.
Oh and for those who have seen this pin that also states in all caps "BE VERY CAREFUL IT WILL EAT YOUR HANDS AND THROUGH RUBBER GLOVES!" I have to laugh at that. NO, no it won't. The only side effect of this is highly polished silver and faint sulfur smell in the air. It's perfectly safe to use and I often times use my bare hands to fish the finished pieces from the water.