Use an Ultrasonic Cleaner to Brighten Tarnished Silver

If you retail flatware and other silver service or operate an antique or consignment shop you’ve probably been visited by folks thinking about disposing of silver service that has been in the family for generations but dark with tarnish.  Should you sense their reluctance to dispose of the silver you can offer an alternative:  restoring it to a like-new condition through the use of an ultrasonic cleaner.

Silver tarnish occurs naturally and stems from many causes.  If allowed to proceed the silver pieces eventually turn black, which makes cleaning difficult especially if there are intricate patterns.  Some chemical dips can be used to remove the tarnish but can actually damage the silver surface.  Instead, a few minutes in an ultrasonic cleaner solution quickly and safely removes tarnish while your customer looks on.

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Selecting and using an ultrasonic cleaner

Ultrasonic cleaning is accomplished by a process called ultrasonic cavitation in an ultrasonic cleaning solution.  Cavitation is created when generator-powered ultrasonic transducers create billions of minute bubbles that implode and carry away contaminants when they contact the surface of pieces being cleaned.  The bubbles reach into intricate pattern crevices to safely remove tarnish virtually impossible to access with a brush or polishing cloth.

For cleaning silver pieces we suggest an ultrasonic cleaner such as the countertop 1.5 gallon capacity Elmasonic EP 60H available on  An important feature of this ultrasonic cleaner is its automatic “sweep” function that delivers homogenous distribution of the ultrasound throughout the bath.  This avoids the potential of streaks developing on the silver surface.

A  4-step process to cleaning tarnished silver   

As you become experienced with cleaning flatware and other silver pieces you’ll develop your own routine.  Here is a good way to start:

  1. For the ultrasonic cleaning solution we recommend Jewelry Clean S8 Precious Metals Cleaner.  This acidic detergent cleans intensively and brightens jewelry and alloys made from precious metals.
  2. Fill the ultrasonic cleaner tank half way with water and add Jewelry Clean S8 to the fill line.  Place the plastic cover on the tank and turn the unit on. Let it operate for approximately 10 minutes to degas the solution by driving off cavitation-inhibiting trapped air.  Degassing must be done each time a new solution is prepared.
  3. When you are ready to clean carefully place the silver in the ultrasonic cleaner basket so pieces do not come in contact with each other.  Lower the basket into the solution and replace the plastic cover.
  4. Set the timer for 1 minute and observe the results.  Longer sessions may be required for heavily tarnished pieces. When the silver is cleaned to your satisfaction rinse it with cold water and wipe it with a dry cloth then wrap it in soft cloth bags and return it to the customer.  We suggest wearing gloves to avoid depositing oils on the silver.

When the cleaning solution becomes discolored and cleaning takes longer it should be replaced.  Dispose of it according to local regulations and take the opportunity to thoroughly clean the tank following the manufacturer’s recommendations.

About Rachel Kohn

So how did an MIT Ph.D. end up selling refrigerators? When I figured out that a lot more scientists buy lab refrigerators than innovative leading-edge instruments. I hope that my many years of lab experience will help you find the right equipment for your work. Before co-founding Tovatech I worked in business development and project management at Smiths Detection, Photon-X, Cardinal Health, and Hoechst Celanese. And before that I spent 12 years as an R&D chemist at Hoechst Celanese and Aventis working on advanced drug delivery systems, polymer films and membranes, optical disks, and polysaccharides. Some day, eventually, I’ll make enough money to develop an innovative technology that will change the world. Read More