Is It Safe To Eat With Tarnished Silverware?

Sterling silver flatware is not only a beautiful way to spruce up a holiday spread, but this luxury cutlery is also quite valuable. However, for those who have older pieces that may have lost their original luster, is it safe to eat with tarnished silverware or should it be cleaned prior to meal time? We iron out the details so that you can shine on any occasion! 

Generally speaking, it is safe to eat with most tarnished silverware. However, the flatware must not have any physical damage such as deep scratches or blemishes. Moreover, the silverware must be pure silver, sterling silver or silver plated. If lead is in the utensils it will never be safe for use, with or without tarnish. Finally, you should not use tarnished silverware to eat acidic foods. This will exacerbate the problem and can lead to the leeching of some of the metals into the food.

While you can skip polishing your silver, it is always recommended that you take this step in order to provide the safest meal time experience for yourself, your family and your guests. Avoid harsh cleaners and chemicals. Instead stick with more natural options like white vinegar and baking soda as well as the tried and true soap and water.

Why Does Sterling Silver Silverware Tarnish?

Most silver flatware is not actually made with 100% silver. Instead, it is a combination of silver along with a small percentage of other metals, stereotypically copper.

Why? Silver is an extremely malleable metal. By adding hard materials to the mixture, it makes the utensils much simpler to make and more durable for use.

While this makes these instruments much more functional, it is also the reason that this fancy flatware tends to tarnish. Both moisture and sulfur in the air react with the copper and cause this undesirable change in the coloring of the metal alloy. 

Silverware Tarnish

This thin oxide coating, which is usually a silver sulfide, is unattractive, but will likely not cause any major health issues. This is assuming that you are using genuine silver.

Sterling Silver Safety — Pure Silver and Silver Plated Silverware And Hollowware Are Safe

According to the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, “unlike other metals such as lead and mercury, silver is not toxic to humans and is not known to cause cancer, reproductive or neurological damage, or other chronic adverse effect.

This is because solid silver is almost completely biologically inert, and even if ingested, would pass through the human body without being absorbed into tissues.”

This means that it is likely safe to eat with tarnished silverware, with silver plated spoons, forks and knives are the safest bet. However, some people may notice some minor stomach upset when using silver alloy products.

Therefore, it is always best to clean these utensils prior to eating with them. This also applies to any silver hollowware like trays, serving dishes and drink pitchers.

 Moreover, as mentioned above, silver is not the only component in these utensils. Unfortunately, some of these metals have can have dangerous health impacts.

Toxic Metals

Copper is a toxic metal and consumption is not advised. Thankfully, most silver flatware contains a maximum of 7.5% of copper, so the impact is minimal.

When using this type of product, it is important to look for damage before use. Eating off of tarnished silverware will likely not cause many issues, but if the utensils are scratched or severely damaged, leeching is a major concern.

Thus, the tarnish will become tainted as well. Do not eat with these pieces. Instead, discard them or use them for display purposes only. 

Moreover, when the antique silverware is silver plated, you run the risk of lead being a part of the alloy. This is also extremely toxic.

tarnished copper utensils

Due to the fact that most silver flatware is not in the original packaging and is many times an inherited item from a deceased relative, it is extremely important that you look for markings or insignias to determine if the silverware is genuine.

Signs Of Authenticity 

The word “sterling” or the number “925” will be stamped on genuine sterling silver. Interestingly enough, the figure 925 signifies that the item contains 92.5% silver.

Additionally, silver utensils manufactured in other countries will have either a lion passant icon or the combination of three icons (a lion, an anchor and the letter G) stamped on the pieces. 

Tests To Determine Material Composition Of The Silverware

Another fantastic solution for ensuring safety is to simply buy 3M LeadCheck Swabs! This is a simple way to determine if there is lead in the metal. Best of all, you get the results in 30 seconds!

Once you determine if the silverware is safe, there are simple ways to remove the tarnish off of the utensils.

Top Techniques For Removing Tarnish From Silverware

Silver polish sounds like a quick fix for this unsightly issue, but it is important to note that many of these products are not safe for consumption. Therefore, natural methods are always best.

Moreover, always avoid abrasive cleaning tools that may scratch the flatware.

Step 1: Let Natural Chemical Reactions Bring Your Tarnished Silverware Back To Its Original Glory

Method 1: Baking Soda & Aluminum Foil 

This is a simple and effective method for large quantities of heavily tarnished silverware. Simply line a large Pyrex container with heavy duty aluminum foil.

Next, mix boiling water and baking soda in the baking dish at a 1:1 ratio (cups to tablespoons). 

Fill two thirds of the container with the water and baking soda mixture. Thus, if you are using a 4.8 quart glass baking dish, boil 12 cups (or 3 quarts) of water and combine it with 12 tablespoons of baking soda.

Finally, carefully place the silverware in the dish. Make sure that each piece is in contact with the aluminum. This will facilitate the chemical reaction that will remove the tarnish. Leave the pieces for as long as 10 minutes. 

Method 2: Vinegar, Baking Soda & Water

Distilled white vinegar and baking soda have amazing natural cleaning abilities. Not only will they cut through grime and tarnish, but they also disinfect the surfaces at the same time! 

For this technique, take a large container and fill it with warm water. Then, mix in two tablespoons of baking soda and half a cup of distilled white vinegar.

Finally, place the tarnished silverware inside the bowl or dish. Leave it for up to three hours. 

Step 2: Rinse And Wash The Silverware

After using any of the aforementioned methods in step one, rinse the silverware in cold water. Next, using a gentle dish soap, wash the silverware in warm water with a microfiber cloth.

Remember to avoid cleaners that contain sulfates, bleaches and other harsh cleaning agents. Furthermore, avoid lemon and citrus scented products. Acid based products can actually cause tarnish to form.

Finally, buff and dry each piece with another non-abrasive dish towel. NEVER allow these pieces to air dry.

Moisture will cause more tarnish to form. Additionally, NEVER put these items in the dishwasher. Only hand wash. 

How To Prevent Your Silver From Becoming Tarnished So That It Is Always Safe To Eat With

Clean Your Silverware Regularly So It Is Always Safe To Eat With

The first method of prevention is to simply wash your silver with good old fashioned soap and water. Leaving it for too long will allow a heavy layer of tarnish to form, making the process to remove it much harder later down the line.

Therefore, conduct these cleanings every few months. 

eating with clean silverware

IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember that with silver, there is such a thing as cleaning it too much. Limit these quicker polishing sessions to once every two months

Proper Storage Is Imperative

Moreover, those beautiful silverware chests are not just for show! Versions lined with tarnish free flannel are a spectacular investment.

Why? It is a simple way to cut back on the need to polish your flatware. 

If this mini furniture piece is not in the budget, you can also wrap the silverware in cotton muslim fabric or silver cloth and then store it in a large ziplock bag. Make sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing.

This will limit oxygen and moisture from impacting the silverware. 

silverware on a plate with moisture formed

IMPORTANT NOTE: NEVER store your silver flatware using a rubber band. This common desk supply item contains sulfur. Therefore, it will cause the utensils to tarnish.

Avoid Using Both Tarnished And Polished Silverware With Certain Foods To Make Sure It Is Safe To Eat

Silver tarnishes due to chemical reactions with sulfur containing compounds. Acidic foods will only enhance these reactions.Furthermore, when copper or lead are a part of the utensils composition, these ingredients can actually cause these metals to leech into the food.

Thus, when intend to use your silver, avoid serving dishes that include fish, eggs, onions, dairy products, peanut butter, black tea and citrus fruits.

Final Thoughts

Determining whether or not it is safe to eat with tarnished silverware can be a difficult task for those who have not received the history behind this coveted antique. That is why it is always best to err on the side of caution and polish these products prior to the meal.

Lastly, silver flatware is a gorgeous addition to any dinner party. However, it can be a lot to keep up with on a regular basis. If you are looking for elegant options that provide the same allure without as much maintenance, stainless steel or zinc plated silverware are a great choice.

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