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03/19/2012 / thriftomancer

Redox redux

I’ve written about restoring tarnished silver (with science!) before. However, that was on a large scale, cleaning every bit of tarnished stuff I had in one fell swoop. Today I’ll show you an easy way to do it on a small scale and slightly faster too.

The Mjollnir pendant that I wear most every day has become so tarnished that it’s difficult to discern the silver design from the purposely applied black patina. I like tarnish to an extent, but this needs to come off. After all, what good is celtic knotwork if the design’s been turned to black on black?

Here’s Mjollnir before cleaning. (The lighting makes it look better than it actually is.) Next to it is the bath of tarnish-remover.

Mjollnir - before

To get more surface area for the reaction, I tore a bunch of foil into confetti-sized bits. I’m using also a different recipe for the liquid this time. As before, the aluminum foil will be reacting with the silver sulfide tarnish, drawing the sulfur component away from the silver. What’s different now is that, instead of a mix of water and baking soda, straight lemon juice serves as my salt bridge. The lemon juice, being very acidic, has a high concentration of ions (H+) to conduct along the loosed sulfur atoms so it should work very fast.

(If you’re wondering why I didn’t use lemon juice the first time I did this, it’s simple: The stuff’s expensive. It’s fine to use if only a little is needed, but if you’re going to need a lot at once it’s better to use a cheap substitute that works equally well.)

For single-serving tarnish baths, though, lemon juice is excellent. So excellent, in fact, that I that I surprised the pants off myself while doing this. I wanted to time the cleaning for science’s sake. My expectation was that the reaction would take about 4 minutes, so imagine my shock when, after a mere 14 seconds in the bath, Mjollnir was brilliantly, sparklingly clean.

Mjollnir - after

(Note: Because the reaction occurs much faster with this recipe, more hydrogen sulfide gas is produced at once. This means the gas doesn’t have much time to dissipate and can begin to build up, making this version of the reaction potentially much stinkier than when it’s done with baking soda and water. Make sure you crack a window and don’t hang your head over the bath.)

Honestly, where would science be without lemons?

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