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Cleaning alchemy: Baking soda, vinegar, and your metals

July 9, 2012 - Ilsa Matthes
I have a confession to make about my childhood: I never made a baking soda volcano. Don’t get me wrong, I mixed vinegar and baking soda together. I just did it in old film canisters. I spent hours watching the small plastic lids launch off those miniature trash cans.

Now that I am older — and film canisters are harder to come by thanks to digital cameras — I have discovered that there are many more uses for the two compounds. If you are trying to live a frugal, eco-friendly lifestyle baking soda and vinegar are as valuable as the Philosopher’s Stone.

No, you won’t be able to turn lead to gold, but you will be able to make your silver completely tarnish free.

Line the bottom of a heat-resistant baking dish with aluminum foil. Boil some water and pour it into the pan. Next, add some baking soda and a bit of table salt to the water. Using tongs, place your silver onto the aluminum foil and watch as the tarnish disappears.

Do not let your silver sit in the water for longer than five minutes. Rise the pieces and dry them with a clean, soft cloth. Silver is a relatively fragile metal and baking soda can be damaging if it is allowed to stay on the silver for too long.

I should point out that if your silver has an oxidized or “French gray” finish, don’t use this method. If your silver is a highly valuable antique that needs to be kept under lock, key, and constant guard, you might want to investigate other cleaning methods. While this method is time-tested, you practice it at your own risk.

So now your favorite silver jewelry is shimmering in the light. You rush to the bathroom to admire how good it makes you look in the mirror. That’s when you notice that your shower-head and faucet aren’t so shiny. In fact, they are covered with flakey, white, lime-scale.

Not a problem. A plastic bag filled with plain white vinegar can clean your fixtures while you kick back with a cup of coffee. Just rubber band the bag over your shower head or faucet so that the fixture is submerged in the vinegar.

Tiny bubbles will form at first, and then you will be able to see flakes of lime scale collecting at the bottom of the bag. After a few hours, take the bag off and run some water to wash away the vinegar smell. Your fixtures will shine and run better now that lime scale is not blocking water flow.

Let’s assume that not everything in your house is silver, steel, or chrome. What about brass, bronze, or copper? A paste made from baking soda and vinegar can be used with a soft cloth to clean these metals. You will have to wait until the paste stops foaming before you can use it.

Do not use a stiff bristled brush on these metals because they can easily scratch. After using the paste, rinse the metal, and then buff it with another soft, dry cloth. If your metal is particularly dirty you may need to repeat the process.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend baking soda or vinegar to clean gold. Both have been suggested all over the internet but my research has lead me to believe that the risks outweigh the benefits. Dish soap diluted in water and an old toothbrush seem to be the best cleaners for gold.

If any of your metal items have pearls, opals, or other stones embedded in them it is probably best to take them to be cleaned by a professional. Even the most benign cleaning solutions can easily damage stones or glue.

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All of the tips provided have been tested and researched. However, accidents do happen, and you try these tips at your own risk.

If you have a thrifty or eco-friendly tip or want to share your experiences, leave me a comment.


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