Tag Archives: tarnish

Silver and Onions | Sulfur Experiment

silver and onions

Knife #1 spent 5 days in here.

Let’s turn back for a moment to the ongoing series of experiments with the ‘don’t’ list. The last post chronicled my Silver and Tomatos experience.  Today we look at silver and onions.

This post was prompted by a conversation with regular reader Ivette.  She wondered why silver near the vegetable bowl she keeps on the counter seemed tarnish more quickly than the pieces that live on the counter near the cookbooks.

We hypothesized that perhaps the increased rate of tarnishing had something to do with the onions in the veggie bowl. Onions make us cry when we chop them, because they release sulfur. Exposure to sulfur in the air is the cause of tarnish on silver.

Slam dunk that the knife in contact with the onions is going to be a mess, right?


My methodology was straightforward, two butter knives photographed before and after.  Knife #2 spent five (5) days buried in a container of chopped onions.  Knife #1 was stored in it’s usual spot – it was not used during the duration of the experiment.

silver and onions | sulfur experiment

Knife #2, it got submerged even more completely.

The photo on the left shows knife #2 in the onion container (which I put in a ziplock bag). For the purposes of the photo I left the knife showing a bit. After the photo was taken I pushed it down so it was completely covered by the onions.

The bundle then spent 5 days on the counter.  I didn’t peek and couldn’t see the knife through the covering of onions.

On an amusing note, Mr. Magpies has just enquired as to what I’m doing.  When I explained, he said “oh, good thing I didn’t throw that container of onions out!”.

Lucky for us, the experiment remained undisturbed.  I felt like I had the Jeopardy theme going in my head for an extended period.

Silver and Onions | The Sensational Results

silver and onions | sulfur experiment

Before. Both knives look very similar.

silver and onions | sulfur experiment

After! Wait, why doesn't knife #2 look like charcoal?

I have to say, I was utterly crestfallen when I finally rescued knife #2. My imagination had supplied a vivid image of a blacked tarnished disaster.  Instead all we got was a few minor grubby patches!  What went wrong?


Obviously our initial hypothesis didn’t hold up.  Was that because:

  • onions only release sulfur during the actual cutting stage
  • does the onion juice somehow counteract the sulfur?
  • did I magically pick a sulfur-less onion? (I cried chopping it up!)

It’s probably a good thing I’m not a professional scientist, as I think every one of these ‘experiments’ has yielded the opposite results from my expectations!

The Bright Side

Regardless, what we can conclude is that leaving your sterling in contact with onions will not instantly tarnish it.


However, as always at the end of these posts…if you are leaving your sterling in the onions for 5 days straight, you probably have other things to worry about that tarnish. Unless you are conducting a series of mad scientist posts 😉