Tag Archives: tarnish

Vintage silver in mayonnaise

Vintage silver in mayonnaise

Vintage silver in mayonnaise - this is the Trader Joe's organic.

The Wednesday posts of the last two week about cleaning your silver and salt and silver have continued to generate fascinating discussions and a conundrum. The conclusion, silver is a lot tougher than we think.

Experiment number 2: Vintage silver in mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is high on the list of foods that people have been warned to keep their silver away from. So, after immersing my 1802 salt spoon in fleur de sel for a week, I thought my next experiment would be leaving a piece vintage silver in mayonnaise for 24 hours.

I settled on 24 hours because that seemed a reasonable length of time in which to let the mayo work it’s wicked way, but not long as to cause a health hazard. Really, if you are letting dirty flatware sit around for more than 24 hours, tarnish is the least of your worries!

Mindful of the discussion about different chemical compounds in salt potentially having different effects on the silver, I used a store bought mayo and made one.

You can see the results for yourself in the photo below. They surprised me.

Vintage silver in mayonnaise - before


Vintage silver in mayonnaise - after


Hmmm….absolutely nothing.

A Facebook Enquiry

By coincidence, as I was conducting this experiment, an ongoing conversation on Facebook came to the same conclusion.

A newcomer to Silver Magpies contacted me directly with a silver question.  She had purchased some Aegean Weave flatware. Her flatware had been cleaned using the water, baking soda, salt and tin foil method – this had done two things.

  1. Her flatware had been cleaned of every single bit of tarnish, which in the case of this pattern is not a good thing. Very intricate patterns look best when there is tarnish in the low spots to define the detail of the pattern.
  2. In all likelihood the water used had been too hot.  When the water is too hot (i.e. boiling) it  causes a white-ish blemish to appear on the silver.  It’s looks almost like a bleach spot.  Once you have seen one it’s quite unmistakable.

So now we needed to put tarnish back on the silver, oh the irony!

Famous last words: This should be a simple problem to fix

As I was in the midst of my mayo experiment and was certain that it would leave some tarnish I advised the lady to do the same.  The result for her was also nada, zip, zero.

OK, try some eggs was my next suggestion.  Eggs are also on the  warning list and I figured that if mayo has eggs mixed with other ingredients perhaps a higher egg concentration would do the trick. Scrambled eggs failed to leave a trace of tarnish.  Next we tried the yolk of a hard boiled egg. Same result, nothing.

By this time I really was scratching my head.  These foods are on every warning list I’ve ever seen about silver. They are all sulfurous which causes tarnish.  So why was direct contact no causing tarnish…after all that is how silver is generally used…in direct contact with food!

Racking my brains trying to come up with a suggestion and reflecting on a commenter’s notion that she ship the silver to a place with a hot sulfur spring, I looked up how to re-create that at home.  The answer apparently is epsom salts will produce sulfur water, but we never got that far.

Quite by chance, I also mentioned this conversation to Cynthia Bogart who happens to be the editor of The Daily Basics for whom I write.  She was intrigued and said she would mention it to her husband, who works in the museum conservation field, to see if he had any thoughts.

A short time later an email pinged into my inbox.  Try egg yolks, but mash them up, then place the yolks and the silver in a plastic bag and seal tightly.  The sulfur released from the eggs would permeate the atmosphere contained in the bag resulting in tarnish. I passed on this suggestion and voila!  Success the silver is tarnished.

An unlikely scenario

You’ll have to forgive my skepticism, incredulity…I’m not quite sure how to describe it…but if the warnings about eggs and silver are based not on direct contact – even prolonged direct contact – but on creating an atmosphere sufficiently saturated with sulfur as to cause tarnish, then I think we can all relax about that danger.

I’d be willing to guess that the sulfur concentration in your dining room is not going to be high enough to cause any tarnish even if you have made 4 dozen deviled eggs for your party.  Even less of a concern if it’s a backyard picnic.


Even if you do end up putting your silver and some eggs in a small container together and then forget about them for a day or two it’s only tarnish.  As it comes off, quite easily leaving no lasting effects 🙂