What's the Best Green Way to Clean Tarnish Off Antiques?

Good Question

Q: As a student in interior design I was taught to use naphtha for cleaning antiques. Now I am more concerned about being green. What is best?

Sent by Brenda

Editor: Here's what our friends at Green Home Guide say.

Answered by Jennifer Davidson, J. Davidson Design & Consulting

Take a slice of cucumber and rub it on the metal surface you want to clean. Not only will it remove years of tarnish and bring back the shine, but it won't leave streaks and won't harm your fingers or fingernails while you clean.
Regular mineral spirits or odorless mineral spirits (which is almost the same thing, just not quite as strong an odor) are a substitute for naphtha, but not quite as powerful so will require more time and effort to remove the grime.
Baking soda, unscented soap in liquid form, white vinegar, cornstarch, and citrus solvent such as a lemon wedge are all natural materials that can be used sparingly to clean furniture. Just be sure to wipe away any residue with a damp cloth and then wipe again with a clean, dry cloth.
Below are some homemade recipes that work great!

Furniture Polish

For varnished wood, add a few drops of lemon oil into 1/2 cup warm water. Mix well and spray onto a soft cotton cloth. Cloth should only be slightly damp. Wipe furniture with the cloth, and finish by wiping once more using a dry soft cotton cloth. For unvarnished wood, mix two tsp. each of olive oil and lemon juice and apply a small amount to a soft cotton cloth. Wring the cloth to spread the mixture further into the material and apply to the furniture using wide strokes. This helps distribute the oil evenly.

Metal Cleaners and Polishes

Aluminum: using a soft cloth, clean with a solution of cream of tartar and water.
Brass or bronze: polish with a soft cloth dipped in lemon and baking-soda solution, or vinegar and salt solution. Another method is to apply a dab of ketchup on a soft cloth and rub over tarnished spots.
Chrome: polish with baby oil, vinegar, or aluminum foil shiny side out.
Copper: soak a cotton rag in a pot of boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup white vinegar. Apply to copper while hot; let cool, then wipe clean. For tougher jobs, sprinkle baking soda or lemon juice on a soft cloth, then wipe. For copper cookware, sprinkle a lemon wedge with salt, then scrub. A simpler method is to apply a dab of ketchup on a soft cloth and rub over tarnished spots.
Gold: clean with toothpaste, or a paste of salt, vinegar, and flour.
Silver: line a pan with aluminum foil and fill with water; add a teaspoon each of baking soda and salt. Bring to a boil and immerse silver. Polish with soft cloth.
Stainless steel: clean with a cloth dampened with undiluted white vinegar, or olive oil. For stainless cookware, mix 4 tbsp. baking soda in 1 qt. water, and apply using a soft cloth. Wipe dry using a clean cloth. For stainless steel sinks, pour some club soda on an absorbent cloth to clean, then wipe dry using a clean cloth.
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(Image: Sarah Starkey, How To Clean Silver with Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil)