Word of the Week: Tarnish

So, I’m kind of cheating with this week’s WotW. I mean, I think most of us know what tarnish is. For those of you that don’t, or are unaware of its technical definition, tarnish is simply a thin layer of corrosion that forms over certain types of metal (silver and copper being amongst the top two), when that metal comes in contact with certain elements.

The interesting part is that tarnish is actually kind of complicated. It’s actually a chemical reaction between the metal and the air (in some cases, but not all). Other metal need certain chemicals to jump start this process for them. Tarnish is also not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a surface phenomenon, unlike rust, and doesn’t harm the metal. In fact, it actually seals in the layers underneath and protects them from further tarnish!

There are different kinds of tarnish too, the most well known being called patina. This is the reaction that you usually see on copper or brass. (And if you want an in-your-face example of it, just look at the Statue of Liberty!)

As I stated above, most tarnish is harmless. It’s also easy to remove. You can use steel wool, sand paper, baking soda, metal polish, or a variety of other things. I’ve heard that using ketchup is a great way to get rid of patina.

The best part about all of this is that tarnish can be beautiful. In some cases, it causes a rainbow affect to your pieces. Some people will collect silverplate and keep the tarnish intact because it’s just that gorgeous!

Check out some examples that I pulled down from our shelves, just for you!

First Up:

This is the most beautiful spoon I’ve ever seen. it is COMPLETELY covered in tarnish from head to toe. It’s got orange, red, pink, purple, and a stunning teal color running through it. I’ve never seen something so completely covered before!


Here’s a huge teapot that’s tarnished on just one side. This one in particular is very purple and blue. You can see how the tarnish doesn’t cover every inch of the pot, which makes the spoon above even more amazing.


Here’s a gorgeous sugar bowl that actually comes from the same set as the teapot above.

Doesn’t that make you never want to never polish your silver sets again!? It’s important to note that I didn’t do ANYTHING to change the coloring on these pictures. I didn’t even whiten the background because I wanted them to be as true to the real thing as possible. These are 100% absolutely what they look like when you hold them in your hand.

So the real question here is, “To polish or not to polish?” I know my answer…what’s yours?


9 thoughts on “Word of the Week: Tarnish

  1. thatmidcenturyfella says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves that hues that show up in the tarnish colors.

  2. While I think the colors are beautiful, for my purpose, I need to polish them. I don’t think serving them with tarnish would make our guest too happy.

    • That’s for sure! I don’t have any silver myself, but if I were using them, I’d definitely have to polish them too. But if they were just for display? I might have to leave them a while so they could turn this color. 🙂

  3. A Ponytail Kind of Day says:

    If I am going to use them, polish them, but if I am going to use for decoration or jewelry, tarnished. I sometimes do both, leave the details tarnished and have the main surface cleaned.

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