60-Second Silver: Silver dips can be dangerous, destructive

If you think you would like to collect silver flatware, you’ll want to reference Warman’s Sterling Silver Flatware, 2nd Edition, Value & Identification Guide by Phil Dreis.
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As a silver restoration and conservation specialist, I have many years of knowledge about chemical dips. I routinely receive objects for refinishing due to damage from these horribly destructive products.

Chemical dips, such as Tarn-X, work by dissolving the tarnish on an object at an accelerated rate. Dips are used by silver restorers when heavy black tarnish cannot be removed with liquid or paste polishes. Chemical dips are wiped over the object with a cellulose sponge or cotton ball, as submerging the piece for long periods will remove factory-applied patinas and cause pitting of the object’s surface. These surface defects will act like a sponge and more readily absorb tarnish-producing gases and moisture. The object may then require professional polishing to restore the original finish.

Chemical dips are made up of an acid and a complexing agent. Acids are corrosive and will damage niello, bronze, stainless steel knife blades, and organic materials such as wood and ivory. The ingredients can also be harmful to the user, which is why silver restorers wear nitrile gloves and work in a well ventilated area. Chemical dips should never be used on objects that have sealed components, such as candlesticks and trophies with hollow feet, or teapots with hollow handles. Once the dip leaks into the cavity through small holes or imperfections in the joints, it becomes virtually impossible to wash the chemical out. If you’re working on a baby cup with this type of rim, do you really want an infant drinking from it after using Tarn-X?

The following is from their own Material Safety Data Sheet: “Potential Health Effects … Routes of Exposure: Eyes, Skin, Inhalation and Ingestion.

Target Organs: Blood, liver, bone marrow, thyroid, reproductive system. Probable carcinogen and mutagen: Thiourea causes cancer in rats. Wash hands thoroughly after use.

Eye Contact: Can cause blurred vision, redness, pain, severe tissue pain, and eye damage. Effects may vary depending on length of exposure, solution concentration, and first aid measures.

Skin Contact: Causes skin irritation.

Inhalation: May cause mucous membranes and upper respiratory tract irritation. Symptoms may include burning sensation, coughing, wheezing, laryngitis, shortness of breath, headache, nausea, and vomiting.

Ingestion: Harmful if swallowed. May cause gastrointestinal irritation with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. May cause burns to the digestive tract.

Chronic Effects: Prolonged or repeated exposure may cause reproductive and fetal effects. Laboratory experiments have resulted in mutagenic effects.”

For all the above reasons, this cleaning technique should only be used by individuals with training in its proper use. ?

Jeffrey Herman encourages anyone with silver-related questions that can’t be answered on his Web site hermansilver.com to contact him. He may be reached at 800-339-0417or jeff@hermansilver.com or at PO Box 786, West Warwick, RI 02893.

Jeffrey Herman started Herman Silver Restoration & Conservation in 1984, and has repaired and reconstructed everything from historically important tankards, tea services, and tureens to disposal-damaged flatware. Herman has worked at Gorham as a designer, sample maker, and technical illustrator and at Pilz Ltd., where he learned the fine art of restoration. Herman has a BFA degree in silversmithing and is the founder of the Society of American Silversmiths.


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