Silver Plated Cutlery, Flatware and Hollow Ware

Most silver plated cutlery and hollow ware is marked ‘E.P.N.S.’ – the abbreviation for ‘Electro-Plated Nickel-Silver’. ‘Nickel-Silver’ identifies the base metal as a copper-zinc-nickel alloy; it contains no silver but, because its nickel content imparts a colour more akin to silver than brass, it has always been known as ‘nickel-silver’. ‘Electro-plated’ in this context means that the articles are electro-plated with silver – the first metal to be used extensively in electro-plating. In many countries including USA, nickel silver is not used, but brass is used instead.

Stainless steel cutlery or hollowware is sometimes silver plated, in which case it may be marked ‘E.P.S.S.’. Knife blades with a cutting edge are made from stainless and are not plated with silver because it would blunt their edges. The life of silver plate depends upon its thickness and how often it is used. A household that saves its silver plated cutlery for special occasions may use it on average only once a month – elsewhere it may be used several times a day. When selecting cutlery, it is advisable to compare the thickness of silver claimed to be present on each and every piece (averages based upon half a dozen pieces are less meaningful because some pieces are likely to have a significantly thinner silver thickness than that average). Silver thickness is normally quoted in ‘microns’. (One micron is one thousandth of a millimeter). As a very approximate guide, work on at least 1 micron of silver thickness for every year of intended use.


The characteristic white ‘patina’ of silver which is responsible for much of its aesthetic appeal becomes more pronounced with age due to the optical effect of the multitude of very fine scratches that develop in use. On new highly polished silver, however, the few fine isolated scratches that first appear tend to be somewhat conspicuous until the white patina has fully developed.


Silver, being a noble metal, is highly resistant to corrosion, but it can be tarnished by sulphides that are always present to some extent in the atmosphere and in many foods, green vegetables and eggs being the most potent. Tarnish consists of a superficial film of silver sulphides. Initially it is a light gold colour, but, with prolonged exposure to sulphides, it can develop into a blue-black discolouration.

Tarnish Removal

Four methods of detarnishing silver are available: polishing powders or pastes, chemical dip solutions, electrolytic methods and ball burnishing.

Polishing Powders and Pastes

Only those sold specifically for silver should be used; cleaners intended for chromium plate, stainless steel etc will scratch silver. Always apply the cleaner with a soft cloth or sponge – either of which should be thoroughly and freshly washed to eliminate any abrasive dust particles which could cause scratching.

Some cleaners that are available in paste or emulsion form, not only remove tarnish but contain tarnish inhibitors. Such products are particularly useful for hollowware (being handled, washed and wiped less frequently than cutlery, the inhibiting effect lasts longer).

Over zealous pressure when cleaning with powders may remove significant amounts of silver which ultimately will wear through the plate completely.


Electrolytic Methods

Tarnish can be removed from silver by immersing it in a hot solution of washing soda of about 30 grams per 5 litres whilst the cutlery or hollowware is in contact with aluminium.

As in the case of chemical dip solutions, the process is not suitable for use on very heavily tarnished silver upon which it can produce a dull white finish.

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