As the season of entertaining approached, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the family silver was getting itself into something of a state. Without an army of footmen to keep the silver clean, pieces were slowly descending into a certain unattractive blackness. What’s more my mother, moving house, had sent a few unwanted (read not recently cleaned) entrée dishes and other items our way. That both our mother’s would be there for Christmas dinner provided another motivation to attack the silver.
I started in the traditional manner with my silver polish and cloth but soon realized as more and more pieces gathered on the table awaiting cleaning that the task was almost certainly going to overwhelm my enthusiasm. Some things such as bon-bon dishes and pickle forks might just have been ignored but when other than Christmas will you need clean and shiny bon-bon dishes and pickle forks? So with a sigh I realized it was all or nothing.
If only there was another way?
Even then I knew there was – we call it ‘the Secret Bess Wells Method’ named after Peter’s mother Bess Wells. Bess has a secret ingredient, a long ago discontinued washing powder called RINSO that, when employed properly, polishes silver without effort. So rare was this magic silver cleaning powder now that a box of it, probably the last in ‘the Western world’, lives high on our laundry shelf protected in part from me – who might in a rash moment use it to clean the silver.
So precious was the RINSO that it is now rationed, used only to clean the two Sheffield candlesticks that sit in the library. They have been in Peter’s family for generations and so only they got the special treatment. Rightly so as it was his mother’s box of RINSO.
Some year back Peter made a film called Pansy and he included a scene in which his mother and he used the magic method to clean the same candlesticks. It caused a minor sensation in its own small way and for a moment propelled Bess into television stardom of a sort. This is it here.
Because the RINSO is off-limits to me, I began to think about what it might be that RINSO had contained – cocaine, heroin, concentrated sulphuric acid? Having not done chemistry at all in school, all I could figure was the likely ingredient was soda. After all products like RINSO were once called washing sodas. That, by the way, is how you use a history degree to solve a chemistry problem.
I got the box down hoping that there would be a list of components – but alas the RINSO predated the requirement to tell consumers what they were consuming. However I did notice that on closer inspection this was a special box of RINSO.
It proclaimed that ‘after 60 years the dependable RINSO is retiring – but he strongly recommends you use his friends ‘Persil, Drive and Cold Water Surf.’ The thing is, by legend these products were duds in the silver-cleaning department. This last ever box of RINSO had probably been bought in a silver cleaning panic once they announced its demise and had been eked out spoonful by spoonful since. The same thing happened some years back when Lever Brothers announced the demise of Sunlight Soap. It survived the big buy up to live another day.
Still I remained skeptical about the uniqueness of RINSO, so I did a little on-line research and found that as suspected the secret ingredient was a very large dose of soda – or to our minds Baking Soda.
So here it is the best method of cleaning domestic silver when confronted with any bulk.
First of all find yourself an aluminum pan. I use and old preserving pan but a pot will do – it has to be big enough to take your silver but not so wide as so you need to provide great amounts of water to fill it. What matters is that it be aluminum, it is in the combination of soda and aluminum that the magic resides.
Place you silver item in the pan. It needs to be in direct contact with the aluminum. Pour over enough boiling water to cover and to this add a tablespoon of Baking Soda.
Or as show here add the soda first it doesn’t seem to matter.
Wait a few minutes and the tarnish will disappear and your silver will emerge gleaming.
Be careful as the silver conducts heat rather well, so your silver will be very hot to the touch.
Give the item a good rinse under clear running water and a quick buffing with a clean soft cloth to get off any water droplets.
There is no danger of dried polish getting into crevices and it works wonders on hard to clean items like candlesticks.
What would have been a week’s work took the better part of a Saturday but it was worth it to see the table covered in gleaming silver. Silver has fallen from fashion in large but because of people’s resistance to cleaning. It’s sad because not only has silver work been one of the mainstays of the decorative arts for centuries but also polished up, nothing suits a white linen table top better than gleaming silver. However best of all the mother’s were well impressed at how clean the silver was. We didn’t tell Bess about having usurped the secret powers of RINSO.