Pewter Care & Cleaning

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Pewter Care

Pewter Care

One of the advantages of pewter is that it does not need regular polishing to maintain its attractive appearance; pewter does not tarnish like silver. However, for those people who like to keep their pewter bright and shiny and who like to polish things, periodic cleaning with a quality proprietary metal polish (see below DO NOT USE SILVER POLISH!) will keep your fine pewter looking bright. I should mention that over a long period of time pewter will develop a darker color or patina. For antique pieces this coloring is treasured by collectors who would never want to damage or remove this natural aged surface. Removing the patina, even correctly, can greatly reduce the value of a collectable piece.

Most people rarely polish their pewter pieces, they just don’t need it. If you follow the recommendations listed below you will rarely need to polish your pewter either.

Everyday Cleaning:

Use and enjoy your pewter. For pieces that contact foods, clean them in warm soapy water and dry with a soft cloth. If you feel they need an occasional polish to maintain that ‘show room finish’ I doubt you will hurt anything by using a quality polish. When it comes to polishing, practice on the back or bottom of a piece to perfect your technique and see if you like the results.

Beyond Everyday Cleaning:

You have a pewter piece that has been neglected for some time or has surface darkening/discoloration – what to do?

Thoroughly cleaning in warm soapy water is always the first step. Check your results. If further cleaning is required, use a quality metal polish. Several applications of polish with hard rubbing may be required. Step three is more aggressive. It is a cleaning method I learned from a respected antique pewter dealer and it lends itself to home trial. This method uses common home products – Comet brand cleanser (grocery store) and 0000 grade steel wool, a very fine grade of steel wool (hardware store).

To use this method both the steel wool and pewter piece are wetted. Place the Comet on the steel wool pad and gently rub the surface in a circular motion. Do this on the entire surface to get an even finish. Wash the piece often to check your progress; several tries may be required. When finished wash the piece off thoroughly with warm water, then towel dry. This method can give a even, matte finish. Practice on an unseen area to see if you like the result.

An alternative to this method uses wet/dry sandpaper abrasive papers rather than the steel wool and Comet cleanser. Use very fine paper to start, like 600 grit, wet the paper and pewter with soapy water and begin cleaning. Depending on your progress with a difficult piece, coarser grit papers may be required, work from course to finer grits to get the finish desired.

Again, go slow, check your progress, repeat a less aggressive process before trying a more aggressive one.

Some sources suggest dipping very dark pewter in strong chemical solutions. This method is very dangerous to both pewter and people. You can easily ruin a piece and get severe chemical burns for your trouble. Don’t try it.

Pewter Polishes:

Several pewter polishing products are available, my experience is that products developed specifically for silver do not work well for pewter. I have used Simichrome Metal Polish (Auto parts stores & True Value hardware stores) and this product seems generally available. Other products available include Goddard’s Pewter Wash, Haggerty’s Pewter Wash and Autosol Metal Cleaner. Again, polish the piece on the back or bottom to perfect your cleaning method.

Care:

  • Don’t leave pewter in contact with high acid foods (salad dressings, tomato sauces, vinegars & citrus, etc.) for a long period, a long period being a more than more than six hours. Depending on the acidity of the food, your pewter could lightly discolor. However, metal polish should remove such discolorations. Short periods are not a problem; you should not be afraid of using your pewter.
  • Avoid the dishwasher, the strongly alkaline soap can tarnish the pewter, and the drying cycle can cause problems if the pewter is too close to the heating elements.
  • Clean off any food residue before storage.
  • Avoid soaking your pewter in a sink for a long period. When you clean your pewter, clean it and dry it with a soft cloth. Pewter can water spot depending on your water quality

 

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