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
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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