How to polish your silver effortlessly–with Science!

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Tarnished flatware waiting for a bath

Here at Root Simple, we live high on the hog. We eat off of silver spoons every day. It’s true. I inherited a set of silver flatwear and utensils from my mom’s side of the family, and instead of saving them for Christmas and Thanksgiving, I use them every day.

This is fairly revolutionary, as I come from a family of Savers. Recently, I unearthed a set of six snowy white damask dinner napkins from the family treasury, painstakingly ironed into perfect squares, centered on a cloth covered board and wrapped in a lace cloth and tied with a ribbon. They’re so perfect it’s clear they’ve never been used.

These may have been a part of my grandmother’s wedding trousseau, or maybe even my great-grandmother’s. But whoever gathered them together so carefully, they never thought any dinner party in their entire life was special enough to use them.

Well, this attitude ends with me. Erik and I don’t have kids, and we’ve hit middle age, so I’m burning the bridges behind us. Everything must be used. No more squirreling and saving. Which brings me back to the silver.

We use silver every day, but it gets tarnished. It’s used too frequently to get that  heavy black tarnishing which afflicts unused silver pieces. Instead, our forks and knives and spoons turn a sort of purplish grey. It’s not real pretty.

Hand polishing the lot of it would only be fun if I could do it in the butler’s pantry in Downton Abbey while gossiping about the gentry upstairs. So I looked up that “foil trick” that was half-lodged in the recesses of my mind, and I discovered its a real thing, and it works like a charm.

Tarnishing happens when the silver combines with sulfur in the air and forms silver sulfate. The black stuff, the tarnish, is silver sulfate. When you clean silver by hand, using silver polish, you are physically rubbing off the tarnish–and some of the silver. When you do this trick with the foil, you are actually reversing the chemical reaction–turning the silver sulfide back into silver. In other words, you become a wizard. And I ask you, would you rather be a wizard or a scullery maid?

The caveat: This process strips away tarnish very effectively–too much so, say connoisseurs of fine silver and the gentle patina of age. It will strip all of the tarnish out of all the patterns and nooks and crannies on your silver objects, rendering the surface somewhat flat and new looking in its universal brightness. Just so you know.

The incredibly easy process:

My primary reference for this was this lecture demonstration from the chemistry department of The University of Massachusetts. There are many versions of this trick on the Interwebs, but some of them are unnecessarily complex or persnickety. You do not need vinegar! You do not need batteries!

This linked information is straightforward, and being from a chem department rather than some random blogger (like myself), it’s reliable. It also explains the science if you’re interested–seems like it’s an oxidation and reduction process? As an art major, I’m just waving my hands around at this point.

You’ll need

• A non-metal container to hold the silver to be cleaned. For flatwear, a glass or enamel baking dish works well. You want to be able to spread everything out.  (I hear you can also use an aluminum baking pan, like one of those disposable roasting pans. In this case you can skip the foil.)

• Aluminum foil

• Baking soda (sodium carbonate)

• Salt

• Hot water

1.Line your dish or other container with foil.

2. Arrange your silver in the container.  All the pieces should touch foil and be completely submerged. Don’t crowd them too much.

2. Stir a small amount of salt and soda into hot water. How much salt and soda? How much hot water? I don’t think exact quantities matter a whole lot except that you should use equal amounts of salt and soda, and don’t dilute it to a crazy extent.  Let’s say use a tablespoon each of salt and soda per quart or two of hot water. UMass used rather less, but this is what worked for me.

3. Pour the hot soda/salt water into the container and watch the magic!

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A minute or two into the bath–the color change comes quickly

You should see some changes right away. My not-so-tarnished flatwear only took a couple of minutes total.  A more heavily tarnished piece will take longer, maybe up to 10 minutes or so.

4. Remove the clean pieces of silver from the water and rinse with clean water and dry with a cloth. You could opt to further bring out the shine with some polish or a polishing cloth.

The solution is non-toxic, so you don’t have to worry about wearing gloves, and you can pour it down the sink without guilt.

Just FYI, I was able to do three consecutive batches of flatwear in the same water bath, although I could see some weakening of the effect by batch #3.

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Flatwear in the rinsing bowl, looking much better!

Project Update: The Carbonator

cats inspecting carbonator

A year ago on Valentine’s Day, Erik gave me a homebrew carbonator so that we could sparkle our own water at home. It’s a wonderfully industrial looking item, and sturdy as all heck. I’m pleased to say after a year of hard use, it’s still doing going strong and has become an indispensable part of our life.

It has saved the use of…gosh…I don’t know…at least 100 San Pellegrino/Gerolsteiner bottles over the course of the year. Back in the day, I bought a couple of bottles of mineral water on every shopping trip. That’s a two-fold savings: bottles kept out of the waste stream (recycled, yes, but still) and enough in cash savings to reimburse us for the carbonator–which cost around $150 in parts.

The best thing is that the CO2 tank lasted for 11 months of constant use (sparkling maybe two gallons a week) before needing a refill. And when we did refill it–down at the local homebrew shop–it cost all of twenty bucks. Twenty bucks, my friends. That is our sparkling water budget for the next year.

Happy as I am with the device itself, we could be doing better exploring its possibilities. We could be experimenting with adding minerals to the water to imitate famous mineral waters–there are recipes out there. We could also be experimenting with force carbonating other types of drinks, but for the most part we’ve been pretty content just drinking the water straight with a twist of lemon, or a splash of shrub. Maybe this year we’ll step up to the plate and get more experimental.

Erik’s how-to post about how to put one of these things together, and how to use it.

•  My initial post, in which I bubble over with excitement.

How to add sparkle to your natural decorations: sugaring

sugaredtoyon

In my last post, about our mostly all-natural Christmas tree, I mentioned that some of the ornaments are sugared leaves and berries. Sugaring is a really easy, simple way to bring a little bling to natural ornaments, and to invoke snow and frost inside the comfort of our cozy homes.

Sugaring is the green alternative to spray paint and glitter, or heavens forfend, that white foamy stuff that comes in spray cans. After the holidays, this all-natural bling can go straight into the compost pile, or out into some remote corner of the yard to be reabsorbed into nature.

I associate sugaring mostly with cake decorating (think of pretty little sugared violets and borage flowers on wedding cakes), but I remembered it when I wanted to fancy up my ornaments.

It’s super easy. Or more specifically, the basic technique is easy, though I think bakers who capture delicate flowers in a perfectly even coat of shining sugar have the skill down to a fine art. But sugaring sturdy things, like berry clusters or leaves, is simple.

You’ll need:

  • One egg white, furiously whipped
  • White sugar
  • A small paint brush
  • Possibly a fine mesh strainer to shake the sugar though, but you can sprinkle sugar with your fingers, too.
  • A system for holding the finished product while it dries. Things on sticks or with stems can be propped up in a tray of sand or rice. Flat things can go on racks. Things already hanging from ornament hooks could be dangled from a clothes hanger to dry.

All you do is paint the object with a thin coat of egg white, then sprinkle sugar over it while wet. If the egg white coat is too thick it will A) form snotty looking drips and B) soak up all the sugar after a few minutes. If this happens, you can just add more sugar, but the sugar layer could get kind of chunky looking if this goes on too much.  Oh, and I also discovered C) the hard way: a very thick coats of egg white may encourage mold development before it manages to dry. So keep it thin.

Put the ornaments somewhere safe to dry, as mentioned above, and don’t let them touch each other, or they’ll stick. They’ll be dry in a day or so, depending on your weather.

And that is it. If you want more pictures, details and pro-tips, there are really nice instructions over at The Wandering Spoon.

sugared sage

DIY Sage Deodorant

whtie sage

I like Weleda because they are one of the few cosmetic companies that makes products simple enough for my tastes. Their website is also well done in that they break down and explain every component in their products. The downside to Weleda is that their products are very expensive. However, that very simplicity makes it possible to re-create some of their products at home–such as their alcohol based deodorants.

I bought a bottle of Weleda’s Sage Deodorant while on a trip and I really love the scent. I have a particular fondness for sage and related scents, and this was a lovely, subtle scent, unisex and clean. The deodorant action is simple–it’s all down to alcohol, which kills bacteria on contact. The essential oils, which are all from the family of cleansing, antibacterial oils, probably help as well. There’s really not much else in it. It’s not the sort of deodorant which prevents sweating, which is unhealthy. It’s of more use in freshening up, which suits me just fine. When the bottle ran out, I decided to make my own version.

Continue reading…

Shoemaking workshop in Los Angeles, Oct. 16-19

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The kid’s shoe is made of salmon skin.

If you’re a loon like I am, and want to make your own shoes, I have great news for you. This October, my friend Randy Fritz is coming down from Santa Barbara to teach a small 4 day class here in LA from Thursday 10/16 to Sunday 10/19  on how to make turnshoes, a medieval shoe style so called because it is stitched wrong side out and then turned to hide the seams.

As far as I know, no one else is teaching this kind of class in the greater LA area. This is deep North Coast hippie technology, imported guerrilla style to the land of tottering platform heels.

The shoes are made from custom patterns modeled on your own feet, so the shoe will fit you like no other. It’s a pricey class-but keep in mind how many hours of instruction you’re getting–and you’ll walk away with a pair of custom shoes and the know-how to make more.  In the end, it’s actually a great deal.

I’ll be there, and there’s only room for 4 more people. So save the date and register now! Email Randy at [email protected]

Here’s the official description:

You are about to embark on a journey back in time where everyone’s shoes were custom made because they made them for themselves.  We will start by making a 3D pattern of our foot and transferring it to the leather you select. Once the upper and sole are attached we move onto turning and hammering, closure and finishing and finally gooping the soles. You will get experience with patterning, cutting, skiving and various stitching methods you can transfer to future leather projects and of course, you will be leaving with a pair of handmade shoes. 

Class begins at 9 am Thursday, October 16 and runs till Sunday, October 19. The location is the Silver Lake area. We’ll end at roughly 5pm with a 1 hour-ish lunch break each day, and we’ll celebrate our shoes with a pizza party on the last day!

All of the tools and materials are included in the price but if you have a favorite pair of fingerless gloves, leather working scissors or an awl please feel free to bring them along.

The cost of the class is $325.00, half of which is due when you register. I’m really looking forward spending time together and I suggest  you all get a good nights rest before class begins… standing around the table using what will most likely be  “new to you” tools and focusing very intently on your work can be really exhausting!

For more information, and to reserve your space, please email Randy directly:  [email protected]  Please don’t try to register via the comments! Email Randy directly to reserve your space.
I don’t know how many people will be interested in this class, but if you know in your heart that you really want to do it, be safe and register right away. If there’s lots of interest, Randy might come back to teach a second class.

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