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How to Clean Silver Coins (Common Date)

Key Takeaways

  • Cleaning silver coins is only advisable if they are common date issues without numismatic value;
  • The aged appearance of some collectible coins adds to their value and appeal to collectors;
  • It is possible to clean common date silver coins at home with basic household cleaning products, such as baking soda or fabric softener, but precautions must be taken;
  • Properly storing silver coins is the best way to avoid tarnishing and keep them shiny and valuable for years to come.

Silver coins have been used as currency since ancient times. Thanks to the work of historians and archaeologists, we have been able to find and identify several ancient coins dating back before the Roman Empire.

In modern societies, silver was used as a commodity money until the 1970s (especially in the US), backing the entire monetary system of countries and the base metal for most circulating coins.

Most notably, in the United States, where the American Dollar has been the official currency for centuries, the silver standard was only entirely extinguished in the 1970s. Therefore, many of the old US silver coins have survived to this day.

Though silver is completely immune to rust (like all precious metals), it is prone to tarnish if exposed to certain gases, especially sulfur. Never store silver coins in damp, dark places, as this can cause a layer of tarnish on their surface.

If you have recently come across a stack of old silver coins and are wondering how (and if) you should clean them, keep reading this article as we attempt to educate you on how to clean silver coins safely.

However, we must reiterate: never clean highly collectible coins and rare key date coins.

The following content teaches you how to clean tarnished silver coins from common dates, not highly rare numismatic coins.

Tarnished Silver Coins

Cleaning Silver Coins: Which Kinds of Silver Bullion items are OK to Clean?

You can gently clean tarnish from common 1 oz American Silver Eagle coins, Silver Rounds, older silver bullion bars, or common date pre-1970 90% US Silver Coins.

US Silver Eagle ObverseUS Silver Eagle Reverse

Those products do not typically carry numismatic value. They are mostly priced based on their silver content and the silver spot price, so the "antique appearance" will not play a significant factor in your favor when selling them.

Why Clean Silver Coins?

Silver reacts to open air readily with sulfur or hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and thus produces silver sulfide (Ag2S), a dark-colored compound familiar as the tarnish on sterling silver objects and coin's surface that gives them a look of dirty coins.

In the video we will embed at the end of this article, you can see a time-lapse reflecting this dirty-looking turning into a natural toning phenomenon.

Often, a bullion or coin dealer, is interested in an old coin, like the formerly circulating 90% US silver coin, for its low premiums, and due to diminishing "Junk Silver Coin" populations with each passing year.

Junk Silver Coins

The problem is that most of these older ‘90% silver coins' are usually not found in proper storage, so they will be covered in tarnish, dirt, and grime. They often have a sticky film on them and leave a sour smell on your hands after touching them.

Even cleaning silver coins of common dates is a divisive topic in the silver bullion and coin collecting and buying community. About half the crowd hates the idea of it, while the other half hates having dirty tarnished coins.

We're here to help the latter half of the readers learn how to effectively clean silver coins (common dates) using safe coin cleaning methods with easy household items.

Bullion buyers and US Silver Dollar buyers often choose to lightly clean coins using non-destructive methods, which we will cover here. We'll show you various methods of restoring tarnished silver coins to a more illustrious shine without ruining their values.

Cleaning silver coins that are not ‘key dates' or of high numismatic collectibility is an easy process.

There are a few simple, gentle cleaning methods you can use at home to easily clean coins and other silver items, such as .925 silverware or other silver jewelry.

If you're interested in learning more about cleaning larger silver bullion items like bars, check out our guide on how to clean silver bars.

Silver Coin Cleaning Warnings

WARNING: Never clean collectible coins with numismatic key dates. Their toning adds collectible value, and cleaning them strips them of their price premiums among collectors.

WARNING: The following two methods of easily cleaning coins produce sulfuric fumes you should not inhale in high volumes.

How to Clean Silver Coins with Baking Soda

How to Clean Silver Coins with Baking Soda

Ingredients and Tools Required:

  • Dirty non-numismatic silver coins or other sterling silver items;
  • aluminum foil;
  • baking soda;
  • boiling water;
  • a heat-safe container to soak them in;
  • latex gloves;
  • a disposable soft toothbrush or small brush to enhance results;
  • an additional container of clean water to rinse with;
  • and some paper towels for drying out.

Steps to Cleaning Silver Coins with Baking Soda:

Step 1

Line a plastic container with aluminum foil (shiny or dull side; doesn't matter).

Step 2

Sprinkle some baking soda on the foil.

Step 3

Add the tarnished silver items or common date coins.

Step 4

Pour boiling water to cover the coins fully, then add more baking soda to cover the silver pieces. For greater effect, you can add lemon juice or white vinegar. Let them sit for 5-minute rotations; two rounds of this should suffice. 

Step 5

With latex-covered gloves, extract the silver items, and, additionally, with a soft-bristled toothbrush or dry towel, gently scrub the pieces, rubbing away any tarnish and grime. Here you can choose to perhaps apply additional baking soda applications and rounds soaking in the hot water with aluminum foil.

Step 6

Fully rinse them with cold water.

Step 7

Inspect your job.

How to Clean Silver Coins with Fabric Softener

How to Clean Silver Coins with Baking Soda

Ingredients and Tools Required:

  • Dirty non-numismatic silver coins or other sterling silver items;
  • aluminum foil;
  • liquid fabric softener;
  • iodized table salt;
  • warm distilled water;
  • a container to soak them in, latex gloves, a disposable toothbrush or small brush to enhance results, open air as the fumes extrapolated are toxic in high volumes, an additional container of clean water to rinse with, and paper towel or soft cloth for drying out freshly cleaning silver coins or silverware.

Steps to Cleaning Silver Coins with Fabric Softener and Iodized Table Salt:

Step 1

Line a container with aluminum foil (shiny or dull side, doesn't matter).

Step 2

Sprinkle a few drops of fabric softener liquid and iodized salt onto the foil.

Step 3

Add tarnished common date coins and other silver items.

Step 4

Add hot water to cover them fully, then add more. Let sit for five minutes.

Step 5

With latex-covered gloves, extract the silver items, and, additionally, with a soft brush or dry microfiber cloth towel, gently rub the pieces until you remove dirt, tarnish, and grime. Here you can choose to perhaps apply additional baking soda applications and rounds soaking in the hot water with aluminum foil.

Step 6

Fully rinse them with cold water.

Step 7

After the coins dry, inspect your job.

How to Properly Store Silver Coins

Proper storage of silver coins is crucial for preserving their appearance and value over time. Tarnishing is a natural reaction between silver and sulfur compounds in the air, and it can diminish the beauty of your valuable coins.

Here are some tips for storing silver coins to prevent tarnishing:

  1. Use Airtight Containers: Store your coins in airtight containers such as coin capsules, protective coin flips, or coin holders. A tight seal helps minimize exposure to air and moisture, reducing the risk of tarnishing.
  2. Avoid Exposure to Air and Moisture: Keep silver coins away from humid environments and direct exposure to air. Moisture in the air can accelerate tarnishing, so store coins in a dry, climate-controlled area. Consider adding desiccants or silica gel packs to storage containers to absorb excess moisture.
  3. Handle with Care: Handle silver coins with clean hands or wear cotton gloves to prevent transferring oils, dirt, or moisture onto the coins' surfaces. Touching coins directly with fingers can leave behind residues that promote tarnishing.
  4. Use Anti-Tarnish Strips: Place anti-tarnish strips or tabs inside coin storage containers to help absorb sulfur compounds and prevent tarnishing. These strips are available at most coin supply stores.
  5. Avoid PVC and Acidic Materials: Do not store silver coins in holders or containers made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or other acidic materials, as they can release harmful gases that promote tarnishing. Opt for archival-quality materials such as Mylar, polyester, or inert plastics.
  6. Regular Inspection and Cleaning: Periodically inspect stored silver coins for signs of tarnishing or damage. If tarnish is detected, gently clean your silver coins using a non-abrasive silver polish or a mild soap solution. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely with a soft cloth or air dry. Never restore your silver coins without fully drying them.

By following these guidelines, you can effectively protect your silver coins from tarnishing and preserve their appearance for years to come. Proper storage is essential for maintaining the beauty and value of your numismatic collection.

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James Anderson
James Anderson
Senior Market Analyst & Content

A bullion buyer years before the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, James Anderson is a grounded precious metals researcher, content creator, and physical investment grade bullion professional. He has authored several Gold & Silver Guides and has been featured on the History Channel, Zero Hedge, Gold-Eagle, Silver Seek, Value Walk and many more. You can pick up Jame's most recent, comprehensive 200+ Page book here at SD Bullion.

Given that repressed commodity values are now near 100-year low level valuations versus large US stocks, James remains convinced investors and savers should buy and maintain a prudent physical bullion position now, before more unfunded promises debase away in the coming decades...

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