Cleaning Silver Coins… To Clean or Not To Clean

Posted by on November 17, 2011

This article is about cleaning silver coins... DO NOT CLEAN SILVER COINS!!!

Eating and/or drinking over or around silver coins is not recommended.  Even talking over your unprotected silver coins can result in tiny spittle (saliva) to fall on them and cause corrosion.  You don’t have to worry about cleaning your silver coins if you keep them from harm's way.  The best way of handling your silver coins is by their edge with white cotton gloves over a soft white cotton towel.

Silver is relatively soft and any abrasive on its surface will show when closely scrutinized.  Proof silver coins, Mint State, and Almost Uncirculated will be affected negatively by any sort of cleaning!  Typically by at least 50% of their market value! Often silver coins in these grades will experience a greater loss than that.

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Tarnishing on silver coins is expected by almost all collectors.  The silver content reacts to the trace amount of sulfur ever present in the air and discoloration occurs.  This effect is called “Toning”, it is a legitimate condition and does NOT affect the silver coins grade!  As a matter of fact many collectors appreciate toned silver coins and these may earn a higher price than others of the same grade.  The ‘rainbow’ effect is one of these tones.

High grade coins should have a certain amount of striking luster and any amount of cleaning will diminish this aspect of the silver coin and lower its grade and if you’ve been looking at various pricing sheets and paying attention to the difference in pricing it should be apparent the difference of a XF40 and a AU50 and even more of a MS65 to an AU55.  Yes any wear on a Mint State automatically drops the silver coin into the Almost Uncirculated!


How to Clean Silver Coins

Okay, you’ve been warned!  However if circumstance warrant such action it is best to get a professional to do it!  Are you sure you really want to clean your silver coin?  Well, try it on something insignificant if you most, at least as a test. Tap water has chlorine (which has a slight acidic effect on silver) and minerals in it. Distilled water has no chlorine in it, so that is what is recombined.  It also has no minerals in it so you can let the coin air dry without having a residue left on it.  Air drying means you don’t have to rub the coin, thus not wearing its surface.

Maybe you us a metal detector to find coins and you want to remove any dirt, mud, clay, and such from silver coins you dug up.  This can simply be done with running distilled water over each individual coin.  If this is insufficient put some distilled water in a plastic bowl (metal or glass may cause scratches on the silver coin) and soak the coin (one at a time to prevent scratching) overnight and then rinse off with flowing distilled water.  Be careful about using store bought ‘drinking water’ sometimes there are added minerals even to ‘pure’ filtered water.  Always be careful handling your silver coins. Pick them up by the edge using cotton gloves, or plastic tongs.  Then let the coin air dry on a white cotton towel.  Always change out your water in order to get rid of any particles that may scratch the coin.  NOTE:  If you are soaking more than one coin at a time do ONLY silver coins together!  Coins containing bronze will have a chemical reaction with the silver and cause the silver to change color.

If that is not enough to clean the silver coin you can use a small amount of very mild non-detergent soap.  Detergents have chemicals in then that may eat at or discolor the surface and sometimes that have small abrasives in them that might scratch the silver.  Making a very week soap solution using distilled water and using a cotton ball to gently dab away the dirt can be done.  Then rinse the soapy residue with distilled water.

What if there is something that persists or won’t dissolve using a water base?  There is a condition that comes up when silver coins have been kept in soft plastic sleeves that contain PVC.  This is a chlorine compound and the plastic breaks down releasing the chlorine which starts corroding the coin and with the plastic forms a green slimy film.  This slim will dissolve in acetone without further damaging the coin (the coin has been already damaged by the PVC slim).  Acetone is dangerous!  It is extremely flammable, it’s fumes are harmful, and it will dissolve most plastics.  Special care should be taken when using acetone: no opened flames (acetone’s flame in almost invisible) and you want to have very good ventilation.  You can either soak the coin in a glass bowl changing out the acetone as it turns green from dissolving the slime.  Or you can set the coin on a soft white cotton towel you won’t mind discarding and use cotton balls, getting one wet with the acetone and gentle dabbing (do not wipe) the silver coin with it and safely discarding the cotton ball when it turns green and using another and repeating until the coin is clean.  Acetone dries very quickly so air drying goes very quickly.
Any other solvents may cause considerable damage and even discolor silver coins.  Even silver cleaners for silverware can harm silver coin.  They usually have a very fine abrasive that can cause noticeable wear on a coin, particularly those of the higher grades.

Again, DO NOT CLEAN YOUR COINS!!!  Most dealers and collectors will NOT consider buying coins that have been cleaned.

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