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CLeaning sterling silver flute with alcohol?

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jhoonday
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Postby jhoonday » Thu May 20, 2010 9:59 am

I use alcohol on a Q-tip to clean out my embrochure hole, but nowhere else. I would stick to a polishing cloth for the body. This helps me clean the parts which really need to be cleaned.
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MissyHPhoenix
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Postby MissyHPhoenix » Fri May 28, 2010 8:04 am

Does alcohol work to take off the tarnish? Should I be using that to get the tarnish off instead of the tarnish mitt?
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Kshel
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Postby Kshel » Mon Sep 13, 2010 10:44 am

If your flute has lots of tarnish on it, you need to send it to a shop to be cleaned thoroughly.

Tarnish is a result of contact with sulfides. Sometimes the cork on trill keys can cause tarnish depending on where the cork comes from. It may also occur because of your skin chemistry.

If you are a DIY-er, I suggest taking the flute apart and scrubbing the body (with NO keys on it) with diluted soap solution. Rinse and dry thoroughly before putting the keys back on.

etc-etc
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Postby etc-etc » Sat Oct 09, 2010 1:28 am

I'd suggest rather to leave the tarnish (on the main body and the foot) as it is. It does no harm to the tone or operation of the keys.

wkzh
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Postby wkzh » Thu Oct 14, 2010 6:46 am

Tarnish is a layer of oxidised silver. [EDIT: oh my, my chemistry fail! it's not oxidised silver, it's sulfide compounds. ]There are only two ways of removing it: physically or chemically. Physically meaning you actually rub the top layer off... only works for really really thin layers of tarnish. Like, really really really thin. Chemically means using some chemical that would react with it, such as those used in silver polish. If you are using a plated instrument, the silver polish can eat into the plating. Else... it's safe but I don't think you want to remove that silver.

Alcohol, on the contrary, does NOT react with the layer of tarnish, so it would not remove it chemically. What it would do is to reduce the amount of sweat residue which may possibly react with the silver to tarnish it. In other words, yeah, it's safe to use alcohol. But don't get it on the pads though, some nasty things may possibly happen, though I don't know of anything. Play it safe.

And I suggest only using silver polish on your instrument only for important concerts or showcases, otherwise, leave the tarnish there for silver's sake.
Last edited by wkzh on Thu Oct 14, 2010 10:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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pied_piper
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Postby pied_piper » Thu Oct 14, 2010 8:21 am

And I suggest only using silver polish on your instrument only for important concerts or showcases, otherwise, leave the tarnish there for silver's sake.
It's best to NEVER use silver polish on your flute. Flute technicians can use it when the flute is completely disassembled. If you use it on an assembled flute, it can get on the pads turning them dark and causing potential damage to them. Also, the polish residue can get into the key mechanism and cause excessive wear. Silver polish actually has a very fine abrasive in it to remove tarnish. If that abrasive gets into the mechanism, then it is constantly wearing away metal everytime you play.

Even though polishing seems relatively harmless, it's a job best left to the professionals when you take the flute in for a Clean, Oil, and Adjust (COA).
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cflutist
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Postby cflutist » Thu Oct 14, 2010 8:30 am

pp,

Agreeded to not use silver polish, but what about the microfiber cloth that came with the flute? Can I use that to wipe off the keys? And by doing that, does that prevent tarnish from forming?

I noticed that slight tarnish is already forming on the thumb key and the D# key where my pinky rests most of the time. The flute is only 2 weeks old.

I've also know that over time, even 14K rose gold can tarnish slightly because it is only 14/24 parts pure gold while the rest is an alloy of copper and other metals. I see this on some of my old jewelry.

wkzh
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Postby wkzh » Thu Oct 14, 2010 10:11 am

Wow, you people seem to be watching this forum very very very closely compared to me.

pp, umm I think you're talking about the paste kind of polish? Otherwise I wouldn't worry too much about the stuff getting into my pads and mechanism. I actually meant the kind of silver polish cloth... There is no abrasive in this one, and no polish residue because it's all in the cloth. Unless you've good reasons, I don't see how this type of polishing can possibly harm the flute in those ways.

I do know, however, that this only works for more superficial tarnishing, tints and the sorts. Any more that bare-surface tarnishes will need serious professional maintainence. A previous flute teacher of mine had a flute with sparkling body but tarnished keys: the body had the privilege of getting a good pickling, but the technician suggested not to repad the whole mechanism so left it black.

cflutist, about the microfibre cloth, you can use that to wipe of the keys. It does not prevent tarnish from forming, but it can slow it down a good deal. If you want real tarnish prevention... go get a flute out of Argentium silver, that one's nearly impossible to tarnish.

BUT BUT BUT I must warn you, you must make sure that there is NO abrasive on your microfibre cloth before you use it to clean. A few nice good flicks should do sufficiently well. Wash the cloth regularly too. In the past, flute players in my school did NOT do that, and our flutes all ended up with a nice, almost matte finish. You could see nice concentric line patterns when the light shone on the body, almost forgot what a flute actually looked like until I saw a new one!

And I keep alcohol in my flute bag too! I use an atomiser, you know, the tiny bottle things they use to spray perfume. Really handy, I would have bought a whole dozen if I knew it were that useful.
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pied_piper
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Postby pied_piper » Thu Oct 14, 2010 11:30 am

cflutist - Microfiber cloths generally do not have any silver polish in them so they are safe to use. A few have some anti-tarnish properties, but again that is safe.

wkzh - I was referring to liquid silver polish.

The cloths to be careful of have a dark red coating on one side which is a polishing compound (typically jeweler's rouge). With that type of cloth, it's probably OK to use on the body and headjoint, but i would recommend keeping that away from the keys and shafts.

Silver tarnish is actually formed by hydrogen sulfide and it does not harm silver. It actually provides a bit of protection.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarnish
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cflutist
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Postby cflutist » Thu Oct 14, 2010 11:48 am

There are also cloths (I have white and blue ones that I use in my jewlery business) that have polishing compounds on them but is not jeweler's rouge. If it turns black, I wouldn't use it near any of my flute keys.

fluteguy18
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Postby fluteguy18 » Thu Oct 14, 2010 9:18 pm

If the cloth turns black it is infused with polish. Silver polish turns black because it is physically removing a layer of metal. It does this with an abrasive substance called diatoms. These are called 'diatomaceous' compounds. Diatoms are the remains of microscopic sea organisms. They are also put into various kinds of paints (that's why the lines on the road light up so brightly at night).

When I remove tarnish, I remove it chemically. My technician recommended using Tarn-x. This however is a really dangerous chemical (causes cancer) and must be handled carefully with gloves. It works really well though. I only use it when I'm doing an in depth cleaning of my instrument which also involves giving it adjustments. I basically take it apart, unpin the mechanism and go from there.

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pied_piper
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Postby pied_piper » Fri Oct 15, 2010 2:38 pm

When I remove tarnish, I remove it chemically. My technician recommended using Tarn-x. This however is a really dangerous chemical (causes cancer) and must be handled carefully with gloves. It works really well though. I only use it when I'm doing an in depth cleaning of my instrument which also involves giving it adjustments. I basically take it apart, unpin the mechanism and go from there.
Similar results can be achieved using a homemade silver dip solution made with cheap, common, safe household ingredients: steaming hot water, salt, baking soda, and aluminum foil. It is not as agressive as Tarn-X, but the ingredients do not cause cancer. It works well to remove the typical greyish or brownish forms of tarnish which are sulfides. It does not work particularly well on silver with black tarnish because it is not a sulfide.
  • Using a tray large enough to contain the silver items, line it with aluminum foil.
    Pour in the steaming hot water.
    Add 2 tablespoons of salt
    Add 2 tablespoons of baking soda
    Mix to dissolve the ingredients
    Place the tarnished silver items in the tray. The silver items must be in contact with the aluminum foil.
    Wait 5 minutes or so
    Remove the silver items, rinse thoroughly, then dry and lightly buff with a soft cotton cloth
Silver tarnish is mostly sulfides. The above technique works because aluminum is more reactive than silver. The hot water/salt/soda acts as a reagent to facilitate the transfer of the sulfides from the silver to the aluminum. When the tarnished silver is placed in the dip solution and in contact with the aluminum foil, an electro-chemical reaction takes place and the sulfides in the silver tarnish are attracted to the aluminum where it forms aluminum sulfide. You will see the aluminum foil begin to change from it's normally bright, shiny appearance and turn dull as the reaction occurs. This technique does not remove silver - only the sulfides.

Here's a demonstration:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Clean-S ... chemistry/
"Never give a flute player a screwdriver."
--anonymous--

etc-etc
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Postby etc-etc » Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:16 pm

For the reaction to proceed, the current should flow between:
1) silver substrate and contacting it aluminum (electrons),
2) aluminum and the ionic solvent - baking soda solution in water (S[2-] ions),
3) ionic solvent and silver sulfide (S[2-] ions),
4) silver sulfide and silver (electrons).

Black tarnish on silver is a thick layer of Ag2S. Electrochemical reduction of a thick layer is difficult because the outermost part of the Ag2S layer does not have a good electrical contact with the silver beneath. That contact is inhibited because of the resistivity of the thick Ag2S layer.

To overcome the resistivity of the thick Ag2S layer, one can:
A) use an overpotential (introducing a battery in the circuit between the silver substrate and aluminum);
B) raise the temperature of the solution;
C) carry out the reaction for a longer time;
D) use a more reactive reducing agent (other than aluminum).

fluteguy18
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Postby fluteguy18 » Fri Oct 15, 2010 7:48 pm

How interesting!!!! I didn't know that! I always use gloves when dealing with Tarn-X, but that is a technique I will add to my arsenal for sure. The tarnish on my flute tends to be of the brown/black variety so some Tarn-X will be needed, but for the parts that don't need it...

Very cool.

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pied_piper
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Postby pied_piper » Fri Oct 15, 2010 8:51 pm

FG18 - When I've used this technique on flutes, it's never quite as fast and dramatic as in the video. I suspect that is because the silver bars in the video have a much smaller surface area than a flute. Also, the flat silver bar has a greater surface area in contact with the tin foil. It definitely works on silver flutes, but it is a bit slower. I only recently saw the video using the battery. Maybe that would speed it up and make it work even better.

Perhaps our resident chemist (etc-etc) can elaborate on my theory... :D
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