Greener Cleaning – Part One of an Occasional Series: Cleaning Silver

The Doing the Shopping blog has been away, but will be back in Barcelona in October looking out for eco and wallet-friendly (there’s a crisis on, in case you didn’t know!) shopping options. In the meantime we’re interested in hearing about your cheap/eco-friendly cleaning tips.

I’m currently living in Berlin in a beautiful rented apartment full of lovely antique silver, most of which is in need of a good clean. I’m not a fan of the chemical silver polishes and the effort involved to apply them, so when I saw a friend post online that you could use a baking soda and salt ‘dip’ to clean it I thought I would give it a try.

Commercial silver ‘dips’ are available but are generally harsher chemicals. This version uses a simple reaction between the aluminum metal and the silver sulfide (tarnish) – the salt acts as an electrolyte, the baking soda as a catalyst.

The various places I searched on-line were not clear, or disagreed about the quantities of salt and baking soda so I experimented with a couple of smaller items – here’s how it went:

First attempt

Subsequently I’ve researched it a bit further and experimented a bit more, and here are my top tips:

1. Clean the silver with a mild solution of soapy water and a soft cloth before bathing it.
2. Use enough salt that it takes about a minute to all dissolve when you pour in steaming hot (not boiling) water.
3. Use about 2 tablespoons of baking soda per bucket / sink of water (not sure of the exact volume but you get the idea from the video)
4. Once the salt has dissolved and the baking soda has been stirred into the hot water, place the silver items in so each one is touching the foil.
5. Leave for 5 minutes then take out a piece, rinse carefully, then rub with a soft cloth. Can the remaining tarnish be easily removed? If not, repeat this process (waiting 5 minutes each time) until the remaining tarnish that has not been reacted off can be removed by rubbing with the soft cloth. Don’t be tempted to just leave it in for ages; although this is a milder treatment, apparently soaking for too long could still potentially damage your silverware.
6. Ta daaaa! That’s it! No harsh chemicals, no scrubbing, just gentle polishing with a soft cloth and cotton-buds or a soft-bristled toothbrush for any more intricate bits. Remember, if you have heavily detailed silver pieces you should probably leave a little tarnish in the cracks as this provides contrast and helps to bring out the pattern.

Note: Do not scrub before rinsing – the undissolved baking powder is too abrasive and can damage the surface of the silver items.
Note (2): Apparently I should not have been wearing rubber gloves as rubber and latex contain sulphides that tarnish and over time corrode silver, so bare hands or non-sulphide containing plastic only for this.

Let me know in the comments if you have tried this and how it went.

Thanks to the lovely Sairica Rose for her camera and editing work on the vid!

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Rituels d’Orient Spa / Hamman

For several months the lovely Sairica Rose and I had been trying to find a time when neither of us was (a) on some work-related jaunt across the world or (b) working such crazy hours that ‘free time’ was a fond and distant memory, in order to visit the Spa/Hammam she had discovered and had decided I would love. When we finally managed to fix a date and time she inevitably came down with the lurgy, so the onerous task of accompanying me to the rather fabulous Rituels d’Orient fell to Tamsin, veteran of various spa visits across the world with me including jolly Swedes with beer in Stockholm’s Centralbadet and naked supermodels in London’s Porchester.

Rituels d’Orient Barcelona is a small and subsequently exclusive hammam experience tucked away on a side street off Pl Francis Macia…I wouldn’t have known about it had it not been recommended by a friend, but it is quite the find. On arriving at the fairly unassuming shopfront you are buzzed in by one of their charming staff, and as the numbers are limited per 2-hour ‘turno’ if like us you arrive early you can sit on the be-cushioned bench provided and read about hammans in different countries and cultures all over the world, or peruse and play with the gorgeous and mostly organic La Sultana de Saba products on display.

On being summoned into the hammam area at the start of our ‘turno’ the attendant confided to us that as it was 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon there was no-one else booked in and we would be just the two of us in our own private hammam session – how fabulous! So top tip…Wednesday afternoons, or indeed just call or email to ask about which sessions are the quietest. As it was a ‘women only’ session (the website lists times for mixed and single-sex sessions) we went sans cossies, and were given a sarong-type thing to lie on, as well as a lovely big fluffy robe, which we left on the hooks provided in the small antechamber after having the hammam process explained to us.

There is one main room at 37 degrees and 80% humidity, with heated stone benches and platforms to relax on, a chilled pool (although perhaps not chilled enough for Tamsin, the only person I know who swims lengths in the 15 degree C plunge pool) and a great ‘rain’ shower with a huge brass showerhead….often in spas these are freezing cold but this one was perfect for wusses like me as it had hot and cold taps. Then there is a 42 degree, 100% humidity proper steam room…remember not to take your complementary bottle of water in with you as 40 degree water in a plastic bottle is fairly grim.

With the ‘Rituel’ we were given around 40 mins to just natter and laze around on the hot stone platforms with the occasional foray into the steam room and shower/dip to regulate our body temperature before my favourite bit, when the assistants summoned us both into the side room with two marble tables where we lay and groaned gently with pleasure as we were soaped and then fearsomely scrubbed from head to toe. There are few things quite as satisfying as the sensation of having your top few layers of epidermis and the city-grot that resides therein removed by someone with a glove essentially made from fine-grain sandpaper. Mmmmmmmmm.

After the scrub we were sent back to the main room to relax again and to marvel over our shiny new clean skin for around 20 mins before being summoned for a massage…a short 20 minute massage that was very relaxing, although if like me you prefer your massage to be quite firm you should ask for this beforehand as the default seems to be a rather gentle stroking.

Finally there is a beautiful relaxation area where we were brought mint tea and little pastries to bring up our blood pressure/sugar…as the changing rooms/shower area is quite small this is perfect if you are in a group as you can relax and shower/change in shifts before emerging blinking into the Barcelona sunlight ready for a couple of cocktails to undo all that lovely de-toxing…

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Locally brewed beer in Gracia

We like beer. We like people who make beer. Which is why we like La Cervesera Artesana in Gracia, one of the few microbreweries in Barcelona.

It’s a little place, tucked away on a sidestreet off Corsega, but always seems busy, even when I’m not just there to watch the football, and rightly so. The  head brewer has been brewing for 10 years, and all the staff are well-informed about their products and happy to recommend and even provide tasters if you are not sure what to go for.

As well as the beer there is an assortment of tapas ranging from the bar-food standards croquetas and chicken drumsticks to the slightly more alarming (for us anglo-saxon types) ‘capi pota’ and callos (tripe).

There are various styles of beer. Dr DTS favours the honey beer while I prefer the more straightforward Toasted (IPA where I stands for Iberia) or the Rubia. Rather splendidly it’s brewed onsite so you can peer through the windows at the kettles where the beer is percolating away (or fermenting, or whatever the techincal term is!):

Given the pre-ponderance of mass-produced, chemically beers in Barcelona it’s a real joy to see a microbrewery doing so well – show them some love!

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