How to Clean Pewter: a Practical Guide

It’s a resistant material, but to clean it you must pay some attention

Photo of author

By Max Bender

how to clean pewter

Pewter is an alloy composed of tin and small quantities of copper and antimony which became widespread after the Middle Ages, especially in the creation of household furnishings and jewellery. It is a material that lasts a long time, but to clean pewter you need to take some small precautions.

What is pewter, exactly?

To be more precise, pewter, primarily composed of tin (90%), is an alloy derived from the mineral cassiterite. Combining tin with metals like copper or antimony enhances its workability, replacing toxic lead used in ancient pewter. Today, pewter blends small amounts of copper and antimony to fortify the otherwise soft tin.

Origins of Pewter

Dating back to the Bronze Age, pewter, crafted from copper and tin, gained prominence in Europe four millennia ago. The Middle Ages marked a pivotal era, with the establishment of artisan guilds recognizing tin smelting as an esteemed profession. Venice emerged as a hub for skilled pewter craftsmen in the 12th century, solidifying its place in European pewter making.

Pewter Characteristics and Applications

Enduring centuries, pewter retains its allure for crafting household items, jewelry, vases, and plates. Its non-oxidizing nature requires minimal care, remaining unchanged over time.

This alloy traditionally has versatile and broad applications. It was used in crafting household items, furnishings, decorative plates, trophies, and jewelry; pewter’s artisanal production involves casting the alloy into iron or brass molds. While contemporary molds use cast iron or silicone rubber, the process preserves the artisan tradition.

Today, pewter is experiencing a little revival, finding use in design objects and vintage-style jewelry.

Maintaining Pewter: Practical Advice

Ensuring the longevity of pewter demands a bit of care to preserve its beauty and integrity.

Follow these tips to safeguard your pewter objects over the years:

  • Regularly dust with a soft cloth.
  • Keep away from heat sources due to its low melting point.
  • For stains, wash with soap and water, ensuring careful drying.
  • Handwash pewter plates used for food; avoid dishwasher use.
  • When storing for extended periods, wrap them in cloths treated to prevent oxidation and mold.
  • Avoid subjecting pewter to temperatures below 18 degrees to prevent the ‘tin plague.’
  • If displayed in a closed case, use hygroscopic substances like silica gel to guard against dampness and mold.
  • Handle pewter delicately, as it tends to dent easily.

What to avoid

Steer clear of aggressive detergents, scourers, and abrasive sponges to preserve pewter’s characteristic patina, especially in antique pieces valued for this unique aspect.

Cleaning Pewter: the Practical Rules

Pewter is a resistant material, but over time it requires some attention because it tends to turn black and a greasy patina can form. To clean pewter objects there are specific detergents and creams on the market, but it is also possible to clean it using natural products free of chemical substances.

Regular Cleaning with Marseille Soap

Immerse pewter objects in warm water with a few flakes or powder of Marseille soap for about half an hour. Rinse well with demineralized water, ensuring a limescale-free finish, and meticulously dry using a soft cloth. For added shine, incorporate a drop of Vaseline oil during the rubbing process.

Fighting Stubborn Stains

Address blackened pewter by wiping with a cotton cloth soaked in denatured alcohol to degrease and eliminate stains. Follow up with a soft sponge and a paste made from 1 tablespoon of starch, 1 tablespoon of fine salt, and lemon juice.

Thoroughly rinse objects with warm running water after using this cleaning mixture.

Removing Encrustations

Let’s use some grandma’s wisdom for treating encrustations. When dealing with this situation, a traditional remedy suggests using a raw cabbage leaf. Rub the affected areas until the emerging juice dissolves the encrustations. Alternatively, denatured alcohol, White of Spain, or calcium carbonate powder, applied with a damp cloth, can effectively clean stains and encrustations.

Eliminating Rust Stains

For pewter tarnished with rust stains, employ a raw potato soaked in Marseille soap. Rubbing the affected areas with this natural solution helps restore the pewter’s original shine.

Cleaning Chiselling and Inlays

Preserve the intricate details of pewter objects by using a soft-bristle toothbrush to clean chiselling and inlays that contribute to the decorative elements.

how to clean pewter
Use a soft-bristle toothbrush to clean the intricate chiselling and decorative inlays.

Removing Scratches

Combat small scratches on pewter objects by gently using very fine-grained steel wool. Employ circular movements and light pressure on the scratched portion for effective results.

Natural Polishing Remedies

Revitalize the shine of pewter using these three natural alternatives to commercial products:

  • Rubbing with a raw cabbage leaf.
  • Rubbing with liquid soap and warm beer.
  • Wiping toothpaste onto the surface with a cloth.

After each treatment, rinse with warm water and proceed to polish by rubbing with a wool or chamois cloth, ensuring the lasting brilliance of your pewter possessions.

More recommended articles on cleaning

You might also like: