How to Clean Pewter

A pewter tea kettle.

When I hear the word pewter, my mind automatically goes to my days at a Catholic high school. My definition of pewter: a person who has become a professional at Catholic mass calisthenics. Alas, pewter is an alloy metal made primarily from tin with a little lead, copper, bismuth, or antimony mixed in there. Pewter is ductile, which means it can be easily worked and molded. Wondering how to clean your pewter? Never fear, this article is here to help you navigate through the pewter cleaning world. I must give you a warning before you begin. Antique pewter is an alloy of lead (which makes it darken) and tin. Because of the lead, any antique pieces you might have should not be used for food or beverages. You really don’t want another lead paint chips fiasco if you can help it, especially if you were a child of that era.

If you have modern pewter, don’t worry. Modern pewter is mostly tarnish resistant and about 92 percent tin and lead free, so it is safe to use with food or beverages. Also, keep in mind your pewter item’s finish. I have listed them below and listed how to clean each one. Now, without any further ado, read on and learn how to quickly and safely clean pewter.

Cleaning Pewter

  1. antique pewter plateAntique Pewter. To clean antique pewter, put one teaspoon salt in one cup white vinegar. Add flour into salt and vinegar until it makes a paste. Apply the paste and let it sit on the pewter for fifteen minutes to an hour. Rinse with clean warm water and polish dry. Don’t go all mommy dearest and scrub until there is nothing left to scrub; pewter is not meant to look like silver.
  2. pewter trayModern Pewter. Modern pewter is pretty easy to clean and it’s brain damage free. Modern pewter can be cleaned by handwashing it in warm water with a little bit of mild soap. Make sure to dry the now-clean pewter thoroughly with a soft cloth and display as you wish.
  3. pewter potPolished Pewter. The polished pewter finish is shiny and smooth. You really only need to clean this type of pewter a couple of times a year. The best way to clean polished pewter is to use the paste method I described under antique pewter. Remember to not to overpolish – pewter is not supposed to look like silver.
  4. pewter gobletSatin Pewter. Satin pewter has a rougher appearance than the polished pewter. It is grainy and not shiny like polished pewter. To clean this pewter you can just use good old warm water and mild soap. You will want to buff satin pewter every couple of years with fine steel wool. You will want to rub with the direction of the grain and not apply too much pressure or it will damage your precious, clean pewter.
  5. pewter mugOxidized Pewter. Oxidized pewter has a darker finish that looks antique. Get oxidized pewter clean by using warm water and mild soap. Easy breezy. Keep in mind,though, that pewter from earlier periods can also oxidize because of the higher lead content so you will want to find out if your pewter is modern or antique.
  6. wax sealIdentifying Pewter Content. The FDA requires that the tin content in pewter must be at least ninety-two percent in order to be food safe. If you are buying pewter, make sure you know what the tin content is if you are planning on using it for food.companies that are reputable. “Makers marks” (like a rose or an angel) or seals don’t always mean that the piece is of high quality.

General Pewter Care

  • Acidic foods can cause pitting and stain pewter, so make sure to clean your pewter pieces right after use.
  • Do not place pewter in the oven or near hot things; remember it’s ductile and melts at only 450 degrees.
  • Do not clean pewter in a dishwasher. The high heat and harsh detergents of the dishwasher can damage pewter and shorten its lifespan. To clean pewter, you’ll need to handwash.

Pewter Cleaning Products

white cotton glovesWhite Cotton Gloves. If you have pewter pieces to clean, it’s a good idea to invest in some dye-free cotton gloves. The natural oils (and some not-so-natural ones we acquire) from our hands can damage pewter and ruin your cleaning groove. Use the gloves when handling your beautifully clean pewter.

bottle of vinegarVinegar. Vinegar is good to have around the house as a green cleaning product. Use it in the natural paste listed in the article to clean pewter. A little nose sensitive? Don’t worry; the smell of vinegar goes away quickly. You can order jugs of Vinegar from Amazon.

bottle of baby shampooBaby Shampoo. Baby Shampoo is a great mild soap to use for a multitude of cleaning adventures, including cleaning pewter. Johnson’s Natural Baby Shampoo is a great, gentle cleaner and is available from many online vendors.