How to Clean Pewter

Quite often we get asked the question on how to clean pewter.  The answer can vary depending on what type of pewter you have to what type of finish it has.

Pewter is an alloy consisting of mostly tin and it is the fourth most precious metal. It also has very small amounts of antimony and copper which is added mainly for strength and/or color. The percentage of tin can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but most often you will find at the least 91% tin and the rest in antimony and copper.

European pewter has a minimum tin content of 92% although many of these manufacturers raise this to 95% and some even to 97% tin. The higher the tin content, the more silver the final color.

Pewter dates back to the Roman days and was only something the rich and wealthy could afford.

Despite contrary beliefs today’s pewter is perfectly safe to eat and drink from. Modern pewter contains no lead as it once did. How can you tell if your pewter items have lead in them? This is a question that gets asked quite often. Read on to find out.

The result of lead in pewter is a grayish-black patina on the surface of the item. The amount of darkening and type of oxidation can vary depending on the type of environment the items are left in.

Most often, people will leave this patina on because it creates an antique look that many manufacturers try to simulate today. If you should try to remove it, the layers underneath are then exposed which will in time once again corrode and the patina comes back. In all actuality, the patina layer that forms on lead based pewter acts as a protective layer and should really not be removed.

Lead free pewter can also oxidize over time, but it takes much longer and the color is usually more grayish compared to the lead based pewter which is a darker gray or black in color.

General Pewter Care Tips

  • Pewter can be pitted or stained from certain foods such as citrus juice, types of salad dressings etc., so please remember to wash your items immediately after use.
  • Do not place in the oven on a hot plate or near hot flames because pewter melts easier than other types of metals. Pewter melts at only 450 degrees.
  • Always hand wash rather than placing in a dishwasher.

Pewter Cleaning Tips

Unlike silver, pewter doesn’t tarnish, so you will not need to clean it all that often.

There are generally three different types of finishes you will find in pewter items and each has a preferred method of cleaning.

Polished Pewter
This type of finish is very shiny and smooth and only really needs to be cleaned a couple of times a year. The recommend method of cleaning this type of pewter is with a very soft cloth and some polish. You can try making your own paste of vinegar, salt and flour. Rub it in circular motions with a soft cloth gently to shine up your pewter.

For taking out fine scratches, a basic car wax also does the trick. You need the kind that has a very small amount of very fine grit in the polish which must be applied with care. Just apply a little bit to the affected area and rub with a soft cloth in circular motions. You will notice that your cloth will turn black. This is normal, as it is actually taking off a very fine layer of pewter and dirt to reveal the new shiny layer underneath. Just keep turning the cloth so you are always using a clean part and your pewter will once again shine. If you should notice that the now cleaned area is shinier than the rest of the area, you may have to do the surrounding area to get an even effect.

Another type of polish that works well is Rottenstone. You can find this at some hardware stores or lumberyards.

Satin Pewter
This type of pewter has a little bit more of a rougher appearance. It is not shiny, but has almost a grain type of finish. You can use warm water and a mild soap to clean this type of pewter.

Every couple of years you may want to buff out or brush this kind of pewter using very fine steel wool. You can find this in any local hardware store. Always remember to rub in the direction of the grain and do not press very hard. It will not take much to return it back to it’s original appearance.

Oxidized Pewter
Oxidized pewter usually has a darker finish and has an antique look to it. Just washing with warm water and a mild soap is all you really need to do with this type of pewter.

You should also note that pewter from earlier periods can oxidize easily because of the higher lead content.