How to Clean Old Silver Dollars

By Keith Allen
Silver dollars can be cleaned with baking soda and a toothbrush.

Silver dollars, or any collectible silver coin, should only be cleaned under certain conditions. In many cases, cleaning a coin can lower the value of the coin as a collector’s item. In severe cases, where the date and other details of the coin are not visible due to dirt and grime, cleaning is warranted. This circumstance is more common with silver dollars found by metal detecting enthusiasts than with coins held by collectors.

Confirm the value of the coin before attempting any cleaning. According to the website gometaldetecting.com, cleaning a valuable coin could cut the value of the coin in half. Consult with a coin dealer or research the coin in reference books to determine the value of the coin in its current state.

Wet the silver dollar and then dip it into baking soda. Use a toothbrush to scrub the tarnish and dirt from the silver dollar. This system obviously cleans one coin at a time but has the advantage of being nonabrasive and should return a shine to the silver dollar.

Clean tarnish from silver dollars with vinegar, lemon juice or rubbing alcohol, according to the website mycoincollecting.com. Pour the liquid in a bowl and soak the coins in the liquid until the dirt and tarnish loosens. Pat the coins dry with a soft cloth.

Tip

Some tarnish may actually increase the value of an older silver dollar, according to mycoincollecting.com. The tarnish can give the coin a violet or green color. In these situations, the coin should not be cleaned. Only coins tarnished to the extent that the design or date is not visible should be cleaned.

Warning

Never use any abrasive pads, brushes or cleaners when cleaning silver dollars. The abrasive action can scratch or remove silver from the coin. Either action will reduce the value of the coin. Handle the coin on the edges to avoid getting oil from your fingers on the surface of the coin, which will increase tarnishing.

About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.