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A place setting of rough old pewter plates on a white washed rustic wooden table.

How To Clean Pewter

by | Feb 4, 2024 | Cleaning Tips

Pewter is a gorgeous material – that iconic charcoal grey colour feels so old-timey and classic. It’s used in everything from picture frames to jewellery.

However, given how soft it is as a metal, pewter can be tricky to maintain.

How to clean pewter? You can use plain water or some cabbage (yes, trust us). But the best way to clean pewter is with hot water and mild dishwashing soap.

The type of pewter finishes will then determine whether you need to polish the piece or not.

Keep your pewter pieces looking lustrous and preserve their integrity with proper maintenance. However, no need to reach for the Coke!


Types of Pewter Finishes

Pewter is a metal alloy – it’s made mostly of tin, with a small combination of silver, copper, bismuth, and antimony.

In previous centuries, it was used for tableware and accessories on horse tackle. It also became popular for jewellery and home decor.

Pewter is often differentiated by the type of finish on the alloy. This finish will also determine how to clean the pewter and if you need to take any extra steps.


1. Polished pewter

This type of pewter has a shiny, silvery cast for a lustrous finish. The metal will darken over time, and will need regular polishing to maintain its appearance.

Polished pewter is often used for jewellery and tableware.


A single frosty vintage pewter tankard sits on a grill.


2. Satin pewter

Satin has been cast with a soft matte patina. It does not need polishing, since that could remove the matte finish.

Moreover, be very careful when cleaning satin pewter, as it scratches easily. Moreover, scuff and scratch marks show up easily.


3. Oxidised pewter

Pewter is incredibly rust-resistant – instead, it oxidises over time, turning a darker grey (called a “patina”). Antique pewter pieces will have an oxidised finish, but some pieces are treated to achieve that antique look.

Never polish oxidised pewter, antique or otherwise.


4. Textured pewter

That “texture” isn’t strictly a type of finish – it’s a design added on top of a pewter surface.

Hammered pewter uses dents to give off a rustic appearance, usually for trays and other decorative items. 

Meanwhile, brushed pewter features parallel brush lines, and is often used for frames.

Antique pewter sugar bowl


How Often to Clean Pewter

There’s no straightforward answer to this – it depends on the type of pewter and its environment.

Generally, you should wipe or dust pewter once a week. Use a soft cloth or a duster to gently go over the surface.

You can also lightly wipe pewter with a damp cloth. This minimises the build-up of dirt, oils, skin cells, and other grime.

If you book a professional house cleaning session, give the cleaner a heads up about any pewter items on display!


Is Pewter Dangerous for Your Health?

Early pewter pieces sometimes contained lead, especially the lowest grade of purity. European countries began banning the use of lead in pewter in 1974.

Modern pewter pieces no longer contain lead in their composition.

Lead exposure can be very dangerous to your health, so if you’re unsure if your pewter has lead, there are ways to check! Lead often causes very dark oxidation, and if rubbed on paper, will leave a heavy dark mark.

Alternatively, check if there is a service near you that can test for lead.

Pewter with lead is safe for display, but should never be worn or used with food and drink.


What to Avoid When Cleaning Pewter

Pewter is a bit delicate, so there are certain cleaning products that you should avoid. Otherwise, you risk damaging the metal.

Do not use these items when cleaning pewter:

  • Carbonated liquids (so no, you cannot clean pewter with Coke)
  • Acidic cleaners such as lemon or BKF (vinegar is acceptable when diluted)
  • Strong detergents
  • Abrasive cleaners (including baking soda or toothpaste)
  • Silver polish – only use specialised metal polish

Also, never put a pewter piece in the dishwasher. The high heat, detergent, and agitation will damage the piece.


How to Clean Pewter

Runner australian bird pewter blue stone pierced earrings.

First of all, if the piece is an antique or heirloom, or if it looks particularly oxidised, you might be better off leaving the job to a professional.

If you wanna go DIY, though, here are ways to clean pewter.


Cleaning pewter with plain water

This is best for everyday cleaning. Simply dip a soft cloth in warm water and wring it out.

Wipe the pewter gently, then dry it with a fresh cloth using back-and-forth motions.


Cleaning pewter with cabbage

Green fresh cabbage

Okay, this one sounds weird, but don’t click out just yet.

Supposedly, in mediaeval times before good ol’ Dawn dish soap was invented, people would use cabbage to clean pewter naturally.

Take the outer leaves of cabbage and use them to gently “scrub” the pewter piece. You can dampen the leaf with a little water as well.

For extra cleaning power, dip the cabbage leaf in a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and warm water, then fine salt. Do not use this solution on oxidised or satin pewter.

Gently “scrub” the pewter piece using a circular motion. Then wash the residue off with some soapy water. Dry with a microfibre cloth using back-and-forth motions.


Cleaning pewter with dishwashing liquid

This is the “standard” method to clean pewter, whether that’s pewter mugs, vases, or jewellery.

Fill a bowl or bucket with hot water, depending on the size of the pewter piece. You should be able to submerge the piece fully.

Add a few drops of mild dishwashing soap (Dawn dish soap is a favourite, while Koala Eco dish soap is an eco-friendly alternative).

Submerge the pewter pieces into the soapy water and leave them for several minutes.

Afterwards, you can either rinse the pewter with clean, hot water, or scrub the piece to remove some of the patina (oxidisation) for a more polished appearance.

For pewter jewellery, take an old toothbrush or similar soft-bristled brush. Gently scrub the jewellery – the brush is great for getting around intricate details and carvings.

For pewter vases, mugs, trays, and similar large items, you can opt for ultra-fine steel wool (#0000). Submerge it in the soapy water, and gently scrub in the direction of the grain.

Rinse immediately in fresh hot water and dry with a lint-free cloth using back-and-forth motions.


How to Polish Pewter

hand polishing spoon

Note: if you polish pewter, you’ll be removing the patina (that darkened colour due to oxidising) on the surface.

It’s not recommended to polish oxidised or satin pewter so you can maintain the finish. However, know that oxidation will slowly wear the pewter down over time.


Polishing pewter using vinegar and flour

If you want to go the DIY route, it’s easy to make a homemade pewter polish.

Mix 1 cup of white vinegar with 1 1/2 cups white flour (all-purpose flour) to create a paste. Flour is less abrasive than baking soda, so it won’t scratch the surface.

Dampen a soft cloth or sponge, then use it to apply the paste to the pewter surface. Work in a circular motion and use light pressure.

Let the paste sit on the pewter for half an hour. Afterwards, rinse with hot water – you can submerge the piece in a bowl, or dip another microfiber cloth into hot water and wipe off the residue.

Take a clean microfiber cloth to dry the pewter, then buff in small motions to finish.


Polishing pewter using metal polish

You can use commercial polish only if it lists pewter as a safe material on the label. Crowd favourites include Brasso and Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish.

Follow product instructions for use. You can apply the polish using a cotton ball or cloth.

Wipe away the residue with a soft cloth, then buff with a cotton or microfibre cloth.


Polishing pewter with linseed oil

linseed oil

If you can get some, it’s possible to polish your pewter with linseed oil and rottenstone (powdered limestone).

Heat 1/4 cup of linseed oil in a pan until it’s warm. Add half a cup of rottenstone to make a paste.

Use a polishing cloth or soft cloth to spread the paste over the pewter. Go in circular motions until you’ve covered the entire surface.

Let the solution dry for 30 minutes, then rinse the residue off with warm water.

Wipe with a soft towel to dry.


How to Remove Mould from Pewter

Okay – mould doesn’t grow on metal, since metal isn’t a food source. But food debris or similar grime left on pewter can lead to mould growing.

Scrub the mould off the piece with a sponge and hot, soapy water. Then use the flour and vinegar paste on any affected areas – the vinegar should kill off any traces of mould.

Rinse the vinegar paste off after 30 minutes, then dry the piece.


Vintage pewter jewelry box on concrete background.


How to Remove Scratches on Pewter

Pewter is a very soft metal, so it’s easily scratched.

If you’ve scuffed the surface of a pewter item, buff the surface with very fine steel wool (#0000). You can also try a 3M Scotch Brite pad.

Alternatively, metal polish will “fill in” the scratch lines.


Does Pewter Rust?

Pewter is very resistant to both rust and corrosion, so good quality pewter won’t rust.

If there is some corrosion on your pewter piece, mix 1 cup vinegar, 1 1/2 cups flour, and 1 tsp salt. The salt will help remove corrosion, but be careful as it can scuff the surface.

Do not use salt on pieces with a polished finish.


How to Maintain Pewter Pieces

Avoid storing pewter pieces near heat sources or in humid places (such as the attic). When you do store them, wrap each piece in tissue or old newspaper to prevent scratching.

Store pewter upright, not flat, to prevent warping.

Don’t use pewter tableware to serve acidic food, hot drinks or foods, and alcohol or carbonated drinks.

Never leave pewter to soak, as this could leave water marks.

About Author

Sophie Franklin

Sophie is the subject matter expert within Maid2Match. Most importantly though she is our biggest fan girl and generous in sharing what she knows.


About Author

Sophie Franklin

Sophie is the subject matter expert within Maid2Match. Most importantly though she is our biggest fan girl and generous in sharing what she knows.