Tuesday, January 13, 2009

organic jewelry pickle



After much searching, I've finally found a recipe for pickle that's non-toxic, and actually works! For those of you non-silversmiths out there, in the silversmithing world pickle is used to remove the coating from silver (and other metals, I'm sure) after they're heated with a torch. It's a necessary part of the process. But for obvious reasons, I've never really been fond of having sulferic acid in my house.

I've tried other non-toxic pickle recipes, and they all seem to work veeeery slooooowly. This one, though, this one is fabulous. You take vinegar (just regular vinegar), heat it up in your pickle pot, and add table salt until the solution is saturated. That's it! As far as I can tell, it works just as fast as the standard pickle from Rio Grande. The only problem I've had so far is that it's a bit cloudy, so you kind of have to fish around for your pieces. I may have put too much salt in, though. We'll see if it clears up with use.

Now if only I can find an organic recipe for etching acid......

UPDATE 1: I've tried it heated up in the pickle pot now, and it's fantastic! It's actually faster than the standard pickle. I can see my pieces turning white as I'm setting them down. And it's not cloudy anymore, either. Fabulous!

A lovely silversmith named Kimberley Grasing tells me that the perfect ratio is 1 Tbsp salt for every 1 cup of vinegar. Thanks Kimberley!

This pickle works brilliantly on sterling silver, 14K white gold, and 14K rose gold, but I have to leave 14K yellow gold in for a long time before the firescale comes off. If I'm in a hurry, I end up hand-polishing my yellow gold pieces to remove the firescale.

UPDATE 2: After this pickle ate through the stainless steel exterior of my pickle pot, I started storing it in a covered glass container and heating it up in the microwave when I need it (2 minutes in my microwave, your mileage may vary). The microwave method works brilliantly, and as a bonus saves me about $10/month on my electricity bill.

Be sure to check out my posts on oxidizing jewelry with eggs and polishing silver the organic way, too!

86 comments:

Kerri Norman said...

Thankyou! I'll try this today. I'm so glad there are people like you out there experimenting.

idreamicanfly said...

I'm so glad you found it! The more people using non-toxic pickle the better. :)

Duffy Designs said...

I'm going to try it. I'm tired of buying so much from Rio Grand and paying shippingW!!! Vinegar and salt. Good!!!!

idreamicanfly said...

Ah, you guys are just making me so happy :) I actually have a nearly full container of Rio Grande pickle here that I have no intentions of using. I wonder if I can find someone local to take it...

Beth Cyr said...

I had heard about this and tried it... and it turned my silver black. It was very strangle. I use vinegar to clean off my castings (great for eating off the investment) and when I leave it in there long enough it does 'pickle' the metal to a nice white. I had heard that adding salt would make it better - I left my pieces in for about a day or so and they turned black! eep! Have you had any experience with this? I thought it was the strangest thing - I even tried it again with just some sheet silver and the same thing happened.

idreamicanfly said...

No, my pieces go lovely and white. I'm wondering if maybe there's some additive in the salt you're using that's reacting with the silver? Or with the container or your copper tongs? I just use plain old table salt in mine.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, came across this post via the metalsmiths in action blog- im curious about the ratio if salt to vinegar. is it just white vinegar? and could the other commenter have used iodised salt as opposed to plain table salt? final question is how does it last? ive been using ph decrease for spa pools as a pickle which has a reasonable life so long as it is used warm.
thanks. frances.

idreamicanfly said...

I'm using plain white vinegar (Albertson's store brand) and Morton's iodized salt. So it's not the iodization that's causing a problem. This pickle definitely works much better when hot. And it lasts quite well for me. I don't solder every day, and I've not really tracked how many days I get out of it, but I probably change it out every couple of months. It does tend to evaporate, and the salt crystallizes in fantastic structures around the edge of the pot. But I just top it off with vinegar and salt when I heat it and it toddles along nicely. I'd be interested to hear if anyone does have any thoughts on how it lasts compared to other pickles.

Kristin said...

I've been considering switching to a different type of pickle lately, and I was looking into citric acid.
Have you tried citric acid and if so, how did it compare to the vinegar solution?

idreamicanfly said...

Kristin - I haven't tried citric acid myself, although I've read a bit about it and chatted with other silversmiths who have tried it. Apparently it works, but rather slowly. That's why I decided to go with this salt and vinegar pickle, which works very quickly. You should be able to find information about citric acid pickle on the web, though, or you can try chatting with other silversmiths who have tried it. Good luck!

Lilia N Designs said...

Kristin - I've tried using citric acid. It is good, works well on silver and gold, however it is much slower than normal pickle (mine is from Rio) and doesn't work at all if used cold. Also, I found it much more expensive (I live in England and get it in my local pharmacy store) than Rio's pickle (that's with shipping and customs).

Does the vinegar and salt solution work on gold?

idreamicanfly said...

It works fairly well on gold, although more slowly than on silver. Sometimes I've had to sand off some parts - I think mostly the glassy stuff that forms when the flux is heated. I'd be really interested in hearing other peoples' experiences and suggestions with gold.

Helenes Dreams said...

I am just a newbie in metal smithing, but I stumbled along this post and I am so glad you shared this. Would you happen to know how much vinegar to salt you are using? Its funny, I love dipping foods in vinegar and salt and eating it..yah I know wierd huh! Also do you just use a simple small crockpot at low or high heat? I appreciate your time..thanks so much!

idreamicanfly said...

I use a simple small crockpot (I think it's designed for dips) on whatever heat it has. I don't think it has more than one. I got mine from Rio Grande. If I had to guess I'd say I use 2-3 cups of vinegar and 3 or 4 tablespoons of salt. But really I just heat up the vinegar and then pour salt in, stir, and repeat until it stops absorbing salt.

I'll add vinegar and salt whenever it evaporates too much (when you cool the solution down you'll get these crazy salt crystalline structures around the edge of the pot). I only change the solution when it gets dirty, and then I neutralize it with baking soda before I dispose of it.

Oh, and leave the lid askew when you cool the solution, or the salt crystals will seal it on. It's a huge pain to get loose again!

A. Heron said...

oh wow this is such an awesome idea! I'm so paranoid about having anything toxic around. I will definitely have to try this out.

What's a safe way to dispose of the pickle that I have now?

idreamicanfly said...

Oh, I'm not sure on that, since I don't use the sulferic acid type. You definitely need to neutralize it (baking soda works well). Just keep adding baking soda a bit at a time until it no longer foams. And I know you're not supposed to put it down the drain. But I'm not sure how you can dispose of it. Sorry!

kee wilde-ramsing said...

You're awesome! I have navigated the whole style of my work away from soldering just because I don't want to deal with chemicals. You have opened up a whole new world for me, and I thank you.

idreamicanfly said...

You're welcome. My goal is to help as many silversmiths go organic as I can. There's no point in hoarding those secrets - I'd rather have as big of an impact as possible on the environment. :)

Swati said...

I too had this weird blackening thing happen when I used vinegar and salt...I wish someone knew why it happens :-(. I would love to use this rather than toxic acids. Recently I used pickle I bought from Monster Slayer...that too turned my silver black. I wonder what it is I'm doing wrong...

idreamicanfly said...

We've been having a conversation about pieces turning dark grey in the pickle in my metalsmiths group. The consensus seems to be that pieces turn grey either when the pickle is too strong or when they're left in the pickle too long. (This is true with all pickles, not just organic pickle.) I forgot a chain in the pickle for two days and it turned a deep, dull grey.

I'd guess that Beth left her piece in the pickle for much too long. For silver, I would guess an hour or so should be plenty long enough. Swati - how long did you leave your piece in the pickle? You can also try using less salt to make the pickle less strong.

Hope that helps!

Hightower Botanicals said...

I finally tried this orgainic pickle. I LOVE it !!! It works really well!
Thank you for sharing!

bhs said...

art teacher here. Love this about the vinegar. Trying today. How about for brass and nickle? Any reason this might not work with these since the commercial pickles have sulfuric and nitric acid???

bhs said...

Any one tried this will nickle or brass?

idreamicanfly said...

Sorry, I've never tried nickle or brass in pickle, although I know straight vinegar takes tarnish off of brass. Maybe someone else knows?

Thomasin Durgin said...

Hello, Jo! I made a ring tonight and had forgotten that my pickle pot was turned off, I use citric acid and it doesn't work cold. I didn't want to heat up used pickle in my microwave since it has copper ions in it. I remembered a conversation we'd had about salt and looked up this post. All I have in the house is apple cider vinegar and it worked fine. The ring is both silver and copper, for those interested in knowing if it works on base metal. Thanks so much for sharing the info!

idreamicanfly said...

Thanks for letting me know, Tomi. :) I pickle gold in it all the time, too. It works best on the rose gold, not as well on the yellow and white gold.

I've started heating up the pickle, dropping my pieces in, and taking an hour-long tea break. Leaving the pieces in there for an hour or so seems to be plenty of time for the pickle to work.

idreamicanfly said...

BTW, I just checked with my in-house expert and he says it's perfectly safe to microwave used pickle. The blue is copper sulfate (copper salts), not copper the metal. It's nothing like putting a spoon in the microwave. Copper sulfate won't reflect the microwaves, and therefore it shouldn't cause any issues.

Sandy Simpson [Punky Jane] said...

I'm so glad I found your blog! I'm trying this today!! :~)

Jes said...

Oh My Goodness! I love tinkering but hate chemicals! You are heaven sent!!!

Love, love, LOVE your jewelry. Just stunning! Do you have any advice for someone who wants to learn more about simple jewelry making? (wishbone style earings, bangles...we're talking beginner simple with no tools except my husbands ;) )... Our local community college offers a class but I'm not quite sure where to start.

I'm so glad I stumbled across your blog. It's a treasure! :)

idreamicanfly said...

Thanks so much Jes! You can learn a bit of basic jewelry making on the internet these days. Just take a look around and you'll find YouTube videos and written tutorials galore to get you started beading and making earwires. If you want to make bangles, though, you'll need to learn how to use a torch. I'd recommend taking a class for that. You really don't want to set your house on fire! :)

CarolynArtist said...

thank you so much for this! My friend Sal (Sally - TheBearAffair) turned me onto this recipe from my FB page! I'm trying it today! :-)

idreamicanfly said...

Excellent! Let me know how it goes. :)

Cristina said...

Tried this and it worked GREAT!!! Thank you!! I am going all green, so having a chemical-free pickle was essential. I also posted about it on my blog: http://cristinasjewelry.blogspot.com/2010/05/organic-jewelry-pickle-from-i-dream-i.html I hope that's okay with you!

idreamicanfly said...

Oh, I'm so glad! The more green metalsmiths there are, the happier I am. :)

saramosa said...

yay! you have solved one of my looming problems with at home jewelry making.does the vinegar need to be neutralised before disposal? or does it just evaporate so there's no issue?and thankyouthankyou thankyou for this post.

idreamicanfly said...

You still need to neutralize it like any pickle - I use baking soda. And remember that while the pickle itself is organic, it will have copper in it when it's all used up, so you shouldn't put it down the drain.

saramosa said...

i have a feeling this question is a no brainer but asking anyway....if i use steel tongs will it contaminate this pickle? i'm more of a coppersmith so it would be awesome if i could intentionally plate with "green" pickle.

idreamicanfly said...

Hmm, I've definitely not tried that! But it behaves in all other ways like any other pickle, so I suspect it would work. Let me know how it turns out. :)

Anyes said...

I just found this blog today looking for pickle options. My grandmother used warm vinegar and salt to clean her brass and copper pots when I was a little girl. Works like a charm. For really tarnished brass, she would actually put it on the stove in the vinegar mix. I am glad to know this works as a pickle for silver. Thanks!
Anyes

cory - falling star lane said...

I just tried the salt and vinegar today - after i tried the lemon and water - which i didn't think was working, and saw it was as i poured it out - oh well, looks like a good thing, either way!! i am so grateful for this post still being around - being self taught, i am experimenting and learning as i go - thanks for the info - much appreciated!
:)
cory,
fallingstarlane.etsy.com

idreamicanfly said...

Oh, I'm not familiar with lemon and water pickle. What's the recipe? I know people use citric acid, so I always thought lemon should work, although I'm thinking the lemons might get a bit expensive...

plcpeggy said...

Beautiful jewelry and great handmade jewelry tip! I will definitely try this at home. As for citric acid, I have a pot warming right now with a concentrated lemon Kool-aid (just lemon, and it's for the citric acid!) and water mix that I am using as pickle. Seems to be working, but as others have said, is kind of slow.

Thanks again!

idreamicanfly said...

The salt and vinegar pickle is really fast. When it's fresh and strong, you can drop a piece in and watch it turn white as it settles to the bottom. IMO it's even faster than the commercial pickles. I guess that's why I've not been too tempted to try the citric acid pickle. It's nice to have options, though. :)

Gwenn said...

Dearest Silversmith! I've just completed my first silversmith course and onto the next level, following my Great Grandfather's profession (originally from Birmingham - came to the US in 1880). I simply wanted to know if you could reheat pickle, found your blog and have been thoroughly delighted! I've just begun setting up my workshop at home and wanting to follow my instructor who uses an organic pickle for our class. I'm excited to discuss your findings in my next class. Bless you! Best always, Gwenn from West Hartford, Connecticut

ccn said...

Brillant! I'm a new metal smith just setting up in my home. I'm really against any kind of toxins in my living environment, so I was dreading the whole pickle issue. Thanks so much for sharing! Now I can play with a clear conscience!

idreamicanfly said...

No worries. :) I'm just making up a fresh batch for myself this morning. I love this stuff!

Amy said...

Hi there! I was so excited to come across your recipe for organic pickle. I'm setting up a home studio, and was nervous about having toxic chemicals in my home. I do have one silly question. Just how bad does the vinegar/salt heated solution smell? Occasionally, my husband will use vinegar around the house, and it smells horrible. So I can't imagine how bad it would smell heated up, and in the same room with you working/solding.... Any thoughts? Is it not bad to smell the vinegar fumes?

glassbead, isinglass design said...

So,here's a crazy thing. I just read about cleaning glass rods with metal pickle, and had also just gotten a library book saying that you could make your own pickle. So here I am! I'll be trying this soon, and will also suggest other glass workers try it rather than adding some nasty chemicals into our studios. I'll let you know how it goes. And thanks!

idreamicanfly said...

@Amy - It definitely smells like vinegar, and if you don't have it in a vented space, it will make your whole studio smell like vinegar. I don't mind the smell, but if you hate the smell of vinegar, this may not be the pickle for you. Also, do remember this is an acid. You definitely don't want to be breathing the fumes, or getting it on your skin or in your eyes. Handle this like any other pickle - with care, in a well-ventilated place.

idreamicanfly said...

@glassbead - Sweet! Please do let me know how it works out for you. I love finding new applications for an organic solution. :)

glassbead, isinglass design said...

Yes! You Rock! It worked. My blog will be ready tomorrow with pics and a link to this info. I'm always happy to find a non-toxic solution that works so well. I would never have even tried the toxic solution.

idreamicanfly said...

Sweet! Organic solutions rock. :)

glassbead, isinglass design said...

Here you go- your blog on my blog!
http://isinglassdesign.blogspot.com/2011/01/clean-clear-glass-for-your-lampwork.html

Shirlee Grund said...

if you're still looking for an non toxic etching set up, check this out. http://privatestockjewelry.blogspot.com/2010/02/green-etching-for-jewelry-without-acid.html

i've not trued it yet but it looks interesting.

Shirlee Grund said...

if you're still looking for an non toxic etching set up, check this out. http://privatestockjewelry.blogspot.com/2010/02/green-etching-for-jewelry-without-acid.html

i've not trued it yet but it looks interesting.

idreamicanfly said...

Ah yes, I've seen that sort of thing before. To my knowledge it works best with copper, though, and I'd really like to etch silver...

Debbie said...

you could always etch German Silver (Nickel Silver) as it is copper bearing....

idreamicanfly said...

Hmm, I'm not a big fan of nickel silver. But it's nice to know that's an option. :)

Rebecca said...

I can't wait to try this and get my "poison" pickle out of my studio! Thank you so much!

idreamicanfly said...

Yay! The more the merrier. :)

Tiff said...

Works wonders on copper and brass wire twists! Thanks!

idreamicanfly said...

Any time. :)

Seaglass Reinvented said...

This is really great! I'm a newbie when it comes to metalsmithing, but I also make sea glass jewelry. Thanks so much for posting! I can't wait to try it.

Esmae Mooney said...

Hi I used your organic pickle recipe with great suscess, it was the first time I had ever pickled, I've written about it in my blog here http://www.handmadebyesmae.blogspot.co.uk/
I thought using pickle would be dangerous, complicated and expensive so thankyou very much for making it not.

idreamicanfly said...

So glad you guys like it! I love not having to have toxic chemicals in my home studio. :)

Connie said...

curious, if you arent suppose to pour it down the drain then where does it go?

idreamicanfly said...

You'll want to check with your local city or town to find out the correct way to dispose of toxic materials. Our local dump has a process for handling these materials. Basically it's generally the same way you get rid of old cans of paint.

ANNETTE HUSBAND said...

Hi
I too was looking for an laternative to acid pickle so gave this a try tonight with brass and it worked a dream within 10 minutes. I live were it is hot and humid so only microwaved it for one minute. So glad I found you :o)
hugs
Annette In Oz

idreamicanfly said...

Oooh, interesting! I hadn't thought to try it with brass.

Beth Wicker said...

Thanks so much for this! Ran out of pickle today, and this worked a charm!

idreamicanfly said...

Any time! It works amazing well, and as a bonus it's *so* cheap. :)

Knuckle Kiss said...

Hi, Jo! This is an awesome tip and has worked really well for me. Thank you so much! I blog about my results here:

http://knucklekiss.blogspot.com/2012/11/natural-pickle-solution.html

Angela

idreamicanfly said...

So glad it works for you! I find it works well on rose gold as well, if a bit slowly on yellow and white gold. Looks like Emily has a nice list of alternative pickles I'm not familiar with, too. Must try KoolAid one day. :)

because said...

so excited to have found this, especially since i don't intend to do much soldering (jump rings, really) and find it so unnecessary to buy large amounts of anything when i have the ingredients i need already at home. i do have one question though, when you say you have it stored in a covered glass container now since it ate through your crock pot, may i ask how you have it covered or what kind of "jar" you use? i was debating on getting a little dipper to use, but maybe not so much anymore if it ate through your steel one! thanks.

idreamicanfly said...

I use a glass storage container with a glass lid like these from the Container Store:
http://www.containerstore.com/shop/kitchen/foodStorage/leftoversGlass?utm_medium=feed&productId=10015932&utm_source=shopping&sku=10006191

I actually use a 4 cup one, which they no longer seem to sell, so I have room to pickle larger pieces like bangles. But if you're just pickling jump rings the smaller one should do.

When you're ready to use the pickle, you can just throw the whole container - lid and all - into the microwave to heat. When not in use, mine sits on my kitchen counter. If the level drops too far over time from evaporation (which can happen if you don't use it often), you can top it up with more vinegar. You'll want to change the pickle out when it starts turning blue and/or when it stops working very well.

StephanieMay...xo said...

My god, I read this not five minutes ago - having just soldered a ring. I put maybe about a cup of white vinegar into a saucepan, added two teaspoons of salt until they dissolved (ring in the solution the whole time, and just as it began to boil, I suddenly had a white ring. Brought the fine silver to the top so nicely! I'm ecstatic! Never using anything else. Ever. Thank you! xoxo

idreamicanfly said...

Isn't it amazing stuff? I've never tried it in a saucepan. Good to know that works! I always heat mine in the microwave.

milomade said...

Thanks for this - I've been looking for something like this as I'm trying to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in the house now that I have a one year old on the verge of running around - will pin this.

milomade said...

Just tried this cold - very slow. Heated it up in the microwave as suggested - super fast. My studio smells like a chip shop though!

Patricia said...

i am just venturing into the metalsmith world and trying to figure out what supplies i will need. this is a wonderful post and i am so thrilled to find something organic!

i see this works with gold...does it work with gold filled pieces? i plan on using sterling silver and gold filled components and want to make sure this would work for both.

also, any recommendations for the other parts of the process such as flux?

Design 2 said...

So If I you heat up the solution in a glass container in the microwave you don't need to put it in a pickle pot? You can just use the container? And you put the jewelry in the microwave? Sorry for all the questions this is brilliant!

idreamicanfly said...

I wouldn't recommend putting the jewelry in the microwave. Supposedly it's safe if it's submerged in liquid but yeah - I wouldn't try it. I heat the pickle up first, pull it out and put it on the counter, and then add the jewelry. Of course the pickle cools down over time, so you'll have to keep reheating it if you're pickling a series of things, but for a single set of pieces, it works really well. :)

Karen Pridemore said...

Does this also work on copper? I just bought a little crock pot at the Goodwill today and would like to try this vinegar/salt solution.

idreamicanfly said...

It should, since it's the copper content in sterling silver and rose gold that it works on. Let us know how it goes. :)

Chelsea Shannon said...

SO happy to have found your blog today - excellent recipe, works like a charm.

Sandra said...

Hi from Oz,
Would this solution work on stainless steel? I make spoon rings and i want avoid any toxins in my methods.
Cheers
Mark