Dear Heloise: My mother has an old silver tea service, and I am looking for the best and easiest way to clean it. Do you have any good hints? — Mary Long, via e-mail

Silver tarnishes when it is exposed to air, and high humidity makes silver tarnish more quickly. The darker the tarnish is, the harder it will be to remove. So, once an item has been cleaned, you will want to clean it more often to keep tarnish from building up.

It is usually best to use a good paste or liquid commercial product that is specifically made to clean silver. Be sure to read the directions before starting, and follow them exactly. Cleaners made to clean other metals might be too harsh to use on silver. Sometimes home-style cleaning methods leave a dull luster on silver and remove the patina in the pattern cracks and crevices.

For small silver items, you can use the following method to remove tarnish. Only do this occasionally and when you're in a hurry, or for badly tarnished pieces that do not have a high value. Don't use this on antique, heirloom, silver-plated or hollow-handled flatware:

Place aluminum foil in the bottom of a cooking pot or the sink. (Aluminum pots might darken if used for this process.) Add enough water to cover the silver pieces. Pour in 2 quarts of hot water and add 2 teaspoons of baking soda, stirring to dissolve. Place the silver pieces on the foil. Once the tarnish is gone, remove the silver, rinse well and buff dry with a soft cloth. Some items that are heavily tarnished might need to be professionally cleaned.

Although it might be OK to wash silver items in the dishwasher, it's usually recommended to wash and dry them by hand.

Heloise Hint: If you do wash silver items in the dishwasher, do not use lemon-scented soaps or water-spot-removing agents — they can cause pitting and darkening of the silver. Also, don't put sterling silver and stainless pieces in the same baskets, and avoid the high-heat drying cycle. Most importantly, use your silver — don't save it for a special day. Make every day special! — Heloise

Dear Heloise: For traveling women: Before you pack your curling iron, grab a hand towel, fold it over and then wrap your curling iron in it so that all the metal is covered. Wrap the cord around the towel and pack it like this.

And now a hint: The regular squeeze type of staple puller is handy to keep in the kitchen for pulling up those pull-tab tops and also for getting those plastic seals off quickly around the tops of lids. Saves fingernails, too!— Marcia Hardin, Texarkana, Ark.

Send a great hint to: Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, TX 78279-5000; Fax: 210-HELOISE; E-mail: © King Features Syndicate Inc.