Silver is usually obtained as a by-product of the process of purifying other metals such as copper, lead and zinc. Silver can also be collected from refining gold or from silver ores. It is usually separated from its ores using a flotation process and then purified by smelting.
Obtaining silver from copper involves electrolytic refining and smelting. Silver can be obtained from lead ores using the Parkes process, which involves zinc-treated molten lead. In this process, zinc combines with and extracts any silver and gold in the original ore. This new alloy is naturally brought to the surface, manually removed and then distilled to separate any zinc. The silver is then extracted from the remaining alloy by electrolysis or chemical processes.
Sometimes, silver can be extracted from ores using two processes: the amalgamation process and the cyanidation process. In the amalgamation process, the ore is crushed and treated with mercury, which attaches itself to the silver to form an amalgam that is later washed and distilled. The cyanidation process involves treating the ore with a cyanide solution to dissolve the silver. After the mixture is filtered, zinc powder allows the mixture to form a silver precipitate. The silver obtained from both processes is refined by electrolysis.