In this LearningJewelry.com guide, you’ll learn:
- What makes sterling silver tarnish?
- How do you polish your sterling silver jewelry?
- What are the different ways of cleaning silver jewelry?
- And many more!
Truly versatile in style, silver jewelry is absolutely stunning. From bracelets to rings to necklaces and bangles, your piece will shine- day or night. But what do you do when your silver jewelry starts to lose its shine, looking a little dull and tired?
Don’t worry, sterling silver shines for some time and at some point, it will start losing it’s shine. But you can always replenish your jewelry’s brilliance!
Why Does Sterling Silver Jewelry Tarnish?
Before we see why sterling silver tarnishes, there’s a couple of things we need to understand. For instance, knowing the purity of the metal will help you determine how malleable your silver is and how fast it will tarnish. 950 sterling silver is purer than 825 sterling silver and will tarnish quickly.
Oxidized silver is another particular term you’ll definitely come across. In certain silver jewelry, silversmiths intentionally leave parts of the silver to darken/oxidize to allow small details to appear more vividly.
You'll often see these embellishments in Tibetian silver chains. The downside, however, is that with oxidized silver, you shouldn’t polish too much- you might lose the intricate details and luster.
So it's better to single out oxidized silver rings, silver necklaces, earrings, and other jewelry for a separate round of cleaning.
Now, why exactly does silver jewelry tarnish?
Most silver jewelry is 92.5% pure. This means only 92.5% is silver while the remaining 7.5% contains other metal bonds (mostly copper, zinc, or nickel).
Read Also: What Does 925 Mean on Jewelry?
Some of these bond metals like copper are reactive to the environment and will tarnish quickly. Silver, like other precious metals, is stable and does not react to their surroundings.
Other than the environment, if you have moist skin or are sweaty, your jewelry may turn green in response to the metal’s copper component. Other factors that may cause tarnish include seawater, swimming pools, cosmetic items like lotion, and perfume.
How Do You Prevent Your Sterling Silver Jewelry From Tarnish?
You're obviously attuned to the fact that prevention is better than cure and in sterling silver jewelry the same applies. Apart from buying a genuine, hallmarked silver, you also don’t want the piece to tarnish easily. Here are the best ways to make sure your piece of jewelry stays longer without tarnish.
Though silver jewelry naturally reacts to the environment, exposure to some chemicals may accelerate tarnishing. Contact with household chemicals, chlorinated water, and other substances that have sulfur compounds (eggs, onions, latex wool, etc) will cause tarnish.
Long hours of direct sunlight can also cause your sterling silver to tarnish. Avoid wearing silver jewelry the next time you go sunbathing.
As exposure tarnishes your silver, so does storing it in risky areas. When keeping your jewelry safe, make sure you keep it in an anti-tarnish plastic bag. Since silver is malleable and susceptible to scratch so harder metals can easily tarnish silver, you shouldn't mix with other jewelry pieces in the same jewelry box or the same jewelry safe.
Chained bracelets or necklaces should be left unclasped to prevent scratching. Adding silica gel or activated charcoal can help minimize tarnish.
Tip: Keeping the above considerations in mind, wearing your jewelry more often will help clean the silver and maintain its shine. The oils in your skin help keep dirt and debris from accumulating- a great excuse to keep wearing your jewelry!
What Are The Cleaning Options For Your Sterling Silver Jewelry?
One way to spruce up your silver jewelry that hasn’t tarnished too much is through polishing. It is a clean way to work on oxidized silver as it doesn’t get too abrasive. Polishing will also ensure that tarnished areas in your oxidized silver are not affected.
While polishing use soft cloths like lin-free fibers and any other non-abrasive cloth. Tissue or paper towels may not be suitable as they have tiny fibers that can scratch your silver.
As you polish follow the grain of the silver in long back and forth motions. Rubbing in circles can potentially scratch the silver.
Remember not to use the same cloth surface over and over- you’ll avoid rubbing the silver with debris. If you’re still having problems trying to clean silver jewelry, I’ve compiled other great cleaning tips that will work even on the most tarnished silver. So, shall we?
Home Sterling Silver Cleaning
In case you’re not having any luck polishing silver with a piece of lint-free cloth, you can clean using readily available items in the kitchen.
Going the DIY way is as versatile as the state of your silver and some methods may not work for all stages of a tarnished silver jewelry. For instance, silver jewelry inlaid with opaque gems like opals, pearls or turquoise may not do well with some home-made cleaners as it can easily damage softer stones.
Jewelry with clear gemstones like quartz and garnets should be cleaned with a polishing cloth and not the homemade silver cleaners.
Let’s look at some of the best methods of cleaning your silver jewelry at home;
Soap And Water
Though I didn’t compile this list in order of importance, I’d suggest using soap and warm water first before going through other jewelry cleaning methods. Use soap with a mild ammonia concentration and ensure the cleaning solution is phosphate-free. This is a classic method and works almost all the time!
Olive Oil and Lemon Juice
Use a small 4-ounce cup of lemon juice with 1 tsp. of olive oil and mix them in a large dish. Grab a microfiber cloth, dip it in the solution and wriggle dry.
Carefully rub the cloth against the silver surface in a uniform motion similar to your jewelry’s contours. Continue to polish until satisfied. Rinse and dry.
Baking Soda and Water
There are some jewelers who’d recommend a non-gel, non-whitening toothpaste as a cleaning agent for your silver. But where do you get those nowadays? I’ve come to discover a perfect substitute for that exact description- baking soda paste!
To make this paste, just mix a small amount of baking soda with water until the mixture becomes pasty. Take a clean cloth and smear the paste to the silver and polish.
When polishing silver surfaces with detailed, or stamped items, use a thinner paste (add more water) and clean with a soft-bristled toothbrush to get to the crevices. Place the silver in running water to remove all the debris.
White Vinegar and Baking Soda
This mixture is another gentle cleaner and will work well if your silver jewelry has mild to heavy tarnish. Soak the tarnished jewelry in a solution of ½ a cup white vinegar and 1 ½ tbsp. baking soda.
If you notice some fizzling, don’t run, that's just the chemical reaction taking place! Leave your silver for two to three hours then rinse and dry.
Baking Soda, Aluminum foil, Salt, and Water
If either of the above methods wasn’t successful, you can try this rather sophisticated approach. Before we make our magical solution, prepare your tinfoil in a concave shape to hold your silver jewelry.
You can also put it on top of a dish soap or in the kitchen sink. Remember to keep the shiny side of the foil facing up.
Pour a generous amount of boiling water and make sure it covers all your silver pieces. Next, you should add 2 tbsp. of salt and baking soda each.
Make sure the salt and baking soda dissolve completely in the mix. This solution will completely transfer any tarnish to the aluminum foil in about 10 minutes.
If your silver has a lot of tarnish, you’ll notice a pungent smell which simply means lots of sulfide tarnish coming off the silver jewellery. After soaking your jewelry, remove with salad tongs and drain into a colander.
You can now rinse the jewelry with warm water and dry with a soft cloth. In this cleaning method, avoid scrubbing. Your clean silver should be looking as good as new!
Tip: if one of the above methods doesn’t work and your silver jewelry still has some patina, try a combination of these treatments in succession until you get your jewelry looking shiny.
It may come as a surprise but ketchup works really well if you want to clean sterling silver. I’d recommend using ketchup if you have a few items to clean.
Simply use a couple of drops of ketchup on your silver jewelry and rub gently. For fancy jewelry with lots of details, use a soft-bristled toothbrush to reach those crevices.
Professional Sterling Silver Cleaning
If you really need your jewelry to shine and time is not on your side, you can consider other options like consulting a professional silver cleaner.
Professional jewelry cleaners take all the necessary precautions and are great especially if you have antique silver or a fragile piece of silver.
What About Commercial Cleaners?
Commercial silver polishes are great solutions to cleaning your tarnished silver, but they also come with a few disadvantages. The fumes from silver polish are not respiratory-friendly and can be fatal if left in an unventilated room.
The hazardous chemicals used in commercial silver cleaners are also harmful and require special disposal storages to prevent environmental harm. Interestingly, commercial silver cleaners may make your silver tarnish faster despite giving it a brilliant shine.