In this guide, you will discover:
- The reasons behind the tarnishing of sterling silver
- Effective methods for polishing sterling silver jewelry pieces
- Various approaches to cleaning sterling silver jewelry
- Among others!
Sterling silver jewelry pieces are incredibly versatile accessories that look stunning in any style. Whether it’s a necklace, bracelet, ring, or bangle, your silver piece will always shine bright day and night. However, over time, your jewelry may lose its luster and appear dull and lackluster.
Fortunately, there’s no need to worry as sterling silver jewelry can be restored to its former brilliance with ease.
Why Does Sterling Silver Jewelry Tarnish?
To understand why sterling silver jewelry tarnishes, it’s important to consider a few key factors. Firstly, knowing how pure the metal is plays a significant role in determining how quickly it will tarnish and how malleable it is. For example, 950 sterling silver is more pure as compared to 825 sterling silver and thus will tarnish more quickly.
Another important term to know is oxidized silver, which refers to intentionally darkened areas on certain silver jewelry pieces that highlight intricate details.
While this technique can enhance the appearance of the jewelry, it’s important to be cautious when cleaning oxidized silver as excessive polishing may remove the luster and other intricate details.
So why does sterling silver jewelry pieces tarnish in general?
Most sterling silver jewelry pieces are usually 92.5% pure, with the remaining percentage consisting of other different metal bonds like nickel, copper, and zinc. These precious metals, particularly copper, are normally reactive to your environment and can cause the jewelry to tarnish quickly. Moist skin, sweat, swimming pools, sea water, lotions, and perfumes are just a few examples of factors that can accelerate tarnishing.
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How to Prevent Sterling Silver from Tarnishing
If you want to prevent your silver jewelry pieces from tarnishing, there are several measures you can take. Here are some of the easiest ways to ensure your jewelry stays bright and shiny for longer:
Avoid exposure to chemicals and other different substances that contain sulfur compounds. This includes household chemicals, chlorinated water, eggs, onions, and latex wool, among others. Longer hours in direct sunlight may also cause tarnishing, so it’s best to avoid wearing sterling silver jewelry while sunbathing.
Store your silver jewelry pieces properly in anti-tarnish plastic bags, away from other harder metals that may scratch it. You should leave necklaces and chained bracelets unclasped to help prevent scratching. You can also add activated charcoal or silica gel to minimize tarnish. Make sure you store the plastic bags with your items in a jewelry safe.
Wear your sterling silver jewelry pieces frequently! Your skin’s natural oils can help keep debris and dirt from accumulating on your jewelry, which in turn helps to maintain its shine.
By following these tips and taking proper care of your sterling silver jewelry, you can ensure that it stays beautiful and lustrous for years to come.
Cleaning Alternatives for Sterling Silver Jewelry Pieces
To keep your sterling silver jewelry pieces looking their best, polishing is an effective way to remove light tarnish without damaging the oxidized silver. By using a soft cloth like lint-free fibers, you can avoid abrasive materials that could scratch your jewelry.
Paper towels or tissue should be avoided as they contain small fibers that may damage the surface.
When polishing, it’s important to follow the grain of your sterling silver using relatively long and consistent back-and-forth motions, because when you rub in circles, you can scratch the surface. Additionally, it’s important to avoid using the same piece of cloth surface repeatedly to prevent rubbing debris into the silver.
However, if polishing alone does not completely remove the tarnish, there are other cleaning tips which can help restore the tarnished of sterling silver jewelry pieces. With these additional tips, you can maintain the brilliance of your silver jewelry and keep it looking new.
Home Cleaning Sterling Silver
If you are struggling to polish your silver jewelry with a lint-free piece of cloth, there are alternative cleaning methods available using common items found in your kitchen.
It is important to note that DIY cleaning methods vary depending on the condition of the silver, and not all methods may be suitable for different stages of tarnish on sterling silver jewelry.
For example, jewelry with opaque gemstones like turquoise, opals, or pearls, may be easily damaged by some homemade cleaners, and therefore require special care.
On the other hand, you should use a clean piece of polishing cloth to clean jewelry that have clear stones such as garnets and quartz. Avoid any silver cleaners that are homemade.
There are a variety of effective methods for cleaning sterling silver jewelry pieces at home, which we will explore below. By using these methods, you can safely and effectively restore the shine of your silver jewelry, even those with opaque gems like opals, without causing any damage.
Soap and Water
Although this list of cleaning methods is not in any particular order, using mild soap and lukewarm water is a great place to start when cleaning silver jewelry. It is recommended to use a mild soap with ammonia and ensure that your cleaning solution is free of phosphate. This classic cleaning method is highly effective and works in almost all cases.
Lemon Juice and Olive Oil
Another effective method is using a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice. Simply mix 1 tsp. of olive oil with a cup of lemon juice in a dish. Dip a soft microfiber cloth in the cleaning solution, wring it out, and gently rub it against the surface of your sterling silver in a consistent back and forth motion, following the contours of your jewelry. Rinse off and dry the jewelry after polishing.
Baking Soda and Water
Baking soda paste is also an excellent substitute for non-whitening, non-gel toothpaste, which is often recommended by jewelers for cleaning silver. To make the paste, mix a significant amount of baking soda and water up until the mixture becomes a little pasty. Then, apply the paste on the silver with a clean cloth and polish it gently. For stamped or detailed silver pieces, you might want to use a relatively thin paste this means adding more water and a soft toothbrush with bristles to clean the crevices. Rinse the sterling silver under running water as it helps remove the stuck debris.
Baking Soda and White Vinegar
Lastly, white vinegar and baking soda is another gentle cleaning solution that can be used to remove mild to heavy tarnish on silver jewelry. Simply soak the tarnished jewelry in a solution of ½ a cup white vinegar and 1 ½ tbsp. baking soda. Allow the jewelry to soak for two to three hours, then rinse and dry. If the solution begins to fizz, do not worry, as this is just a chemical reaction taking place.
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Aluminum Foil, Baking Soda, Salt and Water
If the previous methods didn’t yield the desired results, you can try a more advanced technique that involves baking soda, aluminum foil, salt, and water.
First, create a concave shape with aluminum foil to hold your silver jewelry and place it in a sink or on top of dish soap. Make sure the shiny side of the foil faces up.
Pour boiling water over the jewelry to cover it completely and add 2 tablespoons each of salt and baking soda. Ensure the salt and baking soda are fully dissolved.
After about 10 minutes, the solution will remove any tarnish from the silver jewelry and transfer it to the aluminum foil. If the jewelry has a lot of tarnish, you may notice a strong smell, which indicates the sulfide tarnish is coming off.
Use salad tongs to remove the jewelry and drain it in a colander. Rinse it with warm water and dry it with a soft cloth. It’s important not to scrub the jewelry during this process.
If the silver jewelry still has patina after trying the previous methods, you can try a combination of these treatments in succession until you achieve a shiny result.
Additionally, ketchup can be used to clean sterling silver. Apply a few drops of ketchup to the jewelry and gently rub it. For intricate pieces, use a soft-bristled toothbrush to reach crevices.
Cleaning Sterling Silver Professionally
If time is of the essence and you’re looking to make your jewelry shine, seeking assistance from a professional sterling silver cleaner could be a viable option. This is especially true if you possess an antique or delicate piece of silver, as professionals take extra care to ensure that they handle such items with the utmost caution.
Commercial silver polishes are effective in removing tarnish, they do have some drawbacks. For one, the fumes emitted during the polishing process can be hazardous to one’s respiratory health, and if not ventilated properly, can lead to fatal consequences.
Additionally, the hazardous chemicals utilized in commercial cleaners must be stored and disposed of properly to avoid causing harm to the environment. Interestingly, some commercial sterling silver cleaners can actually accelerate the tarnishing process, despite providing a bright and polished finish.