A fresh start for your jewelry
Well-cared-for silver jewelry can give you many years of pleasure and enjoyment and even become family heirlooms. And, of course, silver is valuable. So don’t wait until tarnish has become so bad that you forget about your silver treasures or even get rid of them. Give your jewelry a fresh start today!
It’s hard not to be crazy about sterling silver jewelry. Between its luster, its brilliance, and its versatility, it’s easy to see why silver is one of the most popular materials for jewelry. If you’ve worn silver jewelry, you know how tarnished it can get in a very short time.
All you need is to arm yourself with a few facts about the metal and a few tips and tricks for care and cleaning. With this guide, you’ll leave ready to start wearing your fabulous silver again with all its shine!
A few things about sterling silver
Sterling silver is an alloy of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals which include copper, zinc, nickel, germanium and platinum. Fine silver or pure silver which is 99.9% silver is much softer than sterling silver and is not practical to wear as everyday jewelry. Because sterling silver is an alloy, it will tarnish; this is not a defect in the material but rather a chemical reaction with sulfur particles in the air.
Wear: You can avoid tarnish by wearing your jewelry often. The oils in your skin will “clean” the silver and keep it looking shiny.
Clean it often. Clean your silver jewelry often, and clean it promptly after use. Silver jewelry that is frequently used rarely has tarnish problems. When tarnish is not yet present, or when it’s just beginning to develop, simply wash your silver jewelry in warm (not hot) water with a gentle, phosphate-free detergent.
Avoid exposure: Contact with household chemicals, perspiration, rubber, chlorinated water, or any substances which contain sulfur (e.g., mayonnaise, eggs, mustard, onions, latex, wool), will cause corrosion and tarnish — so it’s a good idea to remove silver jewelry when doing household chores. Direct sunlight also causes silver to tarnish, so be sure to take off your silver jewelry before you go swimming and sunbathing.
Lotions, cosmetics, hair spray and hair products, and perfumes will accelerate tarnishing.
Storage: As exposure to air tarnishes it, storing silver in airtight plastic bags with anti-tarnish strips is a great preventative measure. Just make sure you don’t store multiple jewelry pieces in the same bag. You can also place a piece of chalk, a packet of activated charcoal, or a container of silica gel in the storage area to minimize tarnish.
Silver is soft and can become scratched easily. Do not use paper towels or tissues to polish your jewelry as they contain fibers that can scratch the silver. When polishing, use long back-and-forth motions that mirror the grain of the silver. Also, change to a different section of your cloth frequently to avoid placing tarnish back on the silver. You can use a Q-tip to get into small, detailed areas. Simply polishing your silver works well when the tarnishing is not too severe.
Homemade silver cleaner
For cases when the polishing cloth isn’t enough to remove tarnish, you can make your own economically- and environmentally-friendly silver cleaner using ingredients from your kitchen.
After using any cleaner, be sure to thoroughly rinse your silver with running water or a clean, damp cloth. This is especially important for detailed or etched items, since polish can stick in small crevices and harden. After, dry the pieces with a microfiber cloth to prevent white water spot stains from forming.
Soap and water: Pour two cups of hot water into a bowl. You just need enough to cover the jewelry you’re cleaning. This method works as a gentle cleanser that removes tarnish without abrading the silver. If your silver is lightly tarnished, the salt bath should take the tarnish right off.
- If you’re cleaning a lot of jewelry at once, you can use more water. For just one piece of jewelry, use less water.
- If your jewelry has gemstones, make sure they won’t be affected by being submerged in a saltwater solution. This solution is gentle on most stones, but if you’re cleaning very fine jewelry with expensive gemstones, you’re better off taking it to a professional just in case.
Olive oil and lemon juice: Mix 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1 tsp. olive oil in a bowl large enough to hold the cleaning solution and a small microfiber cloth. Dip the cloth in the solution and wring it out so that it doesn’t drip, then polish the silver, rinse, and dry.
Baking soda, salt, aluminum foil, and boiling water: You can take advantage of a simple chemical reaction to clean your silver: all you’ll need is some baking soda, salt, and aluminum foil. Line a glass roasting pan or the kitchen sink with aluminum foil, dull side facing down. Place the silver pieces on top of the aluminum foil. Then pour boiling water over the pieces until they are covered and add 2 tbsp. each of baking soda and salt. Stir the solution to allow the baking soda to dissolve — you don’t want any granules scratching the metal.
In about 5-10 minutes you’ll see the tarnish “magically” disappear from the jewelry. Using salad tongs or nitride gloves (not rubber gloves, which contain sulfur), remove the silver jewelry from the hot water or drain into a colander. Rinse the jewelry with water, then dry and buff with a soft cloth. Voila! Your silver should be sparkling clean and ready to keep you looking fabulous.
Combination: If your pieces have very stubborn tarnish, you can use these treatments in succession to get them looking shiny again.