Silver jewelry is enthralling, lustrous, and irresistible when new, but over time, it can start losing its shine. While tarnishing isn’t completely preventable, there are ways to slow it down or remove it.
It may sound like a lot of work, but cleaning your jewelry is something you can easily do at home and won’t require regular visits to the jeweler. In this article, we’ll be looking at some easy tips on how to clean your silver jewelry at home.
What’s the Difference Between Silver and Silver-Plated?
There are many types of silver on the market, but the most popular for use in jewelry are sterling silver and silver-plated.
Sterling silver is made using 92.5% of pure silver alloyed with other metals, like copper. This enhances the durability and strength of the metal. Silver plated, on the other hand, is made by fusing a thin coat of silver onto a base metal. This gives the metal the appearance of silver, but over time this coating can peel off revealing the base metal beneath.
While the process for cleaning both silver and silver plated jewelry are fairly similar, the main thing to note is that silver plated can easily be damaged if harsh and abrasive materials are used on it.
Why Does Silver and Silver-Plated Jewelry Tarnish?
Tarnish on silver cuff
It’s a common misconception that only cheap and low-quality silver or silver-plated jewelry will tarnish, while more expensive silver jewelry won’t. Note that it’s not a matter of price but rather, a matter of purity. Pure silver (also called fine silver) doesn’t tarnish, but because pure silver is much too soft, it’s typically combined with other metals to strengthen it. It is these other metals that can cause the silver to tarnish.
Let’s take a look at the three main reasons why your silver jewelry is getting tarnished:
- Reaction with sulfur
Sterling silver and silver-plated jewelry undergo chemical reactions when exposed to sulfur in the air we breathe. The silver combines with the sulfur and as a result forms silver sulfide, which causes the metal to blacken. This is what we call ‘tarnishing’.
- Reaction to dirt and cosmetic products
Aside from tarnishing, your silver jewelry can also lose their shine over time, appearing dull and faded. This is because of the accumulation of dirt, oil and dust on them. The jewelry reacts with chemicals in hair sprays, lotions and cosmetics that make them fade and lose their luster.
- Reaction with oxygen
Silver reacts more subtly with oxygen than it does with sulfur, changing into a dark blue color. This is a process that takes place over a long period of time so it easily goes unnoticed. When silver continues to get scratched over time, it can make up the tarnish (also called patina). Silver collectors scrutinize patina to determine how valuable a piece of jewelry is.
Cleaning Your Silver or Silver-Plated Jewelry
The type of cleaning you’ll need to do, whether light or deep, depends on how badly it’s damaged or tarnished. You can always seek the help of a professional cleaner or use commercial solutions to clean your jewelry, but there are also some simple home remedies to help you get the job done. Let’s check them out:
This works well for plated jewelry that you may be uncomfortable dipping in solutions. It’s something you can do more often and after your regular deep cleaning.
Soap and Water
If your silver jewelry looks considerably dirty, place it in a bowl filled with warm water and mild liquid soap. Leave it to soak for about 5-10 minutes. If the pieces have tiny details, engravings or prongs, clean them using an old soft toothbrush.
Remove the jewelry from the water after all the dirt has come off and pat dry with a light lint-free cloth. You might want to leave it to air dry completely before storing in an airtight box or drawer to ensure it has no moisture at all.
Toothbrush and Toothpaste
Using a soft toothbrush and diluted toothpaste that’s not a whitening formula, brush your sterling silver pieces clean. This method works well on sterling silver jewelry, but we don’t recommend it for silver-plated jewelry since toothpaste can be slightly abrasive and can scratch the piece. To minimizing scratching, gel-like toothpaste would be ideal since normal toothpaste has silica that can cause scratches.
Tarnish Remover Wipes
Use disposable tarnish remover brand wipes, such as this one, for example, to get rid of tarnish on your silver jewelry easily. The wipes are powder-coated and work well so that you don’t have to rinse your jewelry afterwards. After wiping, complete the process by buffing with a microfiber cloth as it will pick up all residues and renew the shine.
Polish your silver or silver-plated jewelry gently with a good quality jewelry polishing cloth, like this one, to remove dirt or tarnish. This involves deliberate wiping rather than scrubbing which may introduce scratches, so you’ll need to be very careful. Buffing in between cleaning will help bring back your silver jewelry’s original shimmer.
Revitalize your jewelry’s gloss by using a soft cloth and anti-tarnishing creams like this one. Rub the jewelry pieces well until you can no longer see any polish or cream on them. Regular polishing helps your silver jewelry retain its protective coating which makes it shiny for longer periods.
Baking Soda and Water Paste
For solid silver jewelry, use a 1:1 ratio of baking soda to warm water. Smear the paste on the jewelry surface and leave it for an hour to do its job. If your jewelry has nooks and crannies, scrub them out with a soft toothbrush after an hour. Finish off by rinsing the silver pieces under clean running water and dry them using a fluffy cloth.
Baking soda is an abrasive and strong cleaning agent so, as with toothpaste, it’s best to avoid using it on your silver-plated jewelry since it can scrub off the plating. Instead, line a bowl with aluminum foil and fill it up with water. Add some baking soda to the water and stir until it’s dissolved. Then, placed your silver-plated jewelry in the solution and leave it to soak for a while, approximately an hour. Take out the jewelry, rinse and dry well.
Baking Soda Only
If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to measure and mix baking powder and water, simply rub baking soda on your silver jewelry. Follow this up with wiping with water and drying with a soft fluffy cloth. Remember: don’t try this method on silver-plated jewelry or the pieces won’t have any plating left.
Vinegar and Baking Soda
Mix together white vinegar (half cup) and baking soda (2 tablespoons). Soak your tarnished silver pieces for about 2-3 hours, rinse and dry with a flannel cloth. Baking soda and vinegar together make a strong solution that’s great for cleaning jewelry.
Cornstarch and Water
Mix cornstarch and water in the ratio of 2:1 and rub this mixture on your silver pieces. Leave the paste on the jewelry until it dries completely to remove the tarnish. Finally, rinse, rub and pat dry with a light cloth.
Lemon and Olive Oil
Mix half a cup of lemon juice with a teaspoon of olive oil and using a clean cloth, rub this solution on your silver jewelry gently. Do this until it sparkles, after which you need to rinse the pieces and dry the jewelry completely with another soft cloth. Note that lemon may be too acidic for your silver-plated pieces, so you might want to use this only on your sterling silver jewelry.
Pour ketchup into a plate and put your silver jewelry into the ketchup until its fully covered. Leave the silver in the ketchup for around 10 minutes, and then remove and rinse with warm water. Dry the silver with a lint-free cloth. The acid in the tomatoes reacts with the oxidizing of the silver and the tarnish comes out. However, this isn’t the most effective method, especially if your silver has heavy tarnish.
The length or number of times you have to soak your pieces in the following solutions depends on how much tarnish they have. If there’s too much tarnish, you’ll have to repeat the process many times. Deep cleaning works for badly tarnished pieces because the tarnish is deep and difficult to get out. Almost all the methods listed here involve submerging the jewelry in a solution so here are some pointers to keep in mind:
- Ensure the pieces are fully submerged in the solutions to get a good clean.
- Don’t be surprised if you get an unpleasant smell of rotten eggs to emanate during the process. It’s only the sulfur breaking away.
- The shiny side of the aluminum foil should face upwards.
- You can use an aluminum pan if you don’t have aluminum foil.
- Aluminum foil and tin foil are the same.
Hot Water, Baking Soda, Salt, and Aluminum Foil
Sprinkle equal measures of salt and baking soda on an aluminum foil that you have used to line a container. Pour hot water into this container and let the salt and baking soda dissolve before adding your jewelry pieces.
Make sure each piece touches the foil for a full reaction that will suck out the tarnish from the silver. Aluminum foil attracts tarnish from your silver so that it remains alone and the sulfur migrates to the aluminum to form aluminum sulfide.
Let your silver jewelry soak for 1-30 minutes (depending on extent of tarnish) until all the tarnish clears. Take out your jewelry and rinse thoroughly using clean water to remove all traces of salt and baking soda traces. Finally, with a soft cloth, dry the pieces to ensure no moisture is left as this could cause the silver to re-tarnish soon.
Optional: After removing your pieces from the hot water, you can clean them again with water and soap or water and vinegar.
Hot Water, Baking Soda, Vinegar and Tin Foil
Cover a shallow pan with aluminum foil and add a spoonful of baking soda, vinegar (to speed up the cleaning process) and hot water to it. Place any silver jewelry you have in the pan on low heat for a few minutes. Skip vinegar if the jewelry is plated or contains gold or other gemstones.
Baking Soda, Aluminum Foil and Hot Water
Cleaning with baking soda, hot water and aluminum foil may take longer but is gentler on your silver treasures. Simply line your container with the foil, sprinkle the baking soda generously and pour in the hot water. Place your jewelry in the solution and leave for a while, for about 15 minutes. Then, take the jewelry out and wipe off all the water.
Boiling Water, Glycerin Soap and Grated Soap
Boil 1 cup of water and remove it from the heat. Add the glycerin and grated soaps to the water and stir well until the soaps dissolve. Place your silver jewelry in the solution and leave it for 1-2 minutes. Then, rinse in cold water and dry with a microfiber or cotton cloth.
Storing Your Silver Jewelry
Any silver pieces you’re not wearing can last for long after proper cleaning if you store them appropriately. They will remain in great shape if you don’t expose them to dust and humidity. Placing a small piece of chalk next to your jewelry is a great trick for cutting out moisture.
Here are some tips on how to store your silver jewelry carefully to prevent tarnishing and getting dirty.
- Consider placing your silver jewelry in a tarnish-proof bag that’s chemically treated to lock out sulfur.
- Keep anti-tarnish strips in the container or cabinet that stores your silver jewelry.
- Line your jewelry box or drawer with polishing cloth as it prevents tarnishing. If you can’t find this cloth at your local jewelry stores, you can always find them online.
- Store your plated and sterling pieces in a Ziploc bag after wrapping them with acid-free tissue paper or black tissue. Make sure to press out all the air to prevent tarnishing. Most of these tissue papers are readily available in craft stores.
If you make it a habit of regularly cleaning your silver jewelry, it will retain its sparkle for a long time. Everything you need to clean silver jewelry is already available in your kitchen. All it takes is a little effort and time to keep your jewelry looking great and tarnish-free.