How To Prevent Silver Tarnishing

Sterling silver jewelry has always been a captivating addition to any glamorous outfit and is certainly a must-have in your jewelry box. Not to mention it is an excellent gift for loved ones.

Silver jewelry is prized for its brilliant shine, but why does it seem to fade with time? Unfortunately, sterling silver jewelry is vulnerable to silver tarnish, hindering it from persisting as everyone’s favorite jewelry item.

Today, we will discuss why silver tarnishes in the first place and provide you with some solutions as to how you can care for your silver jewelry to lessen these effects.

What Is Tarnish?

Silver tarnish occurs when silver reacts with sulfur compounds in the air, chemicals, moisture, and various other elements. This reaction results in a thin layer of corrosion or discoloration on the surface of your favorite silver jewelry, causing it to lose its shine and exhibit a black coating.

Interestingly, pure silver does not tarnish, but it is too soft to be used for creating jewelry without being combined with other metals. The distinction between pure silver and sterling silver is largely based on their durability.

Sterling silver is created by mixing pure silver with other metals called silver alloys. This creates a substance strong enough for jewelry. Sadly, the silver alloys used are at a much higher risk of tarnishing. Air pollution and humidity accelerate the tarnishing process.

Why Does Silver Tarnish?

As mentioned before, oxidation reactions between silver and elements like hydrogen sulfide from the surrounding environment result in silver tarnishing. The dark display you see on older silver jewelry is known as tarnish.

Cleaning and storing silver jewelry in a dry space is one measure to prevent silver tarnish, as any oils, dirt, moisture, or chemical residue promotes tarnishing.

Sterling silver jewelry tends to tarnish more rapidly with frequent wearing. Although the silver alloys make up a relatively small portion of the final sterling silver product, they still promote silver tarnishing.

If you have ever noticed your fingers turning green, it means our silver jewelry is starting to tarnish. Appropriate care could alleviate some of the discolorations and tarnish that inevitably occurs over time.

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How Long Before Silver Jewelry Starts To Tarnish

Many factors contribute to the occurrence of tarnished silver, including the care implemented, the type and quality of the silver jewelry, and silver’s contact with specific substances. Therefore, it may take anything from two months to two years before silver tarnishes.

Because pure silver doesn’t tarnish, silver jewelry containing a large amount of pure silver won’t tarnish as readily as jewelry containing a large number of other metals.

You’ll note a certain numeric value associated with your jewelry. This value clarifies the proportion of pure silver to other metals. For example, .935 sterling silver jewelry consists of 93.5% silver, with the rest being alloys.

Another significant contributing factor regarding tarnish involves how well you care for your silver jewelry. Before discussing jewelry care in more detail, the following are some basic preventative measures to maintain the shine in your sterling silver pieces and keep silver from tarnishing:

  • Avoid scratches
  • Avoid exposure to harsh chemicals
  • Clean sterling silver jewelry regularly
  • Avoid too much moisture
Silky knot bracelet in sterling silver by Blue Nile

Types Of Sterling Silver Tarnish That May Occur

Corrosion

Corrosion of the metal is one of the leading reasons for silver tarnishing. Corrosion frequently occurs when sterling silver is exposed to humid and wet conditions.

Something as menial as sweating while wearing your sterling silver pieces could lead to or worsen corrosion.

Any exposure to salt accelerates the corrosion process, so it would be wise to take off your steering silver jewelry when you go swimming or handle salty substances, like when you’re cooking.

Metallic Abrasion

Contact with cosmetics, like make-up, further results in the development of tarnished silver and possibly black spots on your jewelry.

Some chemicals commonly found in make-up, such as zinc oxide and calamine, are very damaging to the silver items in your jewelry box.

You could either remove your silver necklaces, silver rings, and earrings when you apply your make-up, or simply be attentive to buying products without these harsh chemicals.

Top 4 Ways To Keep Silver From Tarnishing

(1) Keep Silver Jewelry Dry

As we mentioned, sterling silver tarnishes when the metals react with elements like humidity and moisture. Consequently, you can keep your silver from tarnishing by keeping your precious silver items completely dry.

Remember to remove your silver jewelry when you swim, bathe or shower and do exercises that cause you to sweat.

(2) Store Your Sterling Silver Jewelry In A Cool And Dry Place

Storing silver in a dry spot could go a long way in keeping silver from tarnishing. Keep all your silver jewelry items well away from any moisture.

It may seem convenient to keep your silver items By your bathroom mirror where you get ready each morning, but the excessive moisture often present in bathrooms will only exasperate the tarnishing process.

Store your silver in a jewelry box inside a closet. Alternatively, you can store your silver items in anti-tarnish bags or a box lined with velvet or soft cloth.

These materials will absorb moisture and reduce the risk of scratches and tarnish.

Be cautious of the storage system you use. While plastic bins may seem like a smart option, many of these bins, as well as crinkly plastic bags, contain high quantities of sulfate.

Moreover, if you have multiple pieces of sterling silver jewelry, storing each item in a separate bag would be wise to prevent silver from scratching. Be sure to store your jewelry out of direct sunlight.

Silica packs are great for keeping moisture and other elements away from your jewelry. Such silicone packets are often found in new shoes for the same purpose.

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(3) Avoid Exposure To Harsh Chemicals

Another way to prevent tarnishing includes keeping your sterling silver jewelry away from any chemicals that may cause damage. Some common harmful substances include:

  • Self-tanning lotions
  • Moisturizing lotions
  • Body wash
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Hand wash soap
  • Perfume
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Hot tubs
  • Pools

Oils reside in places we don’t think they will. For example, wool clothing contains traces of oils that will further promote tarnishing.

Furthermore, while it is good to keep the surfaces in your home clean, putting your silver jewelry on chemically treated surfaces will expose your jewelry to unnecessary tarnish-enhancing substances.

(4) Polish And Clean Sterling Silver Jewelry

Although tarnishing will inevitably occur at some point, here are some sure ways to clean jewelry to keep silver from tarnishing:

Use A Polishing Cloth

Regularly cleaning your sterling silver with a silver polishing cloth is the quickest way to keep your silver from tarnishing.

Anti-tarnish cloths will protect your silver jewelry while also removing any chemicals or dirt that may have accumulated throughout the day. This removal further limits tarnishing.

Make A DIY Solution To Prevent Tarnishing

Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on jewelry cleaning solutions, you can mix up some common household ingredients that work well as silver cleaners.

Here are a few helpful solutions:

  1. Use a phosphate- and ammonia-free dish soap and warm water to clean your silver item thoroughly. Ensure that you rinse off the soap efficiently to limit exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. After a good cleaning, you can either air-dry your jewelry or gently wipe it with a soft cloth or a polishing cloth to remove excess moisture.
  2. A surprisingly effective way of removing tarnish is by cleaning your silver jewelry with toothpaste and water. You need to be careful with the toothpaste you use, as gel-based toothpaste could potentially further tarnish your jewelry.
  3. You can also remove tarnish from your silver by rubbing ketchup on it. Yes, you read that right. Ketchup is great at removing tarnish. If you don’t see a difference right away, leave the ketchup on for about 25 minutes before rinsing your silver and wiping it with a soft cloth.
  4. Boiling your tarnished silver with baking soda and covering it with aluminum foil will leave your jewelry sparkly in seconds. Severely tarnished silver should be covered with baking soda and aluminum for around 10 seconds at most. To make the ideal solution, boil a liter of water in a pot on the stove and drop a tablespoon of baking soda into it. Throw in all your tarnished silver and cover the pot with foil. Rinse off your jewelry properly and wipe it dry with the appropriate cloth.
  5. An age-old solution to restoring the sparkle of silver is to boil your jewelry in a pot of water with laundry detergent for five to seven minutes. After that, remove any residual laundry detergent and water with a soft cloth. If this method doesn’t seem to be successful, at least your silver jewelry is clean and smells great.

After giving your jewelry a good clean, you could wipe it thoroughly with an anti-tarnish cloth, which is great at absorbing oxygen and sulfur that would ultimately have reacted.

If your jewelry has beautiful textured details, you could use a toothbrush to pick out any dirt stuck between the ridges.

If your silver already exhibits a think black coating, you can use quality silver polish to remove tarnish to a great extent.

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Final thoughts

While silver is such a beautiful and versatile metal, it can easily lose its shine to tarnish. Fortunately, there are various ways to prevent or at least delay this process, the most important of which is limiting your jewelry’s exposure to harmful chemicals and other elements like sulfur and moisture. 

If all the methods listed above fails in removing and preventing silver tarnish, you could consider plating your silver jewelry. Plated silver looks just as beautiful as the real thing and adds an extra layer of protection to extend the lifespan of your jewelry. 

Whatever measures you decide to take, caring for your prized silver accessories is definitely worth every attempt. 

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