Sterling silver is one of the most common materials for jewelry and for good reason; it is lustrous, versatile, and lasts for many years. But as beautiful as silver jewelry may be, without good care, it could tarnish, losing its shine and luster.
One way to properly care for your silver jewelry is by regular cleaning. Cleaning not only reduces tarnish but also breathes new life into your jewelry.
In this post, we provide useful insights on how to clean sterling silver to make it sparkle again. But first, let’s learn what sterling silver is and why it tarnishes.
What is Sterling Silver?
Sterling silver is silver that has been combined with other metals. If an item is made of sterling silver, it means that it typically contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals.
Because silver in its pure form is a fairly soft metal, adding other metals to it makes it stronger and durable, which is why the majority of silver jewelry sold today is made of sterling silver instead of pure silver.
To know if your jewelry is made of sterling silver, look for an engraving or labeling that says S/S, Sterling, Sterling 9.25, 9.25, 925, 925/1000. If your jewelry does not have any of these markings, chances are it is just silver plated.
One of the metals mostly combined with silver to make jewelry is copper. While this blending produces stronger jewelry, it also makes the resulting product more likely to tarnish, which brings us to the next topic.
Why Does Sterling Silver Tarnish?
Tarnish is a thin film of corrosion that develops over sterling silver products, causing an item to discolor and lose its shine. It typically occurs when the sterling silver reacts with the hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere.
Contrary to what many people think, pure silver is not prone to tarnish when exposed to air. It is the copper contained in the item that is susceptible to the reaction.
Hairsprays, perfumes, and profuse sweating can cause your sterling silver jewelry to tarnish quickly. That’s why you should clean your jewelry pieces regularly to keep them in good shape. Of course, cleaning will not completely prevent the formation of tarnish, but it will significantly delay the process.
How to Properly Clean Your Sterling Silver at Home
Method 1: Mild Dishwashing Soap and Water
Cleaning your sterling silver with mild dishwashing detergent is the first thing you should do before trying other complex silver cleaning methods.
To get started, fill a medium-sized bowl or basin with warm water and add about 6 drops of mild dishwashing liquid. Next, dip a soft brush into the solution and gently scrub the silver item with it. Rinse the item in a different bowl of warm, clean water, then dry it off with a piece of cloth,
Make sure you are not using any harsh detergent for this. We recommend using mild, ammonia-free and phosphate-free soap.
Method 2: Lemon Juice and Olive Oil
If the dishwashing solution doesn’t work, try mixing lemon juice and olive oil. Put a half cup of lemon juice in a bowl and add one teaspoon of olive oil.
Next, soak a soft piece of cloth in the solution and use it to rub the silver. Then rinse the silver item with warm water and dry it with a clean towel.
Method 3: Baking Soda and White Vinegar
Another great way to clean sterling silver is using a solution of white vinegar and baking soda.
Simply mix a half cup of white vinegar with two tablespoons of baking soda and soak the silver item for about three hours. Then rinse with clean water and dry with a soft nonabrasive towel.
This method is mostly used on tarnished jewelry.
Method 4: Commercial Cleaners (Use with Caution)
Commercial silver cleaners and polishes are easy to use and can be found almost anywhere. While some of these may actually do what they say they do, any commercial silver cleaner should be used with caution, as most of them contain powerful solvents that produce toxic vapors.
The vapors emitted by the silver polish can be fatal if used in a room that is not well ventilated. Also, given that some of the solvents used in these cleaners are so powerful, they may require special disposal to avoid contaminating the soil or groundwater or causing other harm to the environment.
Some may damage your sterling silver too, as they may remove the anti-tarnish film the item comes with. Even though at first the cleaners may give the item a temporary luster, the tarnish will develop much faster and you will have to clean the item more frequently once the surface has been broken.
How to Get Rid of Tarnish
Step 1: Boil Some Water
Measure one cup of water (240 ml) and put it in a saucepan. Then heat the water on the stovetop until it boils.
Step 2: Line a Glass Baking Dish with Aluminum Foil
While the water boils, go get a bowl that can withstand the boiling water like a glass baking dish. Then cut a large aluminum foil and spread it on the inside of the bowl, making sure the sides and bottom are properly covered.
Step 3: Put the Sterling Silver Inside the Bowl
After you have lined your bowl with foil, put the silver inside. Make sure it is in contact with the foil so that the chemical reaction that gets rid of the tarnish can take place.
Step 4: Add Baking Soda to Your Water
Once the water has boiled, remove it from the stovetop and add two teaspoons of baking soda to it. The solution may froth and bubble; it’s normal.
Step 5: Transfer the Baking Soda Solution to the Bowl
Put your baking soda solution into the bowl you lined with aluminum foil earlier. Check to see that the sterling silver is completely covered by the solution.
Now, let it soak for about 10 minutes. This will make the tarnish easier to remove. If your jewelry is severely tarnished, you may want to soak for more than ten minutes.
Step 6: Rinse the Silver and Dry It
After the soaking period has elapsed, remove the sterling silver from the bowl and rinse it with cold, clean water. Then dry it completely with a clean piece of cloth. Make sure the cloth is made of nonabrasive material like flannel or microfiber.
As you can see, cleaning sterling silver is nothing hard, and you can do it with simple ingredients from your household. This video gives you more tips and tricks for making the process even much easier.
If the tarnish is not too bad, simply polishing your jewelry will get the job done. Polishing is also one of the best methods for cleaning sterling silver because you can avoid the areas that you have intentionally tarnished.
Use a soft non-abrasive cloth to polish your jewelry pieces. Avoid tissues or paper towels, as some contain fibers that may scratch the sterling silver.
Do not rub in circles; this will just make any existing scratches worse. Instead, use long back and forth motions. Also, don’t scrub with one area of the cloth for too long. Keep changing to cleaner sections to avoid putting tarnish back on the silver.
Be extra careful when cleaning items that are silver plated. Depending on how thick the plating is, excessive rubbing can remove the coating, leaving your jewelry worse than it initially was.
When Should You Hire a Professional Jewelry Cleaner?
While cleaning your sterling silver at home is a relatively easy process, there are times when hiring a professional is much better than cleaning the jewelry yourself. For instance, if the jewelry is too old or too tarnished, or if you don’t have enough time to clean it yourself.
Enlisting the services of an expert jewelry cleaner will ensure that the cleaning is done right. It is also a great opportunity to reinstall any silver plating that has worn off.
How to Keep Your Sterling Silver from Tarnishing
The best way to clean tarnished sterling silver is to prevent it from tarnishing in the first place. Here are a few tips to help you achieve this:
1. Store silver in Ziploc bags
Ziploc bags will lock the air out and keep your sterling silver from discoloring. To properly store your jewelry in a Ziploc bag, place jewelry in the bag and close it halfway. Then squeeze out all the air before completely sealing. Make sure, however, that the bag you are using does not contain any abrasive materials like polyethylene or Mylar.
If you don’t want to use plastic bags to store your sterling silver, perhaps because you don’t want your storage box to look like your kitchen storage drawers, you could use specialized jewelry bags.
2. Store each silver piece separately
If you have plenty of sterling silver jewelry and don’t want the items scratching each other, consider storing each in a separate bag.
Once you have properly encased all your sterling silver, make sure to store it in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight.
3. Store sterling silver away from wood
Do not store your sterling on surfaces that are chemically treated, especially those made of wood. The chemicals in treated or stained wood can react with the silver, speeding up the tarnishing process.
4. Store silver with chalk
Chalk is dry and can help absorb excess moisture and chemical residue. Try putting a piece or two in your jewelry box before storing your jewelry away.
5. Store sterling silver with silica gel packs
Those silica gel packets you often find in clothes and shoeboxes can come in handy when storing your sterling silver jewelry. Try placing a pack inside the storage box to keep your silver moisture-free.
6. Try anti-tarnish clothes
Anti-tarnish clothes are perhaps the most common way of preventing sterling silver jewelry from tarnishing.
How these clothes work is that they absorb oxygen and sulfur in the atmosphere and are often treated to prevent the jewelry from tarnishing. Line your jewelry box with such clothes and wipe your silver with them before putting it away.
7. Store your silver jewelry right away after wearing
If you have been wearing your sterling silver jewelry all day, store it away as soon as you get home before you take on any house chores.
Do not shower, swim, or soak in a hot tub wearing your silver jewelry. With that much humidity, moisture, and chorine, you will only be accelerating the formation of tarnish.
8. Wear your jewelry last
There is a reason why women always put on their earrings and neck chains last; they know it’s a great way to extend the lifespan of their jewelry. Oil, makeups, lotions, perfumes, and hairsprays will all speed up tarnishing.
9. Put on your silver often
You may not believe this but the natural oils produced by your skin will help keep your sterling silver jewelry shiny.
One effective way to keep your silver from tarnishing is to simply wear it often rather than letting it sit in the storage unworn. Just make sure to wipe any oils off the jewelry before storing it away.
10. Do not store silver in paper
Paper or cardboard boxes and those filled with cotton may contain sulfur residue, which may contribute to silver tarnishing. Avoid storing your jewelry in these boxes.
Does Plating Protect Sterling Silver?
Plating offers your sterling silver temporary protection. The process of coating silver with a protective layer of another metal is referred to as flashing. Your silver may be plated with rhodium or pure silver.
While plating will give your sterling silver extra shine, it will eventually wear off. The more frequently you wear and clean your silver, the faster this coating will go away, and the more your silver will tarnish. However, you can always have the coating replaced at a jewelry store.
Are you a silver jewelry fanatic? Comment below and tell us some of the methods you use to clean your jewelry and how you generally care for it to keep it from tarnishing.