By Terri Brown
Silver is one of the most popular materials for making jewellery. Over time, this precious metal will change appearance and develop a beautiful patina, a unique lustre and an internal brilliance that compliments any wearer’s skin tone. Silver is also extremely versatile which allows jewellery makers to create wonderful designs.
However, it is also very easily tarnished which makes it very difficult to appreciate the beauty beneath. When oxygen or sulphur come into contact with silver jewellery, they chemically bond to its surface and this causes it to look dirty and discoloured.
But never fear, there are some very simple ways to clean the tarnish off and care for your silver jewellery going forward.
The purity of the silver will determine just how malleable it is and how also how quickly it will tarnish.
For example, .950 sterling silver is a lot purer quality than .925 sterling silver which means it will be more malleable and will tarnish quicker.
Another thing you need to keep an eye out for is oxidised silver. This is a method that silversmiths use to intentionally darken some of the silver to create details and patterns. If you have some oxidised silver jewellery the details of the piece can be lost through excessive cleaning and polishing so they need to be cleaned in a different way to preserve the design.
How to prevent tarnish
Actually wearing your silver jewellery often will help prevent tarnish from developing as the natural oils in your skin will help keep the silver looking shiny but if you don’t fancy being constantly draped in every piece of silver jewellery you own then you need to store it safely. Simple exposure to air will tarnish the silver so storing it in airtight bags with an anti-tarnish strip works wonders.
Simple exposure to air will tarnish the silver so storing it in airtight bags with an anti-tarnish strip works wonders at keeping the discoloration at bay. Just remember that silver is a very soft metal so keep each piece stored in separate bags so they don’t end up scratching each other.
If you can’t use plastic bags try to make sure your silver jewellery storage area is in as low of a humidity as possible. Chalk, activated charcoal or a container of silica gel placed in the storage area will also help lower the chances of tarnish.
Contact with any substance containing sulphur such as eggs, onions, latex or wool will cause your silver to tarnish quickly, as will contact with household chemicals, rubber and chlorinated water so avoid all housework – or take off your silver jewellery before you start it.
Lotions, cosmetics, hair spray and hair products, and perfumes are also harmful to your silvers shine so make sure your jewellery is the last thing you put on when getting ready for a night on the town.
Things like turpentine, nail polish remover (containing acetone), bleach, ammonia and alcohol will not only break down the silver in your jewellery, possibly damaging it beyond repair, they may also cause pitting to your gemstones.
Direct sunlight also doesn’t do your silver jewellery any good so leave them in the hotel room before heading down to the pool or beach for a sunbathing and a swim.
Removing tarnish from silver jewellery
If the tarnishing is not too severe then a simple polish will do the job, even if your silver jewellery is intentionally oxidised it is relatively simple to avoid the bits that need to stay, but silver is soft so take care. Even mild polishes will cause some abrasion and loss of silver so it is best to use a special cloth designed for the purpose to
Even mild polishes will cause some abrasion and loss of silver so it’s best to use a special cloth designed for the purpose to minimise the damage.
A specifically designed silver cloth, lint-free flannel, microfiber or other none abrasive cloth is recommended. Stay away from paper towels and tissues as they do contain small fibres that can scratch the silver.
Use long back-and-forth motions that mirror the grain of the silver. Avoid rubbing in circles, as this will magnify any tiny scratches and change to a different section of your cloth frequently to avoid placing tarnish back on the silver. If there are any small fiddly areas you can use a cotton bud.
If the tarnish is severe, you should consider taking it to a professional silver cleaner.
You can purchase or make your own silver jewellery cleaner but you must bear in mind that these do not work for all your pieces of silver jewellery, such as those with pearls or opaque gemstones and do not use them on your oxidised pieces at all.
Whichever remedy you choose, remember not to use rubber gloves to do it with.