We all know there is nothing more annoying than pulling out your favourite silver ring as you’re running out the door, only to discover it’s somehow turned a ‘lovely’ black tarnished colour and is now unwearable until it gets a good clean!
If you own silver jewellery you’ve probably just come to accept tarnishing as a fact of life – but still a really annoying one!
So in this post I wanted to give some special attention to sterling silver jewellery and how to deal with it tarnishing.
What is Tarnishing?
Just to be completely clear, when we talk about tarnishing we mean that black cloudy coating that appears on silver jewellery over time (often starting as just a more bronzy rust like colour).
Also related to this is the green stain that some people find silver jewellery leaves on their skin.
Tarnishing is Unavoidable
First up it’s very important to understand that - all sterling silver jewellery will tarnish.
There is unfortunately no way to avoid this and tarnishing has nothing to do with how cheap or expensive a piece of jewellery is.
However, the good news is that how quickly tarnishing happens and how bad it gets is something you can absolutely exert some control over.
Why Does Silver Tarnish?
Silver tarnishes for a couple of reasons.
Firstly (like all metals) very very small pieces of the metal will rub off through day to day wear.
This appears as a light black dust or tiny black granules on the surface of the metal and can form a black smudge on the skin particularly when a bit of moisture is present.
This actually occurs with all metals and is not just limited to silver.
And it might interest you to know that a lot of the cosmetics we use have chemicals in them that at a molecular level are stronger than the surface of most metals, meaning that this just increases the rate that this black dusting appears.
Very similar to the above in appearance but actually something quite different is the black tarnish that if left unchecked spreads over sterling silver.
This starts off as a rusty colour and is caused by the ‘oxidisation’ reaction between naturally occurring sulphur on one hand and the metals mixed in with pure silver to create sterling silver.
In the above picture you can see the effects of very advanced tarnishing on a silver tea set!
Sulphur is present in very small quantities in the air and also in a host of everyday products. However these tiny amounts are still enough to cause this oxidisation reaction and create the tarnish on silver.
Greater moisture, humidity, air pollution and exposure to certain chemicals can also speed this process up.
The Green Stain
The final type of tarnish you might encounter with sterling silver is the green marks that can be left on the skin under sterling silver rings or necklaces.
These are actually not so much a tarnish like the black kind mentioned above caused by oxidisation, but are actually the result of a direct reaction between the particular skin of the wearer and the copper in the piece of jewellery in question.
Very small amounts of copper are used to make sterling silver and this is why you can see this reaction with sterling silver jewellery.
Interestingly, this only affects a very small number of people and once again depends a lot on the skin of the person in question.
Humidity, exposure to moisture and also exposure to certain chemicals also play a big part.
Even changes in the pH level of your skin (like what can occur when you take certain medication) can also have a big effect on whether or not you get this green stain or how pronounced it is.
How to Beat Tarnish on Your Jewellery!
The good news is that tarnish is easy to control and to help you out with this we’ve put together our top tips on how best to manage tarnish on your sterling silver jewellery.
- Usual Care and Attention
All the general tips we mentioned in our article here on caring for, cleaning and storing jewellery also applies to sterling silver pieces and will also help deal with tarnishing.
- Avoid Moisture
This means keeping your silver jewellery away from water where ever possible!
Don’t wear sterling silver:
- when swimming;
- in the bath or shower; or
- even when doing the dishes.
And absolutely don’t store or leave your jewellery in the bathroom.
After you’ve cleaned your jewellery also ALWAYS make sure you dry it thoroughly for the same reasons.
- No Chemicals
Avoid chemicals with your jewellery where ever possible.
Metal jewellery of all kinds (not just silver) will have some kind of reaction to the chemicals we encounter in our daily lives. However as you know from what you’ve read so far above sterling silver jewellery tends to be particularly reactive.
Everything from chlorinated water, everyday cosmetics and body moisturizers to household cleaning products can amplify the effect of tarnishing.
You can see with this beautiful set of sterling silver earrings from Evulfi just how good silver can look when you don't let tarnishing set in.
As silver is more sensitive you even have to be careful when preparing meals as there are certain types of food (onions, eggs, even types of fish) which are more likely to contain traces of tarnish inducing sulphur.
Salt is also a good one to avoid too.
Let’s face it avoiding ALL these things is bordering on impossible but by removing your jewellery when you’re just around the home you can actually go a long way towards this.
The well known mantra of your jewellery being the last thing on when you head out and then the very first thing to come off when you return is a good principal to live by.
- Get it Early
As there is no way to completely avoid tarnishing on silver jewellery one of the best ways to keep it in check is to get to it early.
Always wipe down your sterling silver jewellery with a cotton cloth when you take it off to help avoid the build-up of dirt and chemicals that can speed up the chemical reaction that causes tarnishing.
Similarly when you do start to notice that first sign of a rusty brown colour appearing, wipe it clean.
At this point this can usually be simply done with a couple of wipes from a cotton cloth.
- Treat it Properly
If you have left your tarnishing to develop past the rusty brown colour stage there are still a couple of good ways to deal with it.
Simply rinsing your jewellery in a bowl of warm water with a small amount of dish washing liquid and then wiping will usually do the trick (just remember to dry thoroughly afterwards!).
Alternatively you can also buy a special silver cleaning cloth that is treated with certain light chemicals which will target the tarnish more directly.
If things are a bit more severe than that you might just need to use a bit more elbow grease or perhaps consider taking the piece to a jeweller for a more thorough clean.
Another option you can try is a kind of silver and baking soda home treatment like demonstrated in the video below. Before you try this however carefully test it on a small out of sight part of your jewellery (maybe the butterfly clip from one earring) to ensure the reaction won’t damage your piece at all.
When it comes to cleaning I wouldn’t recommend using some of the store bought silver dips and pastes you can get.
These can actually be quite harsh and can on a microscopic level cause damage to your jewellery which will make it harder to keep the piece looking good over time.
Take the Time to Care For Your Jewellery
So although it might be a pain, tarnish on silver jewellery is easy to treat and even easier to deal with if you get to it early and just generally adopt a few of the simple care tips I’ve set out above.
How do you deal with tarnish on your jewellery? Have you got any special tips or advice we might have missed? Drop us a message or leave us a comment below we’d love to know what you think!