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How To Clean Silver Jewelry at Home

how to clean silver jewelry

Caring For Sterling Silver Jewelry is Easier Than You may Have Imagined

Today most would agree that it is hard to resist the attraction of sterling silver jewelry. With its brilliance, luster and incredible versatility it's easy to see why this type of jewelry has become one of the top picks among those who truly appreciate jewelry made of quality materials. That said it might be surprising to know that a large majority of people neglect many of the attractive silver pieces in their jewelry box. Why is this so? One word: tarnished. Keep in mind that when sterling silver comes into contact with either sulfur or oxygen, it chemically interacts on the surface of the jewelry, resulting in silver becoming dirty looking or discolored.

The good news is that caring for sterling silver jewelry and eliminating tarnish can be a simple and carefree procedure that anyone can do at home. All that is required is some knowledge of sterling silver and a few tips and tricks on how to clean and care for what could potentially be one of the most beautiful pieces of jewelry in your entire collection. If you are ready to start sporting the true hidden treasures in your jewelry box than this short and helpful article may be for you. Before we begin, it may be worth exploring a few industry terms that will help you to better understand of how to clean silver.

Purity Level

For example, purity is a measure of how malleable a particular type of sterling silver is and how quickly it will become tarnished if not cared for properly. Simply stated, the higher the value the more pure sterling silver will be on average. Silver with a higher purity level such as .950 will tarnish faster and generally be more bendable and flexible. Conversely, sterling silver with a value of .925 will tend to tarnish a little slower and be somewhat less malleable or bendable. Those who truly enjoy sterling silver jewelry may have also heard the term “oxidized.” This simply refers to the process where jewelry is manufactured in such a way that specific parts are intentionally allowed to oxidize or darken.

This procedure helps to make certain aspects of the piece of jewelry stand out or become more detailed. Know also that this type of detailing can eventually fade especially where there has been ongoing polishing or excessive cleaning. Based on this fact it is always a good idea to identify specific areas of sterling silver jewelry where oxidation is intentional. Necklaces, rings and earrings that have purposeful oxidation should be set aside and cleaned individually and with great care. Now let's take a look at preventative care measures that will help you to keep sterling silver jewelry looking absolutely fantastic year after year.

Preventative Tips and Tricks

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to prevent the tarnishing of sterling silver jewelry is to simply wear the items as often as possible. This is effective because skin oils will actually clean silver and helps it to maintain a shiny luster. Equally important is to ensure that jewelry made of sterling silver does not come into contact with any type of household chemicals, chlorinated water or even surprisingly, rubber. Solutions or substances with sulfur as an ingredient can also cause tarnishing or the corrosion of silver over time. Typically mustard, mayonnaise as well as wool and other items can affect sterling silver in a negative way.

For this reason, when doing household cleaning or chores always remove your silver jewelry first. Even direct sunlight can result in silver becoming tarnished. As such, removing silver based jewelry prior to sunbathing or swimming is a good idea. Hair products such as hairspray as well as lotions and cosmetics can also affect silver negatively. Ultimately they all will accelerate the tarnishing process. Equally important is to ensure that sterling silver jewelry is stored in the right way. Prolonged exposure to ambient air will tarnish this kind of jewelry.

That said one of the best ways to store jewelry that is made of sterling is in airtight plastic bags. As an added advantage, include an anti-tarnish strip with your jewelry as a good protective measure. When a plastic bag is not available find some other sealed container that will keep humidity out. Adding an activated charcoal packet or silica gel packet when storing silver in this way can also reduce the chances of tarnishing. Another important aspect of taking care of sterling silver is to polish in the right way. Light polishing is a great way to remove mild amounts of tarnish.

Follow the Grain

When polishing always opt for a professional silver cloth that is made specifically to polish silver items. When this type of cloth is not available microfiber or even some kind of lint free flannel will do quite well. Always avoid using abrasive cloth or paper towels as this can result in scratches. When polishing follow the grain of the silver using long back and forth strokes. Frequently turning the polishing cloth will help to prevent spreading tarnish to other parts of your silver jewelry. Experts recommend avoiding rubbing in a circular motion. This can actually cause tiny scratches to be magnified.

Another tip when it comes to polishing sterling silver is to use a Q-tip to reach detailed areas where a polishing cloth is not effective. As a note, pieces that are silver-plated should be treated with extra care as excessive polishing can actually cause the plating to separate from the metal underneath. One important recommendation is to always choose to have a professional clean your silver jewelry especially if it is old, antique or fragile. Experienced silver cleaners can be expected to do the job right and to keep your jewelry looking great. Another issue that often arises when it comes to cleaning silver is that of whether or not to use commercial silver cleaners.

These liquid dips are found everywhere today but can have negative consequences when it comes to properly caring for jewelry. Not only are they dangerous to use indoors because of the fumes but they are also powerful solvents can damage your jewelry. This happens when these solvents break down the coating that often covers fine silver jewelry. Another negative effect of commercial silver cleaning solvents is that they will ultimately cause jewelry to tarnish even faster down the road. As a general rule, avoid this method of cleaning jewelry.

Homemade Cleaning Solutions

There is also the option of using homemade silver cleaners to maintain your jewelry. In many cases these homemade solutions will be economically and environmentally more desirable. All that is usually required are a few simple ingredients from your kitchen or bathroom. Regardless of the type of homemade cleaning solution that you use, always remember that immersing certain types of jewelry in any kind of cleaning solution can be damaging. This is especially true with regard to jewelry pieces that have gems or jewels embedded as part of their design.

When using any kind of cleaning solution on silver jewelry always rinse thoroughly with clean fresh running water or use a damp cloth to wipe away any excess cleaning solution. As an alternative, even a simple soap and water solution can be used to clean this type of jewelry. Typically speaking, a phosphate free dish washing soap will be your best bet in this regard. This is perhaps one of the mildest and easiest ways of cleaning silver. Baking soda and water can also be used as an effective cleaner. A basic paste made of water and baking soda applied with a clean cloth can be quite effective.

Boiling Water

Some professionals also recommend using a mixture of lemon juice and olive oil or perhaps even baking soda and white vinegar. Finally, an old favorite when it comes to homemade silver jewelry cleaning solutions is that of a combination of baking soda, salt and aluminum foil added to boiling water. This causes a chemical reaction that cleans silver remarkably well. The process is simple and only involves placing silver jewelry pieces on aluminum foil and then covering with boiling water. Once this is done, add a few tablespoons of baking soda and some salt. This is actually an effective cleaning method that produces surprising results.

In effect, tarnish is taken off of the silver and transferred to the aluminum foil. It only takes a few minutes and can be followed by a fresh water rinse and a wipe down with a soft cloth. Consider these simple and highly effective ways of caring for your beautiful and treasured sterling silver jewelry. Always remember that silver jewelry that is properly maintained will provide you with years of enjoyment and satisfaction. Many of these pieces will ultimately become family heirlooms. As an added bonus, silver only becomes more valuable over time so keep the tarnish to a minimum and protect your investment in truly beautiful looking pieces of jewelry. 

Also see our tips on how to clean gold jewelry and how to clean brass jewelry. 

Luke Jordon, author

Luke Jordon is the co-owner of JewelryLab and manages global product quality control, customer support, and retail partnerships. Having processed thousands of orders over the past few years, he brings a unique insight into jewelry quality, care, and cleaning through direct customer feedback and recommendations.

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