Silver is one of the most popular materials for making jewellery with. Over time it will change appearance and develop a beautiful patina, a unique lustre, and an internal brilliance that compliments any wearer’s skin tone. It is also extremely versatile which allows jewellery makers to create wonderful designs. However, it is also very easily tarnished which can make it difficult to appreciate the beauty beneath. When oxygen or sulphur come into contact with silver jewellery they chemically bond to its surface and over time this causes the surface 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.

Another thing you need to keep an eye out for is oxidized silver. This is a method that silversmiths use to intentionally darken some of the silver to create details and patterns. If you have some oxidized 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 at keeping the discolouration at bay. Just remember that silver is a very soft metal so keep each piece stored in separate bags so they don’t scratch 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 sulfur 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 take off your silver jewellery before you start or perhaps even avoid housework altogether!! 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 out.

Substances 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 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 bake 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 oxidized 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 minimize the damage. A specifically designed silver cloth, lint-free flannel, microfibre or other none abrasive cloth is recommended.  Stay away from paper towels and tissues as they do contain small fibers 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, however, 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 oxidized pieces at all. Whichever remedy you choose, remember not to use rubber gloves to do it with.