Over time, any sterling silver jewelry findings exposed to air will tarnish. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals. It is the other metals, primarily copper, that makes sterling silver tarnish. The copper reacts to the moisture and sulfur in the air, causing sterling silver to tarnish. Silver tarnishes faster in areas with high humidity and air pollution. Chemicals (hairspray, perfume, deodorant, body lotion, bleach, etc) as well as acidic foods can speed up the tarnishing process.
- The best way to prevent tarnishing is to store clean, dry sterling silver in a dry airtight container, like a ziplock bag.
- An anti-tarnish strip with the silver jewelry in a ziplock bag will help fight against tarnish.
- Don’t leave silver jewelry in the bathroom, and do not wear it the shower, swimming pool or hot tub. Humidity can speed up the oxidation process that produces tarnish.
- Minimize sterling silver’s contact to chemicals (hairspray, perfume, body lotion, bleach, etc.).
- After taking off silver jewelry, clean it with a dry soft cloth before putting it back into an airtight container.
- Do not use rubber bands to bundle jewelry because when rubber bands age, they release sulfur that causes tarnishing.
- A general rule of thumb for silver jewelry: it should be the last thing put on before leaving the house, and the first thing removed when returning home.
To read our recommendations for cleaning silver, click the link below.
Cleaning Sterling Silver
If an item does begin to tarnish, cleaning it right away will make it easier to restore the shine. Use a silver polishing cloth to remove oxidation from silver. We recommend using a Sunshine Cloth. If the silver jewelry has a matte finish, it can be re-matted after polishing by using matting paper (available from Rio Grande) or a very fine green scrubby sponge.
If the polishing cloth doesn’t work, wash silver jewelry (without gemstones or pearls) in warm water containing a few drops of mild dishwashing liquid. Immerse the sterling silver in the water and gently hand wash. Use a cotton swab for tight corners. A soft baby toothbrush can be used for more abrasive cleaning when needed.
If the jewelry contains gemstones or pearls, do not submerge the entire piece into water. Instead, use a cotton swab with mild dishwashing liquid to wash only the silver. Thoroughly rinse and completely dry the sterling silver before storing, as moisture is one of the factors that contribute to tarnishing!
If this process has not removed the tarnish on the sterling silver, it may require a visit to a professional jeweler who will either clean the sterling silver with an ultrasonic cleaner, or buff it with stages of abrasive paper.
We do not recommend using toothpaste or baking soda for cleaning as it may scratch the surface of the silver.
The most effective approach to managing tarnish is to properly store clean, dry sterling silver to prevent the tarnish in the first place!