Cleaning your silver accessories...
Some metals require more care than others, and silver is one of the most temperamental options for jewelry. While its lustrous gray sheen makes it a popular choice for casual jewelry, silver requires more frequent care than gold or platinum. But, with a bit of effort, you can keep your silver pieces sparkling like new!😚
Let’s take a look at:
- The ins and outs of silver jewelry
- 10 ways to clean tarnished silver
- Choosing the right silver cleaning method for you
- Best practices for preventing silver tarnish
- Silver FAQ
First, let’s review silver and how it appears in jewelry. Here are a few facts to know:
“Pure silver” is a malleable metal made of 99.9% silver and .1% trace elements, and it has a milky, grayish-white color. The name “silver” derives from the Anglo-Saxon seolfor, and its chemical name and symbol—Argentum (AG)—come from the name’s Latin roots.
Outside of jewelry, silver serves many practical purposes. It was one of the first metals used in currency, and it’s used in sculptures, dental fillings, ship anchors, and plates and utensils even today.
Pure silver is just one form of this mystical metal, and other types of silver have found their way into today’s jewelry:
Pure silver isn’t typically used in jewelry, and any silver pieces are usually made with “sterling silver”. Pure silver tarnishes quickly when exposed to oxygen, so sterling silver is used to prevent rapid oxidation.
Unlike pure silver, sterling silver is an alloy that contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals. These other metals may include copper and a bit of zinc or nickel, which help to create a stronger metal.
Sterling silver is much stronger than pure silver, and sterling silver pieces are stamped with a hallmark of “925” or “.925” to let you know they are up to quality standards. You may also find sterling silver pieces that are stamped with “Sterling Silver”, “SS”, “Sterling” or “Ster”.
Sterling silver jewelry isn’t hypoallergenic, so wearers with sensitive skin should be careful when wearing it. Common reactions include rashes, green residue on the skin, itching, and redness thanks to the copper and traces of nickel used in this alloy.
As previously stated, silver oxidizes quickly, and the more pure silver present in a piece of jewelry the quicker it will oxidize. Oxidation—or tarnish—is a darkening of the surface of silver when in contact with oxygen or other irritants.
Oxidized sterling silver is often used to offset non-oxidized portions of silver on the same piece to produce intricate details. These details help intricate metalwork stand out, creating contrast and intrigue.
A quick internet search will show you many ways you can clean silver jewelry! However, we recommend starting with the cleaning methods listed below, as they’re safe, effective, and typically very cost-friendly.💡 Here are the 10 best ways to clean silver jewelry:
Water and Dish Liquid or Laundry Detergent
A solution of water and dish liquid is the preferred method for cleaning most types of jewelry.😎 It’s gentle yet effective, and it can remove light layers of tarnish.
Start by placing your silver jewelry in a solution of warm water and dish liquid. Soak your jewelry for roughly 10-15 minutes, and brush the surface with a soft toothbrush to remove remaining debris.
From here, you can rinse your silver under warm running water and dry it with a lint-free cloth.
You can also do this process with laundry detergent if you prefer. However, only soak your jewelry in this solution for about 5 minutes before rinsing. This method is great for cleaning pieces with spots that are hard to reach!
Safe and easy, cornstarch and water can remove mild tarnish on your silver jewelry. Mix two parts cornstarch with one part water, and apply it to your piece.
Let the cornstarch mixture dry on your silver before rinsing it under warm water. Then, use a cotton or flannel cloth to wipe your silver jewelry clean and you’re all set!
Baking Soda (Or Add Vinegar)
Did you know you can use baking soda to clean silver at home? With a simple solution of baking soda and water, you can easily remove mild to moderate tarnish buildup.
Your solution should consist of two parts baking soda and one part water to form a paste that you can rub on your silver jewelry in a front-to-back motion. If your piece has detailed metalwork, add more water to create a thinner solution that can get in those hard-to-reach spots.
Let your jewelry dry before rinsing it, then lightly rub it with a soft toothbrush to remove the excess solution. Finally, you can give your item a final polish with a lint-free cloth.
For heavy tarnish, use white vinegar in place of water for a tougher solution. Try ½ cup vinegar and 2 tablespoons of baking soda, and let the piece dry for roughly 2 to 3 hours before rinsing.
Oddly enough, ketchup can be very effective on light tarnish. Plus, it’s something you probably already have in your pantry for a quick clean when necessary!😜
Just place a small amount of ketchup on a soft toothbrush and scrub your silver jewelry. Rinse off the residue and finish up with a polishing cloth for added shine.
Lemon Juice and Olive Oil
Another easy solution, lemon juice and olive oil are gentle on your silver and silver-plated items. A ½ cup of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of olive oil is all you’ll need for this method!
Once you’ve created the mixture, dip a microfiber cloth into it and start gently rubbing your silver jewelry. After you’ve achieved the desired level of shine, just rinse and dry your piece and you’re good to go!
Salt, Baking Soda, and Aluminum Foil
This method takes a little bit of science, but it's fun to watch and can clean heavy tarnish!✍🏻
Start by lining a bowl with aluminum foil (shiny side up!) before boiling one cup of water and pouring it over your jewelry. Add 2 tablespoons each of baking soda and salt and dissolve them in the water before letting your piece sit in the mixture for 5-10 minutes.
You can actually watch the black tarnish transfer to the aluminum foil and smell the “rotten egg” chemical reaction in the process! Once the time is up, remove your silver jewelry from the mixture with tongs or nitrile gloves and rinse it off. You can then dry and polish as normal.
You can remove tarnish from your silver pieces with just toothpaste! However, this home remedy for clean silver should only be used on pure or sterling pieces.
First, use a toothpaste that is non-whitening, as whitening agents can damage silver. Place the toothpaste and a little bit of water on a soft toothbrush or lint-free cloth.
Then, gently rub your jewelry with the mixture in a front-to-back motion. Rinse your jewelry under warm running water and finish the process off by polishing with a soft cloth.
Commercial Silver Cleaners
For more severe tarnish, try a commercial silver cleaner with anti-tarnish agents. Silver cleaners are relatively inexpensive, with some products costing as little as $5!💰
Most cleaners come with dip trays that allow you to place your item in the solution for a designated amount of time. Others should be applied directly to your silver and rubbed in a front-to-back motion as needed.
Be careful when using cleaners: they’re much harsher than the at-home remedies listed above! Do not place gemstones or plated pieces in a commercial solution, as they may get damaged.
Furthermore, make sure you don’t overclean your silver jewelry with commercial cleaners. The chemical solution can actually remove anti-tarnish layers from your silver, meaning more tarnish over time.
Silver Cleaning Cloth
A silver cleaning cloth has the same anti-tarnish properties as commercial cleaners with a much gentler touch. The best part: you can buy a cleaning cloth for less than $10 on Amazon!
This method is simple: you just rub your silver with the cloth until shiny! They’re not ideal for products with tiny crevices, but they’re an excellent choice for plain or chunky silver jewelry that needs a good clean.
When in doubt, take your silver jewelry to a trusted professional jeweler for regular cleanings! In fact, we recommend taking in your silver for a professional cleaning every 3-6 months.
Your jeweler can use high-pressure machines and commercial polishing agents, so you get a more thorough clean that removes excess buildup that at-home cleanings may not reach.
Furthermore, check the paperwork from your jewelry purchase to see if you qualify for a service package. If not, silver cleanings range from $10 to $50 depending on the item and gemstones, so it’s not a cost-prohibitive activity and can be done on your own time.
⚠️Not all cleaning methods work for every kind of jewelry, and it’s important to avoid damaging your silver pieces. Think about the properties of your jewelry as well as additional design elements that may impact which cleaning method you choose.
- Diamonds and other gemstones can be incredibly hard, but they don’t always fare well in harsh chemical solutions. Do some research about the durability of any gemstones in your silver jewelry before choosing a cleaning method.
- In addition, delicate design elements—like thin chains and plating—require a gentle cleaning process, such as water and dish soap. Avoid excess pressure and chemicals if your piece has plating or is too thin to handle such wear.
- Finally, if your silver item has oxidized designs, do not clean them with any chemicals at all to prevent removing the design itself! These pieces are best cleaned by a professional who can work around them while still giving the rest of your silver a nice polish.
These are just some of the questions to ask yourself before cleaning your silver jewelry. Whether you’re looking to restore the lustrous shine of sterling, pure, or plated silver, make sure you choose the method that works best for your metal!
What can you do to prevent your silver jewelry from tarnishing quickly? We have a few small suggestions that make a big difference in the long run:
By storing your silver in a safe place, you can prevent tarnish from building up on your jewelry!
First, store your silver pieces separately in anti-tarnish bags, airtight Ziploc bags, or a lined jewelry box, as they can slow down oxidation. You can also wrap your items in anti-tarnish paper or lint-free flannel for added protection.
Afterward, store these containers in a dark place with low humidity. Moisture in the air can actually speed up the oxidation process, so avoid storing silver in bathrooms, kitchens, or any room that’s exposed to steam or water. You can also place activated charcoal, silica gel, or chalk in the bag with your silver to absorb unwanted moisture!
Fun fact: you can keep your jewelry shiny and new by wearing it. That’s not a joke, wearing your silver is a great preventative measure against tarnish—just be careful how you do it!💪🏻
If you’re planning on wearing silver jewelry, make sure you put on perfume, lotion, or other substances before putting on your items. In fact, make putting on silver jewelry the last step in your morning routine to prevent unwanted contact with chemicals.
Next, if you plan on swimming, showering, or working out, remove your silver jewelry before participating in such activities. Avoid contact between your silver items and water, as this can speed up the tarnishing process.
Finally, make sure you always store your silver in its designated spot. You don’t need to polish your silver daily, but you can wipe it down with a lint-free cloth if you’re worried about oxidation.
Before you even worry about storing or cleaning your silver, make sure you buy your jewelry from a reputable jeweler! Retailers may try to pass off plated jewelry as sterling silver, or they may not use high-quality, 92.5% silver in their products.🙅🏻♂️
There’s nothing wrong with these items, but it’s frustrating to pay sterling silver prices for a lower quality product! To prevent this, make sure you look for hallmarks on the items you’re looking to buy, as there should be a clear indicator that the piece is sterling silver.
Additionally, only buy from jewelers you trust, preferably ones with whom you’ve shopped before. They should be willing to answer any questions you may have, and some jewelers may even have service packages for their items that can cover professional cleanings, damage, and more.
Still have questions regarding silver jewelry? Here’s a roundup of frequently asked questions when it comes to cleaning sterling silver:
Wipe down your sterling silver jewelry after every wear and clean it after a few wears. Exposure to oxygen, chemicals and even oil on human skin causes tarnish, so getting these irritants off your silver as soon as possible is crucial.
If you don’t wear your silver pieces often, it’s still a good idea to check them for tarnish every few weeks and clean them accordingly. Proper storage can also lead to less cleaning over time!
We recommend using one cleaning method at a time when it comes to silver jewelry! Different substances may react when combined, causing damage to your piece.
However, you can always try these methods in succession: if one method doesn’t do the job as well as you’d hoped, try another method right after. Just be sure you wipe down your silver piece thoroughly between each cleaning!
There’s a large difference between cleaning and polishing your silver, and some situations may call for one over the other.
Cleaning your silver jewelry involves applying a cleaning agent to your item and rinsing with water after a thorough scrub. A cleaning is recommended when there is a buildup on your piece that consists of dirt, oils from skin, etc., and can lead to tarnish.
In contrast, polishing does not involve water, but rather it can be done with a cloth, piece of flannel, or any lint-free, non-abrasive material. Polishing will not remove buildup from your piece, but it can remove tarnish!
It’s possible to remove tarnish from silver jewelry with an ultrasonic cleaner! Although ultrasonic models are usually reserved for precious metals, silver pieces can also withstand the heat and vibrations associated with this cleaning method.
An ultrasonic cleaner relies on the process of “ultrasonic cavitation” to clean pieces. Cavitation involves the production of millions of tiny bubbles, which are able to get into the crevices of your silver pieces to remove tarnish in hard-to-reach spots.
Silver is an affordable metal that is perfect for daily jewelry, and—if taken care of properly—it can last a lifetime! Many jewelry stores don’t provide you with instructions on how to clean silver items, so it’s important to do your research to find a cleaning method that works for your lifestyle.📝
If silver sounds like a hassle, there are several alternatives you can choose for your next jewelry purchase! Take a look at our guide on precious metals, which are all excellent alternatives to silver. Some may be a bit more expensive, but they require less care over their lifetime.