It's unfortunately a fact that all sterling silver will tarnish when it's exposed to air, moisture and light, but don't worry! Restoring it to its original gleam is quite easy. You can clean all your sterling silver objects the same way. You just have to be careful if you are cleaning something that shouldn't be immersed or rinsed in water.
It’s easy to be crazy about sterling silver jewellery. Well loved for its magical lustre and brilliant shine (said to resemble the Moon), Sterling Silver is an extremely long lasting and versatile material that can be worn with any colour outfit. It's easy to see why Sterling Silver is one of the most popular materials for jewellery, certainly at Rue B.
Hardwearing and long lasting, a piece of Sterling Silver jewellery can last you a lifetime if cared for correctly. Unfortunately many of us find ourselves ignoring and even discarding previously loved pieces of Sterling Silver becase they have become tarnished. Sterling Silver jewellery will tarnish when it is exposed to oxygen, sulfur or moisture, as these substances chemically bond to the surface of the silver, especially when a piece is not worn. As the silver reacts to these substances it will begin to have a dirty or discoloured appearance, and nobody likes that!
There's no need to worry, however. Sterling silver jewellery is very easily cleaned, and removing tarnish is not just simple but also extremely satisfying. With this guide we will explain all about the composition and properties of silver, and give you our top tips on the very best ways to care for your cherished jewelley. Soon enough you'll be wearing all your sterling silver again, enjoying all of its original beauty and shine!
Arming yourself with the facts will help you understand the physical properties of your jewellery and how to care for it. The purity of silver determines how hardwearing it is and how quickly it may discolour through tarnish. Pure silver cannot be used to make jewellery alone- it is far too soft and pliable. Jewellery made of pure silver would bend and break almost immediately, and would be much more susceptible to tarnish. Similarly, 950 sterling silver (sterling silver which is made up of 95% pure silver) is also too soft . The best option by far is 925 sterling silver, and that is what we sell at RueB! 925 silver is made up of 92.5% pure silver, and 7.5% hard metal (usually copper, as like silver this is also hypoallergenic and nickel free). The 7.5% added metal gives strength and durability, whilst still ensuring your sterling silver jewellery is of the highest quality and purity availble, meaning your jewellery can be worn and adored for years.
'Oxidisation' is the process of oxygen reacting with sterling silver, often used intentionally by silversmiths to allow parts of the jewellery to darken and oxidise. This effect provides extra detail to make a piece stand out more and to give it a vintage, antiqued look. Please be aware that this detailing can become less visible after excessive cleaning and polishing, so when you clean your silver to put to one side any previosusly oxidised Sterling Silver bracelets, earrings, rings or necklaces for separate cleaning.
Just wear it! You can easily avoid tarnish by wearing your jewellery often, as this lets the natural oils in your skin “clean” the silver and keep it looking shiny (but be careful not to expose it to cosmetics and perfumes!)
Avoid exposure to certain chemicals! Contact with household chemicals, even perspiration, rubber, chlorinated water, or any substances which contain sulfur (e.g., mayonnaise, eggs, mustard, onions, latex, wool), may cause corrosion and tarnish your lovely jewellery. It's a good idea to get into the habit of removing your sterling silver jewellery when completing household chores. To a lesser extent sunlight and salt water can cause silver to tarnish, so be sure to take off your silver jewellery before you go swimming or sunbathing for any extended periods.
Avoid contact with cosmetics. As mentioned previously, lotions, cosmetics, hair products, and perfumes are all chemicals and so willl effect anything you wear including sterling silver. These products tend to accelerate tarnishing, so be sure to remember that your jewellery is the first thing you take off at night and the last thing you put on in the morning. Use your jewellery as a 'finishing touch' and you'll have renewed appreciation for your jewellery!
Store your sterling silver jewellery safely and carefully. Exposure to air is responsible for tarnishing jewellery, so make sure to store your silver jewellery in airtight plastic container or, even better, a zip seal bag with anti-tarnish strips This is especially important if you are planning to store your silver for any extended period of time. Make sure not to mix multiple jewellery pieces in the same bag: sterling silver is a soft metal, and individual pieces can easily scratch each other, and in the case of bracelets and necklaces they can easily tangle with each other. Take care to keep chain bracelets uclasped or unhooked to prevent scratching as well. If you do not wished to use plastic bags, make sure to store your jewellery in a cool, dry and dark place. Another tip is to place a piece of chalk, a packet of activated charcoal, or a container of silica gel with your jewellery in order to minimize tarnish even further.
For Plain Silver items a polish with a soft cloth is very effective when the tarnishing is not too severe. You can also use this method on items that have been oxidised because it alows you to avoid those intentionally tarnished areas. Take care not to rub to vigorously as you may bend or break your Jewellery piece.
Keep in mind that Sterling Silver is quite a soft metal, and so can easily be scratched if the wrong cloth is used. Plump for a lint free, microfibre non-abrasive cloth to polish your jewelley. We use silver cloths here at Rue B, which are readily and cheaply available in any home store (a large cloth will set you back only about £1). Silver cloths are impregnated with a safe and non-carcenogenic silver polish that helps sterling silver maintain its shine for longer. You can even polish away small scratches with your silver cloth, though care should be taken. Do not try to use paper towels or tissue to polish your sterling silver jewellery; they contain fibres that will scratch you jewellery and dull its shine.
To polish effectively, use gentle and long back-and-forth motions that mirror the grain of the sterling silver. Don't rub in circles, as this improper technique will magnify any tiny scratches in the silver. As your cloth picks up the tarnish the material will eventually turn black. At this point change to a different section of cloth to avoid placing tarnish back onto the sterling silver.
Please be sure to only use your silver cloth with sterling silver jewellery. If you polish plated costume jewellery you run the risk of the plating coming away and exposing the the base metal underneath.
Do not wash your silver cloth- the water will cause the silver polish within the cloth to deteriorate.
Don't try to polish very delicate sterling silver jewellery with a cloth as you run the risk of breaking or bending the piece.
Sterling Silver Jewellery with gold-plated detail is becoming increasingly popular. However, you should not sure a cloth to polish the gold plating in your sterling silver piece- you will eventually cause the gold plating to rub away.
If in doubt, take it to a professional
If you have an extremely tarnished piece of jewellery, or it is delicate/plated, and you don't feel comfortable cleaning it with a cloth, take it to a professional jewellery cleaner. We also recommend this for high value, antique and vintage sterling silver jewellery.
There are a number of commercially available silver polishes and dips which seem to work instantly, leading you to believe they are the perfect way to maintain your jewellery. However there are a great deal of drawbacks to using this method.
Commercial silver cleaners can be carconegenic and if inhaled or used in a poorly ventilated room they can cause severe damage. If you are to use such a cleaner, take care to follow the instructions exactly and wear gloves. The powerful solvents in a commercial cleaner are also considered to be hazardous waste, and can contribute to contaminating groundwater and harming aquatic life, so please dispose of your silver cleaner correctly.
As effective as commercial silver cleaners are at removing tarnish, they can also damage your sterling silver jewellery by stripping the item of the anti-tarnish coating that is prevelant on most pieces of sterling silver. If that coating is removed, your jewellery will tarnish much quicker in the future. Such cleaners can even dissolve the surface of your jewellery and take away detail, especially if you leave the item in the cleaner for longer than a few seconds. Commercial cleaners may also take away any plating on your silver, and the solvents may cause any stones or pearls to come loose. Essentially, commercial cleaners may give a brilliant shine, but you'll find your jewellery becomes more and more tarnished as time goes on. We do not recommend using commerical cleaners to maintain your sterling silver.
Homemade silver cleaner can be very effective and easy to prepare:
If you're buffing and buffing your sterling silver with a cloth but finding it just won't return to it's original lustre, or perhaps the jewellery is full of nooks and crannies and detail your cloth can't reach, you can make your own completely safe silver cleaner. This cleaner is economically and environmentally friendly, and can be made out of ingredients many of us will find in our kitchen cupboards.
A note of caution: even homemade silver cleaners are not for all types of sterling silver, so be aware of what you are cleaning and if the item is plated anywhere, or has any kind of adornments, consult before going ahead. For example, don't immerse jewellery adorned with pearls or opaque gemstones (e.g. turquoise, opal, carnelian, onyx) in the cleaner, as they may be damaged in the process (just give these items a very quick rinse if it's needed). Even jewellery with clear gemstones (e.g. topaz, amethyst, garnet) should require special care when using with a silver cleaner. Basically, if you wouldn't shower or bath with these items, don't try and clean it in liquid- stick with the polishing cloth instead.
After using any type of liquid cleaner, make sure to rinse your silver with running water or a clean, damp microfibre cloth, before thoroughly drying and storing seperately. This is particulalrly important for detailed or etched items, as the polish can lodge itself into small areas and eventually harden, leaving a white appearance. After rinsing your jewellery use a dry microfibre cloth to prevent water stains from forming.
Simply Soap and Water: Warm water and a mild, ammonia free and phosphate free dishwashing soap is the gentlest way to treat tarnished sterling silver jewellery. If the polishing cloth fails to remove tarnish, use this mixture to clean your pieces before trying any of the other methods listed below. Simply soak your jewellery, then rinse in clean water and dry as previously mentioned.
Baking soda and water: You may have heard that toothpaste can be used to clean sterling silver jewellery. This is technically correct, however it can't just be any old toothpaste; it must be a non-whitening, non-gel toothpaste. Nowadays these toothpastes can be quite hard to find or distinguish from others, and if the wrong paste is used your jewellery will just discolour further. A safer alternative is to use baking soda and water to create a paste that can be used as polish. For etched, stamped or detailed jewellery, thin the paste with more water and use a clean and soft-bristled toothbrush to get into all the nooks and crannies. Again, to finish, rinse the jewellery under clean and warm running water, and dry with a lint free soft cloth.
Olive oil and lemon juice: Take half a cup of lemon juice and one tablespoon of olive oil and mix it thoroughly in a bowl. Dip a small microfibre cloth into the solution then lightly polish the silver. Make sure to rinse and dry properly.
White vinegar and baking soda: Create a solution of half a cup of white vinegar and two tablespoons of baking soda. This will cause a little bit of fizzing but don't worry- these bubbles are what gently cleans your jewellery). Soak your sterling silver in this mixture for two to three hours, then rinse and dry properly.
Baking soda, salt, aluminum foil, and boiling water: Our favourite method at Rue B! We often combine this mixture with an industrial ultrasonic cleaner, but this is not necessary- we only use this machine as it cleans much quicker. You don't need this machine, just a little more time than we have in our shop :)
This simple chemical reaction will really clean your silver, and all you need is the following: baking soda, salt, aluminium foil, and a few drops of very mild washing up liquid. Line a large glass casserole dish (any casserole like dish will do, but a glass one is much easier to keep clean) with aluminium foil, shiny side up. Place your sterling silver items on top of the foil, then pour in boiling water until the pieces are covered, but not submerged. Add in two tablespoons of baking soda mixed with salt, and a couple of drops of the washing up liquid. Gently stir the solution to allow the baking soda to fully dissolve.
This creates a very gentle chemical reaction that cause the tarnish to transfer from your sterling silver jewellery onto the aluminium foil, and in anything from a few seconds to 5-10 minutes you'll see the tarnish 'magically' disappear from the jewellery. If you notice a slight odour, don't worry, that is just the sulfide tarnish coming away from your jewellery. Use plastic tweezers, tongs or nitrile gloves (latex free; don't use rubber gloves as they contain sulfur) to carefully remove your jewellery from the water, then rinse with clean and warm running water. Completely dry the sterling silver, and buff with a soft cloth. Hey presto! Your silver will now be as sparklingly clean as the day you received it, and, correctly looked after, will look amazing for the foreseeable future. If you find your jewellery is not as clean as you wanted, just pop it in the solution for slightly longer.
Thanks for Caring!
Well cared for sterling silver jewellery will give you years of pleasure. Looked after properly, sterling silver jewellery can last lifetimes and become family heirlooms. Sterling silver itself is steadily becoming rarer and more expensive, so don't watch your favourite pieces fall victim to neglect and tarnish. Instead follow these simple steps and not only will you save money, you'll get an enormous sense of satisfaction as you bring your jewellery back to life.
If you want to find inspiration, take a look at our great collection of sterling silver jewellery. We are based in the beautiful historical city of York, a stone's throw away from the world famous, awe-inspiring York Minster. We have a fantastic showroom dedicated to our sterling silver jewellery, with over a thousand pieces at affordable prices (our sterling silver jewellery collection starts at just £5!) on display. If you can't make it to our shop, every piece of our collection is available via our online shop, where we offer free UK shipping, along with competitively priced international shipping.
Pure silver is far too soft and malleable to function as jewellery. Instead, sterling silver jewellery is weighted with 92.5% silver (which is why you’ll often find the phrase ‘925 silver’ as a hallmark), with the other 7.5% made up of plain hypoallergenic metals.
If you find yourself neglecting your sterling silver jewellery for fear of tarnishing or damaging the metal itself, have a read through this handy guide for tips on how to care for your sterling silver, and how to polish it up if the worst does happen.
Silver tarnishes when it comes into contact with oxygen or sulphur in the air, and will tarnish faster in warm, humid or polluted environments. Tarnish can appear on sterling silver as a gold or coppery colour, or in extreme cases can become black and can greatly alter the appearance of your jewellery. Luckily caring for silver and cleaning away tarnish is very simple.
Note: some sterling silver is deliberately ‘oxidised’. Sterling silver jewellery with intricate detailing is often part-oxidised intentionally by the silversmith in order to make the decoration really stand out. Oxidised sterling silver looks dark, even black in colour. Look for descriptive terms such as ‘oxidised’ or ‘vintage style’ when shopping.