How to Keep Sterling Silver Jewelry free of Tarnish
In the process of designing, constructing and selling sterling silver jewelry to customers, I am often asked how to keep the jewelry clean and free of tarnish. Here are a few of my recommendations along with customer mistakes (and how to fix them!).
1. The first thing you need to know is that "tarnish happens" when it comes to jewelry. Even gold jewelry, after many years, will eventually tarnish. Tarnish is caused by the reaction of the copper, in the sterling silver, to humidity and elements. Even perfumes, lotions, hair care products and sweat will accelerate tarnish on jewelry.
The remedy: Try to make sure all your "body products" (hairspray, lotions, etc.) are dry before putting on your jewelry. After you are done wearing your jewelry, wipe it clean and dry with a soft cloth (I prefer plush cotton or flannel) before storing it.
2. Leave jewelry sitting out, exposed to the air most of the time, tarnish becomes inevitable.
The remedy: Store jewelry in a place that is cool, dark and not exposed to air. Other jewelers advocate placing jewelry in a ziploc bag for storage. You must make sure your jewelry is absolutely dry and the bag is free of air when doing this. Otherwise, you create a "rainforest" in the bag and it will tarnish in a matter of days! If you want to do this, I would recommend wrapping the piece in a soft cloth first, then place in a ziploc bag. Squeeze all the air out of the bag before closing. For those that like having their jewelry in a box where you can easily see it, place a piece of chalk in the box. The chalk will absorb the moisture. Be sure to replace the chalk monthly.
3. My jewelry is tarnished. What is the best way to clean it?
The remedy: Always opt first for a polishing cloth to remove tarnish from your jewelry. I sell and recommend the Sunshine polishing cloths, but have also had good luck with Haggerty's silversmith polish sprayed on a soft cloth. (Do not spray this product directly on the piece.) Sometimes I will use the tarnish removing dip to clean a piece, but ONLY if the piece is metal only (no stones) and if there is no "patina" on the piece. (Patina is the intentional oxidation of the piece to highlight details.) These dips mush be used with care as they are removing the outer layer of metal on a piece (like the cloths) and can act very quickly!
4. I use a tarnish removing dip cleaner for my silver and now it tarnishes so much faster. Why is it doing this?
The remedy: While the liquid dips that remove tarnish will do so, they leave a sulfur residue that makes the jewelry react with the air and tarnish more quickly than before. If you are going to use the silver dip, the jewelry must be rinsed for a minimum of 15 minutes under running water to remove all the sulfur residue.
5. Someone told me to use toothpaste and/or baking soda to clean my jewelry. Is this okay?
The remedy: Using either of these is only okay only IF the sterling silver has a matte finish. If the jewelry has a shiny, mirror polish to it, these abrasives will remove the tarnish but will also scratch that shiny finish. Should this happen, they only way to remedy the situation is to have a professional properly polish the piece again, assuming the damage isn't too great.
6. What about ultrasonic jewelry cleaning?
The remedy: This is only an option for pure metal jewelry (no stones) or jewelry with stones hard enough to withstand ultrasonic cleaning. Stones such as coral, turquoise, tanzanite, and others are not ultrasonic cleanable. When in doubt, please consult the designer of the piece or a jewelry repair expert.