One of the most common complaints about silver jewelry is that it turns black with time. Can you prevent that from happening, and how should you clean the black tarnish from your silver pieces?
Why Does Silver Tarnish?
Any piece of silver jewelry develops a black coating on its surface after some time. This tarnish is a result of a chemical reaction that occurs when silver comes into contact with air and various substances.
Silver tarnish is a form of corrosion, but unlike rust, it does not destroy the underlying metal and can be removed relatively easily.
How Can You Prevent Silver from Tarnishing?
There is no way to protect your silver jewelry from turning black because silver reacts with so many materials found in everyday life. For instance, tarnishing can be accelerated by contact with tap water (because it contains chlorine), a number of foods (e.g., salad dressings), your perfume and hair spray, and even wool clothing.
While tarnishing is a natural process that cannot be prevented, it can be slowed down, but you will still need to clean the tarnished layer at some point.
Holding Up Tarnishing
To slow down tarnishing, clean your silver jewelry after wearing it. Oils from your skin accumulate on the surface of silver and can predispose it to oxidization. Use warm water to wash your jewelry items gently, and dry them with a soft cloth.
You can also delay tarnishing by regularly polishing your silver jewelry. Use a polishing cloth to clean your silver items at the first signs of tarnishing. Alternatively, you can have your silver jewelry buffed by a professional.
Minimize contact of your silver jewelry with substances that can cause tarnishing. This means that you shouldn’t wear your silver when washing up or taking a bath. Don’t forget to remove your silver rings when cooking. Also, avoid wearing your silver necklaces with wool clothing. Latex is another substance that can speed up tarnishing, so you should avoid contact of your silver items with it. And don’t forget to put on your jewelry only after you have applied makeup and perfume.
How to Clean Silver Tarnish
After your silver is already tarnished, you can use a silver polish to remove the black coating. Another option is to use a silver polishing cloth. You can also take your silver items to a jewelry shop to have your pieces professionally cleaned.
If you prefer to clean your silver jewelry at home, you can use a silver cleaning dip. Line a glass container with tin foil; pour some hot water, and add one or two tablespoons of salt and baking soda. Put your silver pieces in the dip, and leave them there for about five minutes. After the tarnish disappears, rinse your jewelry with water and dry it using a soft cloth.
Some people use toothpaste to clean silver. However, there are others who warn against this method as toothpaste can be too abrasive and scratch your jewelry. Generally, it comes down to the softness of the silver alloy and to the kind of toothpaste used as some brands are more abrasive than others. If your silver item has a flat surface, where scratches could be seen easily, you might not want to risk using this method.
Plating Silver: A Temporary Protection
There are many silver items sold today that are plated to prevent tarnishing. The metals used for the coating are usually pure silver and rhodium. This process of plating silver with a layer of white metal is called “flashing.”
The downside of plated silver is that the coating will eventually wear off. The more often you wear and polish your silver, the faster this will happen. When the plating goes away, you can have your jewelry re-plated.
Storing Silver to Delay Tarnishing
Generally, to slow down the tarnishing process, you should store you silver jewelry in a way that limits its exposure to air and humidity.
Put your silver items in sealed bags that close tightly. You can also put a silica gel bag inside, along with your jewelry. These small silica packets absorb humidity and thus help to delay tarnishing.
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