In the past 6 years I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked this question…
It is clear to me many people are not aware sterling, argentium and fine silver will tarnish over time! How fast sterling silver tarnishes depends on a number of things. One contributing factor is how pure silver is. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% another metal, usually copper; copper is one of the contribute factors to sterling silver tarnishing faster than fine silver. This is due to the interactions between the silver, copper and sulfide in the air. The sulfides are found in smoke from burnt raw fuel such as coal or oil, strong smelling foods such as eggs and onions, some fish or shell fish and of course air pollution. I have actually blackened sterling silver a number of times with a hard-boiled egg by putting the egg yolk and the silver item in a baggy and letting sit until the silver “tarnished”, usually about 24 hours. Some medications, particularly antibiotics can cause silver to tarnish, this I’d not heard of before. During the tarnishing process it starts out as a yellowing effect, eventually going dark. Humidity will result in silver tarnishing faster than usual. Some people have more acid in there system and may see a discoloration on their skin while wearing silver!
Silver wire that is badly tarnished…it was bagged but not sealed and in the bottom of my silver container under many other bags, for some time...
I've used sterling silver a great deal over the years and my experience has been some silvers tarnish much faster than others...which makes me believe the makeup of some silver has more copper or different additives as something is definitely different in order for it to tarnish at a faster rate? The silver items are stored in the same place in the same manner. I've made a point to purchase my sterling silver from one supplier for this reason and have consistently better results with regards to the issue of tarnishing.
Fine Silver is 99.9% pure silver, it tarnishes at a slower rate than sterling silver…the tarnish will generally be a discoloration rather than a dark tarnish as in the sterling silver, unless it is in an area where there are high pollution and sulpher levels, then it is more likely to be darker. Even so it is usually easier to clean and keep clean fine silver than sterling silver.
To prevent tarnish:
- One way to help prevent tarnish is to avoid contact with oils, salts and acids on your body…wiping your jewelry after wearing will help prevent tarnish as our skin is a natural transfer for oils, acids and salts. This particular statement is surprising to me, as my experience is the more I wear my silver jewelry pieces the less they tarnish…
- Place jewelry in a baggy with an anti tarnish tab, this works…
- I have always said the more you wear your jewelry the less it will tarnish…this has worked consistently for me, even though it isn’t supposed to?
- Silica gel desiccant packets, the ones you get in shoe boxes, work well in a baggy to prevent tarnish!
- Apply a coat of Renaissance Wax; this is a microcrystalline food safe wax from England. I’ve used this on occasion, but it is a wax, I don’t like the application process and it leaves a matt finish, which I don’t care for..it isn’t my favorite thing to use.
- Apply a coat of Protectaclear…something I’m going to try. Non toxic when dry, coating to last 10 years…
- Apply nail polish but this will have to be done often as it wears/chips off very easily. Apply Vintaj Glaze…this is a metal sealer made specifically for metal jewelry. I’m working with this glaze right now. This product "Conforms to ASTM D-4236", which is a USA regulatory requirement for art materials, school supplies and toys such as crayons, paint sets, or modeling clay that parents, teachers and child care givers look for.
- One other thing you can do is look for jewelry that is rhodium plated…this will not tarnish. I purchase chain and findings that are rhodium plated when I can find. Or you can buy jewelry that has already been oxidized; this jewelry will continue to oxidize but it won’t be noticeable the way it would be on bright silver. I for one love the look of shiny, bright silver, but if someone requested a piece oxidized I’m happy to do that!
The difference after the top wire was cleaned with a cloth for a few seconds!
How to clean your jewelry
- Simply wash your jewelry with a mild detergent that does not contain phosphate based chemicals when it is only slightly yellowing it will clean it up right away. Dry thoroughly...
- Invest in a good cleaning cloth…rub your jewelry after you take it off to remove any beginning tarnish. I generally do this before I wear a piece.
- There are many silver polishes and dips available… I can’t recommend one as I don’t use them. Research them carefully if you choose this method of cleaning. Always remember to follow the directions if you decide to use commercial cleanser as failure to do so could result in damage to your jewelry!
- Place baking soda in the bottom of a dish, lay your piece on top, they pour boiling water over top…the baking soda will bubble up and help to clean your silver…I’ve done this and it works very well on some pieces and not so good on others…it is definitely worth a try. NOTE: wash your jewelry with mild detergent, rinse well with water and dry after doing this as the baking soda can etch the silver finish if not completely removed!
- NOTE: do not use toothpaste as this is too abrasive for sterling silver or fine silver jewelry, pearls and some gems!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post…I’m often asked if the pieces I make will tarnish…as you’ve just read, the answer is simply, YES, all silver will eventually tarnish, even silver plated jewelry, copper and brass…but… it really doesn’t take a great deal of work to keep it sparkling clean. All it takes is to keep a cleaning cloth with your jewelry and give it a quick rub before you put it on, then again when you take it off, at the very least do one or the other! Place you silver jewelry in a baggy and you should be fine…
Send an email or leave a comment on my blog if you have any questions or comments…