If left exposed to light and air, sterling silver and silver plate will become naturally ‘dirty’ or tarnished. Tarnishing is a natural oxidation process between the alloys in sterling silver and sulfides in the air. Pure silver and pure gold do not tarnish but are too soft to be used for most jewellery. Sterling silver is therefore an alloy of 92.5 % pure silver and 7.5 per cent copper or other metals.
Usually you can keep a shine on your silver jewellery by following a few simple guidelines in the way you look after it.
However careful you are you will need to clean your silver jewellery periodically. What you use depends on how dirty it is but before reaching for a chemical cleaner try cleaning with a cloth..
There are a wide variety of cleaning cloths designed for use on silver jewellery. Many are impregnated with cleaning and or anti-tarnish agents. Almost all such cloths are 100% cotton (occasionally microfibre) to avoid leaving micro scrathes on the surface. You should never use paper towels or tissues to clean jewellery for this reason as they will scratch.
If you wear your silver jewellery regularly then a cloth is probably all you will need to keep it clean. Wearing the item will “rub off” any tarnish and using the cloth removes traces of perspiration, makeup and other contaminants.
Silver dip or cleaner
If your silver is very dirty or has been coated with something like food, consider using a silver dip designed for jewellery and fine items. Do remember that the key to using any silver cleaing product is to it use sparingly and to rinse thoroughly afterwards. You should take extra care with small delicate items. If you are in any doubt at to the effect of a dip or cleaner, follow the manufacturers instructions and use on the back of your pendant or another hidden part to test the effect. If you aren’t absolutely sure that what you are using is right for silver, do not use it.
There are a number of traditional ways of cleaning sterling silver. You should avoid using any of them on silver that contains semi-precious stones. Be aware that “traditional” does not necessarily mean “best” or that the chemical process is less potentially damaging than a modern product if misused. We have listed the common processes you might encounter for interest rather than as a recommendation.
Baking soda and salt
The tarnish or oxidisation deposits silver suphide on the suface of the jewellery. When you immerse the tarnished items in the soda/salt solution, the aluminium reacts with sulphur atoms in the silver sulphide to attract them to the surface of the foil creating a coating of aluminium sulphide. The silver that is left from this process is redeposited onto the silver jewellery.
- Line a shallow glass or plastic dish with a sheet of slightly crumpled aluminium foil. An aluminium pan would be ideal but you may not want use it for cooking ever again. Make sure that the pan is really aluminium and not stainless steel as this will damage your jewellery.
- Pour in just enough hot (not boiling) water to cover the silver.
- Add a tablespoon of baking soda and tablespoon of salt.
- Lay your sterling silver jewellery onto the foil or onto the bottom of the pan. The items must come into contact with the aluminium.
- Gently stir the pieces with a wooden or plastic implement for a few moments to ensure that the silver comes into contact with the aluminium as much as possible. You need to do this because the aluminium pulls the tarnish off the silver. The better the contact, the more tarnish is removed.
- Leave to settle for a couple of minutes more. Your jewellery should only be in the solution for about 5 minutes in total.
- Transfer the items to a strainer or collander and carefully rinse in clean water. Take care not to lose anything down the plughole. Be sure to rinse thoroughly as salt will slowly eat away silver.
- Pat your items dry with a clean towel then polish them with a cotton cloth.
Soak your sterling silver jewelry in a small amount of ketchup for no more than 30 mins. Remove it from the ketchup and rinse in hot water. Polish it with a clean cotton cloth.
Ketchup is usually made with vinegar or lactic acid which will gently dissolve the tarnish.
Place the item of jewellery into a dish and pour in enough milk to cover it. Let the silver soak for 10 to 20 minutes and then rinse with warm water. Polish it with a clean cotton cloth
The lactic acid in the milk should gently dissolve the tarnish. Apparently yogurt works just as well but you do need to rinse the items thoroughly as the smell of rotten dairy products may be worse than dirty jewellery.