There’s nothing worse than delving into your jewellery box to search for a beloved, yet rarely worn, silver earring, necklace or bangle, only to find it tarnished and in need of a good clean, despite have been kept safely nestled in your jewellery box.
Silver is one of the most popular metals used in jewellery design, and is most often found in two forms: silverplate and solid sterling silver. Silverplate is actually another metal that has silver electroplated onto it. Sterling silver is an alloy composed of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent of another metal, most likely copper. It is the copper in the sterling silver, or silverplate, that causes it to become tarnished.
Although pure silver is actually naturally resistant to tarnish, pure silver is far too soft to be used in it’s pure form for jewelry, which is why it is often mixed with other metals. So just why does silver tarnish and how can we fix it? We asked Zoë Richardson, jewellery designer and owner of Zoë Alexandria Jewellery for answers.
What is tarnish?
“Tarnish is a thin layer of corrosion that forms on metals and appears as a dull grey or black coating. Surprisingly, tarnish actually protects the inner layers of the metal, only reacting with the outer layers,” says Zoë. The tarnish is silver sulphide and it forms as the silver reacts with sulphur compounds in the atmosphere.
Why does silver tarnish?
“Tarnish is a product of chemical reaction that is caused by the other metals that are mixed with silver reacting to moisture and sulfur in the air. Sterling Silver will generally tarnish quicker in high humidity climates and places with high levels of air pollution. Things like perfume, hairspray, deodorant and moisturisers can all contribute to further tarnishing of your silver due to the chemicals reacting with the silver.”
How to stop silver jewellery from tarnishing
“To keep your silver from tarnishing you should store it in a cool, dry place away from sunlight,” says Zoë. Keep your silver jewellery separate from other pieces.
How to clean tarnished silver jewellery
“Clean your tarnished silver with a polishing cloth, or a solution of cloudy ammonia and warm, soapy water,” says Zoë.
While Zoë acknowledges the many at home methods of cleaning silver jewellery, such as baking soda and aluminum foil, cleaning with laundry detergent or tomato sauce, She doesn’t recommend any of them.
“Be careful with what you use to clean your silver as some products are abrasive and will scratch and damage your metal. I suggest using a soft bristle toothbrush if you need to give it a good scrub. When in doubt though, go see a professional jeweler or silversmith for help.”
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