What to Use to Clean Silver Jewelry and Why

May 6, 2022

Has your silver jewelry lost its natural shine? Has your silver jewelry taken on a yellow or black tint? If so, these signs can mean it's time to give your jewelry a nice and thorough cleaning.

But, cleaning silver jewelry might involve more than you may think. Read on to find out how to keep your pieces clean, and what to use to clean silver jewelry.

What to Use to Clean Silver Jewelry: The Importance of Cleaning

If you want your silver jewelry to last for generations, it's important to keep it clean and prevent tarnishing. Silver jewelry dulls because of a chemical reaction between the metal and the sulfur present in the air. Hair sprays, perfumes, makeup, hand creams, and oils from the skin can also cause silver to lose its natural shine and luster.

Today, many silver jewelry pieces are thinly coated with a metal known as rhodium to protect against tarnishing and create a more brilliant shine. Eventually, this thin protection wears off, leading to blackened silver.

So, if you want to remove the tarnish, it's essential to clean your silver jewelry regularly. However, silver is a soft, lustrous metal, so it's essential to be as gentle as possible when cleaning.

Why Silver Tarnishes: 5 Factors That Accelerate the Process

As previously mentioned, silver reacts with sulfur compounds, forming greyish-black silver sulfide. But if you have a sterling silver piece, which usually contains 7.5% copper, it will be even more prone to tarnish. The same is true for other low-purity silver pieces.

So, no matter what type of silver jewelry piece you own, tarnishing is inevitable. It's just a matter of how quickly your jewelry will lose its natural color. Many factors affect the speed of the tarnishing process, including:

  • Moisture and high heat: High humidity is the main culprit that speeds up the tarnishing process of jewelry. This is why it's so important to avoid storing your silver jewelry in hot places and areas that are high in moisture.
  • Certain materials: Some materials with high sulfur content, like paper, cardboard, latex, and rubbers, can accelerate the tarnishing process. In fact, the paper and cardboard used in the packaging of silver jewelry are some of the most common tarnishing accelerants.
  • Cosmetics: Makeup, hair products, and perfumes may contain chemicals that react with silver, which can aid the tarnishing process. This is why it's a good idea to occasionally clean your silver with mild soapy water.
  • Oxidants: Other than the oxidants in the air, household oxidants like bleaches and hydrogen peroxide can cause your jewelry to tarnish more quickly. So, when using any household oxidants, make sure you take off your silver ring or bracelet beforehand.

Related:Gold-Filled vs. Gold-Plated: Which is Better?

Cleaning and Care for Different Metal Types

There are several ways to clean your silver jewelry pieces, with each method coming with its own advantages and disadvantages. So, when it comes to learning what to use to clean silver jewelry, be aware of the different needs of different metals. Some metals require different cleaning agents and techniques. And the results from cleaning tend to vary from metal to metal.

For example, gold-plated silver jewelry can be cleaned but can't be restored to its original luster because of how it's made — it almost always turns colors over time.

So, before choosing a cleaning agent and technique, it's essential to know the type of metal you're dealing with and the best practices for handling it. Key factors to consider when determining the best way to clean silver jewelry include:

  • Whether the piece is an antique or heirloom
  • Whether the piece has a lot of texture and engraving
  • How often you wear a particular piece of silver jewelry
  • Whether the piece is sterling silver or silver-plated
  • Whether there are any gemstones in the silver jewelry

How to Clean Silver Jewelry

If you're wondering what to use to clean silver jewelry, read about the different cleaning agents and techniques below.

Silver Dips

Silver dips contain chemicals that quickly remove the tarnish from your silver jewelry. Swift tarnish removal is the main advantage of using dips, so you can quickly clean multiple pieces of silver.

While silver dips provide a quick and easy way to clean silver, they have a few drawbacks. For example, it's best to avoid using dips to clean silver pieces with gems and gemstones because the chemicals in silver dips can take the coating off artificial gems and remove the polished surface from some gemstones.

Also, the acids in silver dips can be quite corrosive. So, not rinsing your jewelry thoroughly after dipping it can lead to corrosion. Silver is resistant to corrosion, but not completely. Therefore, it's important to thoroughly rinse silver jewelry after cleaning with silver dips.

Silver dips can be particularly damaging to antique jewelry because they can remove the patina or aged texture, damaging the original look.

Silver Polishes and Wipes

Silver polish is a more traditional method of cleaning silver jewelry. You apply the silver polish and rub it on the silver until clean. Polishing cloths are great for cleaning silver jewelry, as they're very gentle and won't scratch the metal.

Just keep in mind that polish isn't the best cleaning agent to use for some gemstones. If you choose to use silver polish, try your best to avoid getting the chemical or paste on the stone. If some polish does get on a stone, rinse it off immediately.

Ultrasonic Cleaners

Ultrasonic cleaners generate sound waves that result in tiny bubbles, gently shaking away dust and dirt. You load the ultrasonic cleaner by placing your jewelry pieces into the basket and filling the basket with enough water to cover them.

While ultrasonic cleaners are great for cleaning off general dirt and grime, they're not meant to deep clean or remove tarnish from silver jewelry. You may still need to clean tarnished silver jewelry pieces with a polishing cloth after running them through an ultrasonic cleaner.

Homemade Polish

You can use a wide range of agents to make your own silver polish or dip. However, it's crucial to take DIY silver jewelry cleaning recipes with a grain of salt. In fact, many jewelry stores advise against using toothpaste, baking soda, or other home remedies to clean your jewelry.

However, you might have a piece that isn't special to you or isn't particularly valuable. In that case, you may consider experimenting with DIY silver jewelry cleaners.

Best Practices for Preventing Tarnish on Silver Jewelry and Maintaining its Luster

Even though you can't completely protect silver from air, heat, or moisture, you can do your best to limit exposure. Below are a few tips to ensure your silver jewelry maintains its beautiful shine:

  • Store your jewelry in a soft, anti-tarnish bag in a cool, dark place. Consider adding chalk, charcoal, or silica gel to the bag to keep moisture out.
  • Never store your jewelry in the bathroom.
  • Remove your jewelry before showering, swimming, or doing dishes.
  • Store each piece separately to avoid scratching.
  • Put jewelry on last, giving all your perfumes and lotions time to sink in.
  • Clean your silver jewelry regularly with soapy water or a cleaning agent.
  • If using a silver dip, never submerge the jewelry. Silver dip contains harsh acids that can damage the surface.
  • Make sure your silver jewelry is completely dry after cleaning it.

Find Your Perfect Silver Jewelry Piece Today

Properly cleaning silver jewelry is key to ensuring your piece maintains its luster and has a lower chance of tarnishing. If you don't have the time to do it yourself, you can always count on the help of a professional.

If you purchase your jewelry from a local artist like Liz James, you can get professional cleaning services that give your silver pieces a brighter shine. Shop now.