Cleaning your silver jewellery can be a bit scary. Because our jewellery is often precious to us; we don’t want to take the risk of causing any damage and will often continue to wear jewellery that has tarnished rather than attempt to return it to its former shiny state.
So here’s the science bit – silver jewellery in particular has a tendency to tarnish; this tarnishing, or a dulling of the surface which will gradually turn your jewellery black is caused by hydrogen sulphide which is present in the air. It reacts with the silver and the black substance that this reaction creates is called Silver Sulphate. So that’s what it is and how it gets there. But what can you do about it?
Whilst tarnish is more of an annoyance than a real problem there is nothing that can be done to prevent it from occurring because as long as your jewellery is exposed to the air, tarnishing will happen. However, there are steps you can take to make sure that it is reduced.
Tempting as it is to have all your lovely jewellery on display, by keeping pieces that you are not wearing in a sealed container, such as a re-sealable plastic bag with as much of the air squeezed out as possible, you are reducing the exposure to air and reducing tarnishing. Don’t use a rubber band to seal the bag because as rubber decays, it releases sulphur, newspaper, silk, clingy plastic wrapping and leather should also be avoided for this reason.
Items worn regularly, despite being constantly exposed to air, will not show signs of tarnishing as the daily activities of life will help to keep them clean. However, you should definitely remove jewellery when engaged in some household tasks as there is a possibility of tarnishing or worse!
Chlorine, ammonia and bleach will all dissolve silver and cause damage to your piece. In the more extreme cases, delicate parts such as the claws of a stone setting may become so damaged that your piece will require expensive repairs. When swimming, using a hot tub or cleaning always remove jewellery to protect it.
Chopping onions could make you cry for a different reason as onions and other strong smelling foods such as eggs and fish have a higher component of ammonia. Stoking the fire and bar-b-q-ing aren’t good for your silver either because smoke from burning fossil fuels is rich in hydrogen sulphide.
There are many suggestions for cleaning your jewellery from using household items found in your kitchen to buying expensive chemicals. But the good news is that you don’t really need to spend any money to clean your silver.
Remember, silver is easily scratched so take care not to use any abrasive products. Tooth brushes and scourers should be avoided! Don’t use toothpaste or baking soda. Your fingers or cotton buds are the best and softest options to protect your precious pieces whilst cleaning them.
A few drops of a mild washing up liquid and some warm water is all it takes to make your jewellery shiny again. Washing your jewellery will keep it clean and prevent it from building up the black tarnish covering which is much harder to remove. This is what you do to your rings every time you wash up and you may have noticed already that they rarely need to be cleaned!
Before you store your newly clean and shining pieces, make sure that they are completely dry, ideally by laying them flat and air drying them over night. A damp atmosphere will contribute to the tarnishing of silver jewellery, so storing your pieces without fully drying them will undo all your heard work!
Once washed, if your piece still looks a little dull use a cloth to create a higher shine but again, remembering that silver is a soft metal that is easily scratched, take care to use a soft cloth that is clean. Don’t rub in circles and change direction frequently to avoid creating lines.
So cleaning your silver jewellery doesn’t need to be a scary experience anymore, it’s no more problematic than doing the washing up!