Silver jewelry has an elegance, there is no question about it. You get nice shiny jewelry without too much flashiness or the cost associated with other precious metals. It is an affordable way to look classy and hence this type of jewelry is popular among all ages. But there is a problem with silver that other metals like gold or platinum do not have. It can develop a black look over time which is not very attractive (to most people; some love it) and may lose the initial shine and brilliance.
If you want to keep your silver jewelry as new as the day you bought it or bring out the lost shine, read on for some tips.
Buy the best silver possible
When you buy silver jewelry, you get choices like sterling silver, fine silver, and silver plated jewelry.
Pure silver never tarnishes but pure silver is not usually made into jewlery. Even if you buy fine silver (with the marking 99%) make sure that you buy only earrings or occassion-wear jewelry, because pure silver jewelry scratches /dents very easily.
Sterling silver is pure silver mixed with some copper or sometimes nickel. Copper reacts with oxygen and other elements to create that black unattractive look that you call tarnishing. Tarnish on sterling silver can be removed easily. Do not use sterling silver jewelry roughly, as it can also be dented and scratched, though not as easily as fine silver.
If you want to prevent any tarnish, you can look for jewelry with a lacquered finish that will prevent tarnish. A type of Sterling silver with an addition of element germanium is generally tarnish-free – it is guaranteed and patented. Even the rare tarnish that occurs is easily removable. It is far more expensive than sterling silver.
Sometimes what you buy as ‘silver’ may not be silver at all. If you buy silver-colored jewelry marked as just silver or some other name with silver added- it may just be nickel-silver which is just coated with silver, without any real silver content.
Silver plated jewelry only has a small coating of silver on it and will not be as costly as silver. (Buy only if you are paying 1/10 of the cost of real silver jewlery and if you are not allergic to nickel)
Nickel silver (looks like sterling silver but has no silver at all) can cause allergic rashes on the skin. And it can tarnish if exposed to water (slowly). Silver anodised aluminium jewelry is a better alternative than ones with nickel.
Buy from reputed sellers or look for some hallmarking or markings like sterling, 99%, 925, etc. Sterling jewelry usually has ‘sterling silver’ marked on it or it may be marked 925. Sterling silver must be at least 92.5% silver for it to be of good quality – so look for the 925 mark.
Store the jewelry in a proper manner
Store silver jewelry in a cool dry storage box. Keep them in small muslin bags or small ziplock bags – if you keep anti-tarnish paper with it, it will prevent tarnishing in storage.
Store your silver jewelry INDIVIDUALLY without them rubbing against each other. When they come in contact with other silver pieces they can leave small marks which is not a good look in the long term – they add up and the pieces will turn dull. You should have a separate compartment for each piece to prevent this – do not huddle all of them together
Humidity, sunlight and sulphur compounds are enemies of bright silver – keep away.
How to clean tarnished silver jewelry
As most other sterling jewelry tarnishes, you will want to know how to clean your jewelry. Please follow these tips to keep your silver jewelry intact:
Clean your silver jewelry regularly to prevent the tarnish from settling in – This depends on how regularly you use your jewelry and exposure to humidity, perfumes, cosmetics etc.
You can buy commercial products and apply them to your jewelry.
These products (usually a paste or a liquid polish) work as a sealant for the surface of the silver. The silver jewelry is kept in these cleaners for the specified time and then rinsed in warm water. Or You may have to wipe the jewelry with the solution. (Depends on the manufacturer’s instruction)
Use a very fine cloth (jewelry polishing cloths) to polish your silver to shine. You can buff away all the scratches with this. Some commercial polishing cloth can supposedly prevent tarnish from reappearing.
Usually, this fine cloth treatment with a commercial cleaner specifically for silver jewelry may be all that is needed to take out all of the black tarnish. But if it still persists, you can take a baby toothbrush and then use it to take off the tarnish (not anywhere else, just where the black spot remains) – use this under running water. Dry immediately. Use the polishing cloth again to give that shining.
If you have jewelry studded with stones, be careful about what you use as a cleaner. Simple home cleaners without bleach or other chemicals are what you need. Some soft stones like pearls can be damaged with the wrong cleaner.
Homemade solutions for cleaning silver jewelry
Soak the jewelry pieces in a warm water solution with some dishwashing liquid. Use a soft baby toothbrush to clean after some time and then buff with a soft cloth. If you want to use detergent powders, they work fine but ensure that it does not contain any bleach. If the tarnish is not going with this cleaning use bicarbonate soda as a scrubbing agent and use a soft toothbrush. Dry buff with a fine cloth after rinsing thoroughly.
I have read about using a piece of aluminum foil in hot water mixed with some salt and a little detergent to remove hard tarnish. Do not keep jewelry in this solution for more than a minute. Other cleaners people vouch for are glass cleaners and water softeners.
You can use soft flannel or fabric scraps cut from old t-shirts etc. instead of a commercial polishing cloth. Just ensure that it is lint-free.
Homemade cleaning methods will not prevent tarnish. For that, you need specific commercial products. Even these will not be effective if you do not reapply at regular intervals.
Somethings to avoid with Silver jewelry
Do not be careless when cleaning silver jewelry with precious stones or antique silver – they need special care.
Do not wrap silver jewelry in tissue paper or any sort of paper including newspaper. This is because of the acid in the paper. You can get acid-free tissue paper if you want paper. Otherwise use washed soft muslin bags to keep them safe.
Do not skimp on rinsing the silver jewelry after using any cleaner – all the residue should be thoroughly removed.
Keep your jewelry away from rubber bands and anything with sulpher content. Raw garlic, raw onions, eggs, mustard etc have sulphur content and contact can result in tarnish.
Never bring it anywhere near any bleach products unless you want to make it look damaged and antique. Silver turns black when it is exposed to cleaning products containing bleach. So if you are handling them keep your silver ring aside. Otherwise, the bleach will remove the lacquer, and then sooner or later the silver will tarnish and turn black
Do not expose silver to water (hot water, chlorine water – not at all) for long. Chlorine in water can tarnish silver fast and even erode it. To be more specific – Do not swim in chlorinated water or take hot water baths with silver jewelry on you.
Do not soak silver jewelry studded with stones – the glue that holds these stones will come out.
Do not use coarse fabric or dirty fabric or harsh frayed toothbrushes, to clean silver; they can leave small lines and make your jewelry look dull.
As a last straw you can buy ultrasound jewelry cleaners – they are super effective. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have ! Or even better, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have enough jewelry to afford the cleaner!
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