It’s one of the biggest complaints jewelers get; “Why is my silver jewelry turning grey, black or brown?” Frequently people think there’s something wrong with their jewelry when this happens, but in truth, tarnish is a natural reaction of silver metal and the oxygen we breathe.
Many things can speed tarnish; air pollution, the minerals in your water (and as such wearing your silver jewelry in the shower can speed this process too), living or working near a chemical, electric or manufacturing plant are all things that can cause discolouration more quickly. But there’s no hard and fast rule for how long it will be before your jewelry tarnishes; some people things begin to tarnish in just a few days, while others take weeks or months.
Recent studies have shown tarnish develops microscopically within hours of being cleaned and exposed to air again. You may not see it on the piece for several days or weeks, but it’s there, and will show up as a black residue on a polishing cloth. Tarnish also appears as brownish patina, grey, bronze or even pinkish-brown colours. A great way to keep seldom worn jewelry clean (and silverware if you have it), is to store sterling silver in a ziplock bag with all the air squeezed or rolled out of it. You can wrap it in a soft cloth first too. Oxygen and thus tarnish may still seep in and can still cause blackening especially if the pieces are stored for long periods of time, but it should keep things to a minimum.
Watch Out for Cleaners and Chemicals!
Household chemicals can also cause tarnish, which is much harder to remove. I once had a ring turn bronze after accidentally spritzing window cleaner on it, and had other silver turn grey by getting baking soda onto it. That too buffed out, but you’ll want to be careful with your jewelry. If you do find some discolouration of your silver, you can try to get it off with a silver cloth (brand names include Sunshine Cloth, available at most any jeweler). If it won’t work, stop while you’re ahead and take it to a pro for professional help.
A client I work with used a spray cleaner, thinking this would do a deep cleaning job on her rings. Instead, it coated her jewelry in a deep black. This type of tarnish is semi-permanent. A jeweler can remove it with proper polishing compounds, but at home, you’ll probably do more damage than good if you try.
How Do I Remove Tarnish?
The best ways to take care of discolouration on silver is:
- A Silver Cleaner, available in most grocery stores and from jewelers. This way you know what you’re getting is specially designated for your silver, and is gentle on it.
- A Polishing Cloth, available online or from jewelry stores. Or HERE from me.
- Home Remedies; I often caution against these because results can be unpredictable. Some people think baking soda and tin foil works, but I’ve not tried this, and can’t vouch for that or any other home remedy. Proceed with caution.
Have you got a horror story – or a home remedy for tarnish that you KNOW works? Post your comments below!