Does Stainless Steel Jewelry Tarnish or Rust? What’s your idea of perfect jewelry? Gold, silver, or just something beautiful and timeless, regardless of the material? If the latter sounds like you, stainless steel might be one of the materials you want to consider.
Why? Doesn’t stainless steel tarnish? Won’t it rust? Isn’t stainless steel more of the ideal material for surgical equipment?
Well, if these are some of the questions you keep asking your friends and the internet, you are in the right place.
While stainless steel is resistant to corrosion compared to most of the other typical metals that are used in jewelry making, stainless steel does, actually rust/ tarnish. And in as much as many people will argue that it doesn’t rust, it is, like every other metal and thing on earth, destructible.
No jewelry will last months or years looking exactly as good as new. With time, and exposure to the elements, the jewelry will become dull; stainless steel jewelry is not an exception.
Types of stainless steel?
Whether your jewelry made of stainless steel rust or not will depend on the type of stainless steel you are buying into, as well as the conditions you expose your jewelry to.
Stainless steel jewelry is made from 316L Steel, an alloy with high levels of chromium, iron, manganese, nickel, and carbon. Since the jewelry stainless steel is an alloy, it might tarnish with time, given the right conditions. This stainless steel 316L is the recommended version of stainless steel for jewelry because it’s hypoallergenic and safe to use as external jewelry and also as jewelry for piercings.
The other type of stainless steel is the 301L or industrial-grade stainless steel. It has the highest nickel levels, which means that this alloy can be worn externally, but it shouldn’t be used as or for body piercing. Stainless steel 304L shouldn’t be used for body jewelry either.
Why Tarnishing/ Rusting?
Now, I know what you are thinking – how is stainless steel corrosion-resistant if it tarnishes?
The truth is that just as mentioned above, nothing is indestructible. Even so, stainless steel will react to some elements of the environment over time, although the tarnishing will take a long time to manifest. At the same time, tarnishing or rusting of stainless steel depends on several other factors.
Reasons Why Stainless Steel Jewelry Doesn’t Rust, and Why It Could?
Though stainless steel doesn’t rust, in general, there are cases where rusting will happen. As mentioned above, stainless steel (used in jewelry) is an alloy of chromium, nickel, carbon, manganese, and iron, among other metals.
While most of these metals rust, stainless steel is largely protected from rusting by chromium. Chromium protects stainless steel jewelry from rusting by preventing oxidation. For this reason, the best of stainless steel jewelry has at least 10% chromium.
Note, however, that the presence of chromium in stainless steel doesn’t make your jewelry 100% safe.
Though protective, the layer of chromium in stainless steel could get damaged or even worse, fail to protect the jewelry, and when this happens, the other metals in the jewelry chemically react with oxygen, hence the loss of the stainless steel/ chromium sparkle.
It’s also worth mentioning that the name stainless steel means that the metal stains less, compared to other metals.
Besides the protective chromium layer, the other reason why stainless steel doesn’t rust or get tarnished easily has to do with the fact that stainless steel develops an oxide layer when it gets exposed to the air. This oxide layer protects the metal for corrosion. The interesting bit is that the oxide layer/ film will also develop after the metal is damaged or if it’s nicked.
Note, however, that the environment you expose your stainless steel jewelry matters as well. Even with the protective film, exposure to harsh environmental conditions will affect the metal, causing tarnishing. Therefore, you shouldn’t expose your stainless steel ring or bracelet to seawater because it will react. You could, however, shower with your stainless steel jewelry on.
Often, the jewelry will scratch and then get tarnished.
Does gold plated or rose cold plated stainless steel jewelry tarnish?
Even though solid gold jewelry will not tarnish, gold-plated jewelry, as elegant and classy as it looks, will tarnish with time and use. The top reason for this is that the gold-plated finish is quite fragile.
Gold-plated jewelry is jewelry that’s plated/ covered with a gold layer. Gold plating is the addition of gold layer on jewelry. There are different plating techniques – heavy gold plating (2.5 microns of gold layer), gold electroplating (.5 microns), and gold flashing/ gold washing (less than .175microns). Though the plating thickness varies, the techniques are all referred to as electroplating. Think of the process as dipping of a stainless steel piece of jewelry into a gold solution.
The gold layer will undergo oxidation and get tarnished fast, especially if the gold layer is too thin. And scratches on the gold layer increase the rate of tarnishing.
How to clean the stainless steel jewelry if it is scratched?
If your stainless steel jewelry is tarnished, ultrasonic cleaning might be your best cleaning option. This cleaning technique involves the use of intense vibrations to thoroughly clean jewelry, especially the hard-to-reach areas.
Though a viable option, ultrasonic cleaning is expensive. Our top recommended home remedies include:
Cleaning with soap and water
- Get two small bowls and fill then with warm water and then add about 3 drops of a mild dishwashing soap into one of the bowls. Next, dip the corner of a small soft cloth into the soapy water. Use this cloth to rub on and clean your jewelry. If there’s extra grime, use a soft toothbrush to clean the grime off.
- Next, take the cleaned jewelry piece and dip it in the second bowl for rinsing. Dry it off using a dry, soft cloth.
- Polish the jewelry piece using a jewelry polishing cloth. Here is a jewelry polishing cloth available on Amazon, if you do not have one, you really should check this one
Clean with Baking Soda and water
- Mix two parts of baking soda and one-part water in a small bowl to make a paste.
- Next, dip in the paste a soft-bristle toothbrush and scrub the stainless steel jewelry gently then plug in the sink and rinse the jewelry using warm water.
- Pat dry the jewelry piece using a soft towel then polish it using a polishing cloth.
Silica-free toothpaste is a great alternative to the baking soda mixture.
Though stainless steel jewelry is largely non-corrosive, it might get tarnished if exposed to harsh environments and if it’s scratched. Cleaning it well will enhance its appearance over time, while protecting it from extreme environmental conditions will also protect it.