Earrings, even the more expensive ones made of 925 sterling silver, can be an interesting lot – one day they are all shiny and sparkly, the next moment, and without notice, they change color, taking on the colors grey and black.
These changes in color and the staining of your skin can be disheartening and also quite embarrassing. But most of the time, the discoloration and the change in color is a temporary event, and you can easily restore the jewelry to its original glory by cleaning it. Yes, it can be that simple.
All you need to do is to know how to actually clean your earrings after they’ve turned black. We’ll show you how in this article. But first, what causes the color change?
Why do some of your earrings turn black?
1. Tarnishing or oxidation.
This is the natural process that jewelry goes through. It is a chemical process that takes place when certain metals like silver come in contact with other metals or compounds like hydrogen sulfide in the air or even oxygen.
When this reaction takes place, the result is an oxide or sulfide, which is deposited as the black specks seen in jewelry.
Tarnishing is quite common with sterling silver jewelry because this metal is not inert, and in the right conditions, the sterling silver reacts with compounds and chemicals in the air, or the chemicals on your skin, causing the reaction and the subsequent color change in your jewelry.
So, what are the main causes of tarnishing?
- Moisture– the moisture in the air and on your skin could react with the copper that is present in sterling silver (sterling silver is made of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper), a reaction whose results manifest as a form of discoloration. This is why you are asked to remove your earrings and all other kinds of jewelry before you shower, swim, or work out.
- Cosmetics– your lotions, hairsprays, perfumes, and even makeup contain chemical compounds that are actually harder than the metallic components of the jewelry, and when these interact, your jewelry suffers, and the damage appears as tarnishing.
- Sulfur– silver reacts strongly with sulfur, producing the tarnish silver sulfide. Sulfur content tends to be high in some environments, especially in heavily polluted areas, which is why you’re advised against wearing your jewelry in heavily polluted areas. You also need to be extra careful when you’re handling foods that contain sulfur like eggs, onions, or fish
2. Body chemistry
Have you noticed that some people will have a reaction to a certain kind of jewelry, but others will not have the same impact on the same kind of jewelry?
Well, it all has to do with body chemistry and the fact that somebody types react with silver and other metals more strongly and quickly than others.
Unfortunately, this is one of those things that none of us has real control over.
How to clean earrings that turned black
Jewelry that has turned black is most certainly made of sterling silver. So, how do you clean such jewelry, making sure that the earrings retain their stunning shine after just one cleaning session?
To answer this, it’s important to know what sterling silver is and why jewelry made of this metal alloy will turn black after some time.
Essentially, sterling silver is made of 7.5% pure copper and 92.5%pure silver. This alloy is stronger and more durable than pure 99.9% silver, but it also increases the risk of this metal tarnishing.
Besides silver reacting with sulfur in the air or your hands, copper present in sterling silver is the biggest cause of tarnishing in sterling silver jewelry.
Note that you can tell that the jewelry you have is authentic sterling silver or plated sterling silver by checking the markings.
Most of the time, genuine sterling silver has the 925 sterling silver stamp. Without this stamp, it’s likely that the jewelry is only silver-plated.
The good news is that the layer of tarnish is removable, just by cleaning. So how do you clean your earrings after they’ve turned black?
1. Clean the earrings regularly – Dish soap and warm water
This is a protective strategy. While you may be tempted to keep away the earrings after wearing them because they don’t appear dirty, you should not fall for this temptation.
So, whenever you can, wash your earrings in warm water and mild soap, then dry them using a soft, lint-free cloth before storage.
2. Baking soda paste
A paste made out of baking soda has been shown to be the very best way of cleaning your tarnished sterling silver jewelry.
To make the paste, you’d have to mix two parts baking soda with one part water, then mix to make the paste.
Now, take this paste and mix it on your jewelry. Let it sit for a few minutes, then rub it with a cloth or brush gently using a soft-bristled brush.
Once you’re satisfied, rinse and pat/ dab dry it using a soft cloth or even a microfiber towel. Then store the earrings in an airtight jewelry box.
3. Vinegar and baking soda
If the earrings are heavily tarnished, and you know that you will need extra help or power to clean the earrings, you may want to make a stronger, more effective paste out of baking soda and vinegar.
Mix about ½ a cup of white vinegar with two tablespoons of baking soda in a bowl. Put your sterling silver earrings in this bowl and let them sit for up to 3 hours.
All the tarnish should be gone by then. But just to be sure, you may want to run a soft-bristled brush over them, especially around the spots that are hard to reach.
Next, rinse the earrings, dry them using a soft and clean microfiber cloth, then polish the earrings.
4. Olive oil and lemon mix
Make a solution out of a mixture of ½ a cup of lemon juice with one teaspoon of olive oil. Mix the two, then dip a clean cloth into the solution.
Let it sit for a few minutes, then rub on your silver earrings until you notice their original enticing shine. You could rub it using a small piece of cloth or a soft-bristled toothbrush.
Once satisfied, rinse your earrings using clean, warm water, then pat them dry, and put them in storage in an airtight jewelry box or pouch.
Don’t air-dry your sterling silver earrings because the water will leave annoying spots that have to be polished away. So, use a lint-free cloth instead and polish the earrings in the direction of the grains of silver.
Finally, storing your jewelry away will not prevent tarnishing. And the best way for you to keep your silver jewelry looking great is by wearing the jewelry.
It’s quite possible that the natural oils on your skin will provide a protective barrier from moisture. Just don’t skimp on the light cleaning with water and soap; it goes a long way in preventing the buildup of tarnish.
Earrings that turn black are often made of sterling silver, and the black layer of tarnish is from silver sulfide and/or copper oxide.
Follow the simple cleaning tips above to keep off the tarnish.
Stephanie is a jewelry lover when she was a teenager. Her major was fashion design when she was in college. She is a jewelry designer at SOQ Jewelry and other design companies. Now she is also a writer for our website. She writes a lot of designs&brands posts with very actionable tips.