Yes, sterling silver tarnishes, but with the right care, you can prevent your sterling silver pieces from tarnishing.
In this article, we’ll be sharing insights into everything you need to know about sterling silver, the reason why sterling silver metals tarnish, and how to go around tarnishing when it happens. So, let’s get started.
Why does sterling silver tarnish?
Sterling silver tarnishes in whatever form, whether you are looking at 925 sterling silver or other forms of sterling silver. Well, save for the 99.9% pure silver, which doesn’t tarnish. The tarnishing is a result of the metals that the pure sterling silver is mixed with.
To help gain deeper insights into the tarnishing of sterling silver and why it happens, we’ll start by noting that in as much as pure silver doesn’t tarnish, you won’t find yourself in a situation where you have tarnish-free silver or sterling silver.
Basically, pure silver is extremely soft, and it cannot be crafted into jewelry, and for the silver that is used in jewelry to remain solid and steady, it must be mixed with other metals to make it hard. Jewelers make sterling silver jewelry from 92.5% pure silver and only 7.5% copper (925 sterling silver), hence the solid and durable nature of 925 sterling silver.
Despite adding copper to the sterling silver to make it hard and, really, jewelry, the extra metals added to the sterling silver makes the sterling silver metal susceptible to tarnishing.
The good news is that tarnishing doesn’t have to do with the quality of the silver, and just because the sterling silver tarnishes doesn’t mean that the jewelry is of low purity. But that is not all; the other thing to note is that sterling silver contains a higher percentage of silver, which is why the pieces of jewelry will tarnish much slower than then lower purity sterling silver or silver pieces.
Why then does sterling silver tarnish?
The sterling silver tarnish refers to the discoloration of sterling silver that leaves the sterling silver piece with a black or a yellow tint.
But in as much as the pure silver in the sterling silver doesn’t react or even tarnish at room temperature, the additional copper is the reason for the reaction. Copper reacts with the sulfur and the salt in the air, resulting in that sterling silver rust/ black tarnish. The tarnish is most commonly a silver sulfide tarnish, which is a dense, black solid that results in the tarnishing layer on silver jewelry and silverware.
You could also think of the sterling silver tarnish layer as a thin corrosion metal layer. Corrosion is a chemical oxidation process between a metal and a non-metal.
Depending on the environmental conditions, the sterling silver tarnish could be gray, yellow, black, and dull. The tarnishing is a result of chemical reactions with oxygen, sulfur dioxide, or hydrogen sulfide.
And in contact with cosmetics or detergents, tarnishing takes place even faster. Then you have the salts and chemicals from your sweat that speeds up the rate of tarnishing when you keep the silver jewelry on.
The brighter side of tarnishing sterling silver is that you can slow down the tarnishing process by taking good care of the sterling silver. Also, the silver tarnish, unlike the rust that eats away on metals, only affects sterling silver’s top layers. As a result, the tarnished layer can be removed using a high-quality polishing cloth. Note, however, that the silver-plated jewelry will still tarnish and deteriorate, no matter what happens.
How long does it take for sterling silver to tarnish?
While it’s hard to place specific timelines on exactly how fast the tarnishing takes place, there are several other reasons why the rate of tarnishing on sterling silver would be higher or lower.
For example, coming in contact with harsh chemicals, including beauty products and pool water, would result in faster tarnishing of the sterling silver. Generally, tarnishing on sterling silver may take about two months to as long as 3 years.
That said, some jewelers will incorporate rhodium, platinum, or gold layers to the sterling silver for an extra layer of protection and to ensure that the jewelry doesn’t tarnish at all.
How long does sterling silver jewelry last?
Sterling silver jewelry lasts a really long time. On average, and even when the jewelry is worn all the time, sterling silver jewelry lasts between 20 and 30 years.
However, the sterling silver jewelry will only last this long if you wear it occasionally and store it properly. What this means is that with the best care, the sterling silver jewelry will last forever.
The main reason why sterling silver lasts a long time when taken good care of is that sterling silver is significantly harder than pure and fine silver, which is comparably soft.
You guys can read here for more details: how long does the silver ring last?
How to Keep Sterling Silver Jewelry from Tarnishing
1.Keep it away from harsh solutions.
Salty solutions and harsh chemicals cause corrosion of the sterling silver, which means that you need to keep the sterling silver from such harsh chemicals to keep the tarnishing away.
You also need to keep the sterling silver jewelry from toiletries solutions and other house products. The good news, however, is that you can shower with your sterling silver ring on. But only shower with the ring or earrings on occasionally.
That said, avoid wearing the sterling silver jewelry during activities that leave you sweaty, for example, sports and outdoor chores.
2.Store sterling silver jewelry the right way
The best storage conditions for sterling silver jewelry include keeping the sterling silver away from sunlight. Direct sunlight damages the jewelry by causing extensive damage and scratches.
You should also keep the jewelry away from the wood, especially chemically-treated surfaces, because these chemicals only end up speeding up the tarnishing process.
3.Beware of the effects of your body chemicals.
Some people tend to sweat a lot more, and the sweating could result in faster tarnishing from the reactions between silver and sweat.
That said, keep in mind that some foods and medications make the sweating a lot more pronounced.
4.First to take off, last to put on.
The most important rule when it comes to preventing tarnishing of sterling silver jewelry is to put the jewelry on last and to take it off first.
What this means is that your sterling silver jewelry should go on last, after applying perfume and makeup, and you need to take it off first, before taking a shower or engaging in other outdoor activities.
This rule is important to follow because it means the prevention of all manner of contact between the jewelry and chemicals, salts, or sweat.
5.Take into consideration your work and home environment.
If your work or home environment keeps you in contact with different harsh solutions or chemicals on the regular, it may be a good idea for you to remove the silver jewelry first to protect it.
This means that if you work around perfumes and cosmetics all day, then you might want to keep the jewelry off your work environment.
Also, if you live in a polluted environment, the jewelry could tarnish much faster. This happens because of the high levels of sulfur in the air.
6.Wear it often
The information above might make you feel like that you shouldn’t be wearing your sterling silver jewelry, but the truth is that keeping it away should be the last thing you do.
Essentially, keeping the sterling silver on is the best way for you to take care of that piece of jewelry, and the only thing you need to do is to wipe it off often and take good care of your sterling silver piece.
7.Store the sterling silver jewelry with chalk
Chalk is naturally hygroscopic, which means that it naturally absorbs chemical residues and moisture.
For this level of protection to your sterling silver jewelry, you might want to place a piece of chalk in the jewelry box or the jewelry storage bags.
8.Make use of the anti-tarnish strips.
The anti-tarnish strips will absorb the agents in the air that would result in the tarnishing of sterling silver and for the removal of the toxic materials in the air.
9.Use the silica packs.
The silica packs commonly used in shoe boxes and new shoes, as well as clothing, are helpful and protect against the tarnishing of sterling silver.
The silica packs absorb moisture, and they will also prevent the tarnishing of the silica packs.
10.Make use of the anti-tarnish clothes.
Your sterling silver jewelry often comes with anti-tarnish clothes designed specifically to prevent tarnishing of the sterling silver jewelry.
These anti-tarnish cloths work by absorbing oxygen and sulfur from the air, preventing tarnishing.
Just make sure to use the cloth regularly.
11.Don’t leave the sterling silver jewelry lying around.
Store your sterling silver jewelry appropriately after wearing it, and don’t keep it in the bathroom because the extra humidity would result in even quicker oxidation.
Also, you shouldn’t shower in the hot tub with your sterling silver jewelry; this applies to hot saunas and chlorinated swimming pools.
If you are looking for a temporary solution to managing and handling sterling silver’s tarnishing, a temporary solution like plating might be the best strategy for you.
Some of the metals commonly used to plate sterling silver include rhodium and pure silver.
The applicable plating process is referred to as flashing, which is where a thin layer of metal is added to the sterling silver jewelry.
Unfortunately, the plated coating wears off over time, and you’d have to polish the sterling silver piece jewelry to protect it further from tarnishing.
You may also have to re-plate the sterling silver jewelry later on after the initial plated later wears off.
7 Methods that can remove tarnish from sterling silver jewelry
1.Cleaning the sterling silver tarnish off
The first way of getting rid of the sterling silver tarnish is by cleaning it.
Cleaning the tarnished sterling silver can be done in different ways, and you’ll be happy to note that they are all simple and effective.
Below, we take a look at some of the methods for cleaning sterling silver.
2.Clean it with soap and water
This is the classic procedure for cleaning sterling silver and getting rid of the tarnished layer is by cleaning it with soap and water.
You need to use warm water and gentle dish soap to gently clean the sterling silver ring with no risk of breakage or tarnishing.
Use a small polishing cloth to rub the ring. Also, you shouldn’t soak the ring in water because it may result in rusting. Alternatives to soap and water include:
3.Baking soda and water
Create a paste out of warm water and baking soda, apply the paste over the sterling silver jewelry, then brush it gently using a soft-bristled toothbrush or a soft cloth.
To clean the etched and engraved piece of jewelry, you should apply a very small amount of paste in these areas then thin it out using water. Let the paste sit for a few minutes, then brush over the crevices.
Once done, rinse it under warm water, then pat it dry.
4.White vinegar and baking soda
If your sterling silver ring has a heavy layer of tarnishing or rust, you might want to clean it out using white vinegar and baking soda cleaner.
You will need 2tbsps baking soda and ½ a cup white vinegar, then soak the tarnished area for about 2 or 3 hours before rinsing and drying it.
There will be a significant amount of bubbling, but that just tells you that the cleaner is working.
5.Olive oil plus lemon juice
Combine 1tsp olive oil with ½ a cup of fresh lemon juice, then use a soft cloth.
Dip the soft cloth into the liquid mixture, then wring out the liquid and rub it along the surface of your ring. Once you’re done cleaning, rinse, then dry it.
6.Baking soda, salt, hot water, and aluminum foil
This is the best deep cleaning strategy for sterling silver jewelry. Line your roasting pan with aluminum foil, then place the sterling silver piece on it. T
hen pour in the hot boiling water over the silver and fully cover it with 2tbps of salt and baking soda. Cover then stir the mixture until it all dissolves.
Let it sit for about 10 minutes, then remove salad tongs using gloves. Rinse it out, then dry the piece of jewelry. Just be ready for the rancid smell from cleaning the jewelry.
Note that you shouldn’t use this method if you are dealing with porous and soft gemstones like amber and turquoise, jewelry with oxidized silver finishes, and gems that have been glued in place like pearls.
- Avoid environments that cause corrosion, for example, hairsprays, perfumes, lotions, chlorinated water, household chemicals, rubber, direct sunlight, and substances made with rubber.
- Polish the sterling silver piece if it’s not too tarnished.
Investing in the best sterling silver jewelry is one of the best investments you will make.
While the sterling silver pieces will tarnish, naturally, it shouldn’t stop you.
Using the tips above, you will be able to protect your sterling silver jewelry from tarnishing, making it last much longer.