When it comes to cleaning jewelry, silver can be one of the most labor intensive yet also misunderstood materials out there. Most silver jewelry is actually sterling silver, which is an alloy of 92.5% (by mass) pure silver and 7.5% of another metal, generally copper. Some shoppers think that silver will automatically react and oxidize (or blacken) when exposed to simple elements like air (oxygen) or water, but that is not wholly the truth.
There are actually a couple of likely culprits responsible for any oxidization of your sterling silver jewelry. The first is garden variety smog and pollution, which causes the silver to react with sulfur particles in the air and produce the black coating of silver sulfide on silver jewelry. The second factor is the alloying material used – while silver may not react with oxygen, other elements commonly used in the sterling silver alloy (like copper) do react with oxygen.
In more recent years, a sterling silver alloy called Argentium silver has gained prominence as a high quality contemporary jewelry material thanks to its increased tarnish resistance. Argentium silver employs a portion of the metalloid germanium in its alloying materials, which bolsters tarnish resistance as well as overall durability. Argentium silver is without question lower maintenance than ordinary sterling silver.
Regardless of what the exact alloy of your sterling silver is, the beauty and affordability of silver jewelry far outweighs the small amount of additional cleaning that it might require. Here is how to clean silver jewelry at home.
Tools of the trade
No matter what material your jewelry is, you should always have a few tried and true cleaning items on hand. Most important are soft cloths for applying cleansing solutions and patting jewelry dry with; rags made from ripped up t-shirts purchased in bulk are perfect. An old toothbrush is great for getting into small crevices, intricate designs and cleaning around gemstones. Baking soda and mild dish soap can also be used in a number of basic homemade solutions (more on this in a minute). Finally, for polished silver jewelry that could benefit from a post-cleaning buff, a super soft chamois cloth is good to have on hand.
Silver cleaning solutions
Many silver jewelry owners swear by using basic toothpaste as a silver cleaner. Simply apply the toothpaste to your silver jewelry with a toothbrush or soft cloth, allow it to set in for a couple of minutes, and then rinse or wipe away with a damp cloth. A paste of baking soda and water can be applied and wiped away similarly. If your silver jewelry is excessively dirty, try to remove an initial layer of grime away first with a basic solution of mild dish soap diluted with warm water.
If you prefer something that is ready made, you can also purchase a silver specific cleaning solution or paste at a local drugstore. Just make sure to follow the instructions carefully, especially if the solution requires rinsing after application. Whether using homemade or store-bought solutions, take care if your silver jewelry includes gemstones or an inlay, as your method of cleaning may damage the stone or design if not properly applied.
An ounce of prevention
Finally, don’t forget to treat your silver jewelry with a little regard and care. Like most items of jewelry, silver should not be worn in the shower, and especially not in the highly chlorinated water found in swimming pools or hot tubs. Avoid having your silver jewelry come into contact with any harsh chemicals or household cleaners, and try to take off your silver jewelry if you know that you’re going to engage in any physically exerting activity.