Caring for Silver Jewelry
I get asked all the time how to keep silver jewelry bright and shiny and tarnish free. The best way, is to wear it often. The natural oils in your skin help to keep silver from oxidizing, or tarnishing. However, there are times when you shouldn't wear your jewelry and there are times when you need to properly store it.
Although you love your jewelry and want to wear it as much as possible, there are times when you should remove it:
- Going to bed - Jewelry is much more likely to be damaged while your are sleeping. This is especially true for chains, which can easily stretch or break, and prongs holding stones in placed can get caught or bed linens and be pulled open. Also more delicate earrings can be easily bent when you toss and turn at night.
- Entering swimming pools, hot tubs, saunas and the like - The chemical used in pools and especially hot tubs, will turn silver black, in some cases, almost immediately. Also, these chemical can also be especially damaging to gemstones. This also applies to using cleaning products around the house. Put on gloves to protect your rings and bracelets from harsh chemicals, or remove your jewelry first.
- Heading to the beach - Sand can be tough on both metal and gemstones. Sunscreens can also make your fingers slippery and you are more likely to loose your jewelry when in the water.
- Hand washing and showering - I have lost more than one ring and earring down the drain. And on the topic of water, if the water in your home is higher in chlorine or fluoride (common in city water), or high in sulfur or iron (common in well water), your silver jewelry is likely to oxidize more quickly. So the less it is in contact with water, the better.
- Gardening or using any hand tools - This helps to cut down on the wear and tear of your jewelry, especially rings. While gloves can help prevent scratching metals and stones, rings are still susceptible to bending, or having prongs break.
- Exercising - Excessive sweating can contribute to tarnish. Also lifting weights can bend ring bands.
Always put on your jewelry AFTER you have applied your skin care products, makeup, sunscreen, perfume, and hair products. Some of the chemical compounds in these products can speed up the oxidation process that ultimately turns silver black. They can also be damaging to certain gemstones like pearls, opals, and turquoise. Also, product can get trapped under gemstones and in the decorative details in your jewelry, causing bacterial growth, which beyond the obvious grossness, can also cause skin irritation or infection.
So what should you do then to keep your jewelry safe and free from oxidation?
- First of all, when you remove your jewelry, store it somewhere safe. Keep a ring dish by the kitchen sink and in the bathroom to put your jewelry in temporarily while cleaning or washing. Then make sure your hands are dry before putting on any rings again.
- Do not store your jewelry in your bathroom long term. The humidity in bathrooms is notorious for accelerating the oxidation of silver.
- Do invest in a jewelry storage solution. This will help you keep your jewelry safe, and scratch free, and organized. There's nothing worse than pulling out a mess of tangled necklaces or not being able to find that second earring easily. Your jewelry is less likely to get damaged when it is stored properly and with care.
- Do not store silver jewelry that you don't wear often out in the open. The best way is to store it long term in small plastic ziploc bags. I hate to advocate for using more plastic, but this really does help keep your silver bright and shiny for longer periods of time. You can also invest in anti-tarnish strips to put in the bag or box, along with your jewelry. These tabs will not remove any oxidation, but will help prevent it. You can find them on Amazon or Etsy.
- Gently wipe your jewelry with a soft cloth before your store it to remove any surface dirt or oils.
What do to if your silver jewelry is already oxidized?
- For light oxidation, use some warm water and mild dish soap (Dawn is highly recommended) with a soft brush, like a baby tooth brush to gently remove dirt, oils, and oxidation. Then dry well with a soft cloth before wearing or storing. If your water is very hard, as is the case with some city water and well water, use distilled water instead of tap water.
- Invest in a soft jewelry polishing cloth. You can pick these up from most jewelry stores and they are relatively inexpensive. These are great for removing heavier oxidation. These clothes work best for cleaning jewelry with pearls and delicate stones like opals and turquoise.
- For really heavy oxidation, when the silver is a dark brown or black, you can try the polishing cloth first, but if that doesn't work, then line a Pyrex dish with aluminum foil and carefully lay your tarnished jewelry on the foil. Then add boiling water and baking soda to the dish (about 1 tablespoon of baking soda for each cup of boiling water). This creates a reaction that moves the oxidation from the silver to the aluminum foil. After 10 minutes, remove your jewelry and dry with a soft cloth.
NOTE: This technique is not recommended for jewelry that contains delicate gems, such as pearl, opals, and turquoise. If you are unsure about your gems, do not try this. If you are in doubt, then take your jewelry to a professional jeweler for cleaning.
Regardless of whether your jewelry is expensive, sentimental, or both, you want to have it around for a long time. Take care and treat it well, and you will be able to enjoy it for many years to come.