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Silver Jewelry SOS: Cleaning, Prevention, and Care

August 8, 2017


The versatility of sterling silver jewelry makes it easy to wear your favorite pieces frequently. While the ability to pair them with numerous ensembles is part of their appeal, frequent wear may contribute to dirt or dullness, so you will need to give your silver accessories a bit of attention to maintain their original luster. Whether your sterling silver jewelry is hammered, etched, or paired with gemstones, you can easily keep the beautiful finish its creator intended . Learn how to clean your silver jewelry below.

Preventing Tarnish and Dulling
Tarnish is a chemical reaction that occurs naturally when sterling silver meets certain particles in the air or in lotions and other products on your skin. Environmental moisture can also contribute to this phenomenon. When you open your jewelry box to find that your once-shining sterling silver rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings are now a dull gray, that’s tarnish at work. To prevent this unwelcome surprise, store your sterling jewelry in a lined jewelry box with a piece of regular chalkboard chalk or a silica gel packet, both of which will absorb some of the moisture in the air.

Try to always gently polish your sterling silver pieces with a cloth before putting them away. Also remember to take off your sterling silver jewelry when cleaning or exercising, as harsh detergents and sweat can accelerate the formation of tarnish. Think of your jewelry as wearable art crafted by an artisan to enhance your style and appearance, and care for it appropriately.

Light Cleaning 
For light dirt buildup, buff your jewelry with a polishing cloth or a slightly damp soft cloth. While the latter method is useful for removing surface debris, note that tarnish is a chemical reaction that cannot be removed with soap and must be polished away. In both instances, resist the urge to reach for paper towels as they contain fibers that can scratch precious metals.

A Stepped-Up Cleaning 
To clean jewelry with more dirt buildup, begin with a mixture of warm water and mild dish detergent. Dip a soft cloth in the mixture and use it to clean your jewelry. Rinse thoroughly with warm, running water, then dry and buff. If your jewelry is designed, etched, or stamped, use a soft bristle toothbrush to very gently clean the nooks, depressions, and corners.

Sterling silver jewelry with pearls or softer gemstones should never be submerged, as this can weaken and dull these materials.

For stubborn tarnish or a deeper cleaning, create a paste with baking soda and water. Apply a small amount to your jewelry and polish, using long back and forth motions. Use a soft bristle toothbrush as described above if needed, then thoroughly rinse with warm, running water, dry, and buff. You may also opt to use a specially-formulated silver wash or polish. Some people find they prefer to allow tarnish that has formed in the deeper crevices of a piece of sterling silver jewelry to remain as it can highlight the detail and texture created by the craftsman.

Cleaning Oxidized Sterling Silver Jewelry
Oxidized sterling silver jewelry has grown in popularity in recent years, offering an alternative to the bright luster of traditional sterling accessories. While oxidized rings, bracelets, and other jewelry benefit from proper cleaning, if you’re using certain cleaning methods you run the risk of buffing away the gorgeous, smoky finish characteristic of this type of sterling silver jewelry. For your oxidized pieces, eschew polishing for careful cleansing with warm (not hot) water mixed with a touch of gentle dishwashing liquid. Place your jewelry into a bowl of the solution, allow to soak for about 10 minutes, and then remove the jewelry and dry it with a clean, soft cloth and a light hand. Rubbing it can remove the oxidation that makes your pieces unique, so it’s best to pat it dry. Store as you would your other silver.

Great skill and creativity went into crafting your sterling silver jewelry, and with a bit of care, you can maintain its original character and beauty.