How to Clean Silver Jewelry

Let’s start with a few tips for polishing your silver, if it just needs a quick touch up.

The following sections will also provide reviews of the methods as well, to help you prevent needless damage. included in these are methods of polishing silver naturally.

How to Polish Silver Jewelry

Does your silver look moderately tarnished? As if it had spent the last few millennia in a black lagoon? In that case, it likely just requires a bit of polishing. Here are the steps. 

First, make sure you have a very soft cloth, with the least amount of abrasiveness possible. Silver is one of the softer metals, so it scratches quite easily. 

950 silver is ultra super-secret soft. 925 silver is slightly less soft, because a higher percentage of its makeup is of a sturdier ore. 

Never use napkins or paper towels to polish your silver. These will cause scratches!

When you begin to polish, use a bit of finesse. Don’t rub all the silver out of the silver. Our pieces are solid sterling silver, not plated. But rubbing silver plated pieces too intensely can actually wear down the surface. It’s best not to go with plated silver to begin with, but if it happens to be the case that you have some, just be forewarned! If you need a refresher, here’s more information about what is sterling silver and how it differs from pure silver.

As you polish, follow the grain from one side to the other. Try to avoid rubbing in the same place too much. It helps to take a look at your cloth every few moments to see how much tarnish you’re taking off. Do a little dance to celebrate your progress! If your cloth is starting to gather lots of tarnish, you’ll want to make sure you’re using a clean part of the cloth or a new cloth altogether. If you use the same part of the cloth too much, you’ll just be reapplying the tarnish to your silver. Hard to get to spots can be cleared up with a q-tip. Make sure you’re avoiding any parts that may be oxidized on purpose to stand out! 

Don’t let anyone sell you a special silver cleaner for $89.99 on an info-mercial! You probably have all the supplies you need already at home. 

How to Make Homemade Silver Cleaner

Before you try using chemicals, see if soap and water works. Be sure to use a soap that does not contain ammonia or phosphate. Each of these could be damaging.  

Also, please be sure to read to the end of this section at least, because there are a few very important DON’Ts when using these home cleaning solutions.

Toothpaste and Water. This is one of the easiest methods available. You simply fill a bowl with water, grab a stick of toothpaste and squirt some out onto the silver that needs cleaning. Now, moisturize the toothpaste by adding water. Mix it up a bit, so that it turns into more of a paste. Rub the paste using a soft toothbrush or another form of small brush. If the jewelry piece has a few hard-to-reach niches, you can also use cotton swabs. Rinse in clean water. Now, most of the oxidation should be removed! 

Evaluation: Good! While this method does work, a grainier type of toothpaste can cause damage to some silver pieces. Make sure the toothpaste you use for this is discolored and has no whitening, tartar control or baking soda. These days, lots of toothpastes on the shelves will have some sort of additive that will be bad for your silver. So, be cautious! If you’re unable to find one that will work, there are other methods you can use for cleaning. Also, watch out when using toothpaste with silver pieces that have parts that are intentionally oxidized! Use a smaller brush or a q-tip if your jewelry has any of these pieces and also to make sure you’re getting to the hard-to-reach areas.  

Baking Soda and Water. First, a fair warning. Don’t use baking soda with gemstones because it could damage them! So, be sure to set aside any pieces with gemstones before proceeding. Take out a pan and stretch out a piece of tinfoil at the bottom of it. Then, pour some baking soda into the pan. Add water to make a paste, then use a soft toothbrush or cloth to apply the baking soda to the silver to rub out the tarnishes. Use warm water to wash the silver and rinse, and then dry it.   

Use Baking Soda and White Vinegar. Put some white vinegar in a cup and mix in a tablespoon of baking soda for over an hour, with occasional checks to see how it’s doing. Afterwards, rinse and wipe the silver down. It seems a bit like cheating. But with this method, you can avoid having to use some of your own elbow grease.

Olive oil and lemon juice: Mix 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1 tsp. olive oil in a bowl large enough to hold the cleaning solution and a small microfiber cloth. Dip the cloth in the solution and wring it out so that it doesn’t drip, then polish the silver, rinse, and dry.

Baking soda, salt, aluminum foil, and boiling water: You can take advantage of a simple chemical reaction to clean your silver: all you’ll need is some baking soda, salt, and aluminum foil. Line a glass roasting pan or the kitchen sink with aluminum foil, dull side facing down. Place the silver pieces on top of the aluminum foil. Then pour boiling water over the pieces until they are covered and add 2 tbsp. each of baking soda and salt. Stir the solution to allow the baking soda to dissolve — you don’t want any granules scratching the metal.

The reaction causes the tarnish to transfer to the foil, and in about 5-10 minutes you’ll see the tarnish “magically” disappear from the jewelry. (Be prepared for the smell of rotten eggs, though, as the sulfide tarnish comes off the silver.) Using salad tongs or nitrile gloves (not rubber gloves, which contain sulfur), remove the silver jewelry from the hot water or drain into a colander. Rinse the jewelry with water, then dry and buff with a soft cloth. Voila! Your silver should be sparkling clean and ready to keep you looking fabulous.

Combination: If your pieces have very stubborn tarnish, you can use these treatments in succession to get them looking shiny again.

It should be noted, however, that silver cleaners are not for all types of silver jewelry. You should not, for instance, ever immerse jewelry adorned with pearls or opaque gemstones (e.g. turquoise, opal, carnelian, onyx), as this could seriously damage these softer stones. (Give these pieces a very brief rinse if they become too dirty.)

Even for jewelry with clear gemstones (e.g. blue topaz, amethyst, garnet), take special care when using a silver cleaner: the chemicals could lodge under the gemstone settings or loosen any glue. And remember, do not use silver cleaners on your oxidized jewelry — stick to the polishing cloth instead.

After using any cleaner, be sure to thoroughly rinse your silver with running water or a clean, damp cloth. This is especially important for detailed or etched items, since polish can stick in small crevices and harden. After, dry the pieces with a microfiber cloth to prevent white water spot stains from forming.

A Few Things about Sterling Silver

Knowing a few industry terms will help you understand the physical attributes of your jewelry and how to care for it. The purity of the metal, for instance, determines how malleable the silver is and how quickly it will tarnish:  .950 sterling silver will bend more easily and tarnish more quickly than .925 sterling silver because of its increased purity, so extra caution should be used to take care of .950 silver jewelry.

“Oxidized” is another term used to describe silver. For some works silversmiths intentionally allow parts of the jewelry to darken and oxidize, typically small details, to make them stand out more. This detailing can be lost, though, with excessive cleaning and polishing. So be sure to identify any purposefully oxidized silver bracelets, earrings, rings or necklaces you have and set them aside for separate cleaning

Preventative Care for Sterling Silver

Wear: You can avoid tarnish by wearing your jewelry often. The oils in your skin will “clean” the silver and keep it looking shiny.

Avoid exposure: Contact with household chemicals, perspiration, rubber, chlorinated water, or any substances which contain sulfur (e.g., mayonnaise, eggs, mustard, onions, latex, wool), will cause corrosion and tarnish — so it’s a good idea to remove silver jewelry when doing household chores. Direct sunlight also causes silver to tarnish, so be sure to take off your silver jewelry before you go swimming and sunbathing.

Lotions, cosmetics, hair spray and hair products, and perfumes are also “enemies” of silver and will accelerate tarnishing. There’s a reason generations of women have been getting dressed with jewelry last, as a finishing touch!

Storage: As exposure to air tarnishes it, storing silver in airtight plastic bags with anti-tarnish strips is a great preventative measure. Just make sure you don’t store multiple jewelry pieces in the same bag: silver is a soft metal, so the individual pieces can scratch each other. Link or chain bracelets should be kept unclasped or unhooked to prevent scratching as well. If you can’t use plastic bags, try to make sure that the storage area has low humidity. You can also place a piece of chalk, a packet of activated charcoal, or a container of silica gel in the storage area to minimize tarnish.

Professional Care for Sterling Silver

If your pieces are heavily tarnished and you don’t have the time to clean them, take them to a professional silver cleaner. Very old, fragile, or valuable pieces should also be cleaned by a professional.

What about Commercial Silver Cleaners?

Commercial silver polishes and dips are easy to find and use, but have several serious drawbacks. For one, the vapors from silver polish can cause damage and even be fatal if inhaled in an un-ventilated room. The powerful solvents in commercial silver cleaners may also require special hazardous waste disposal to avoid contaminating groundwater or causing other environmental harm.

As if these health and environmental concerns weren’t enough, commercial silver cleaners can also actually harm your silver by removing the anti-tarnish coating and valuable patina. Even though cleaners might give a temporary shine, the pieces will tarnish much more quickly and have to be cleaned more frequently once you have broken down the surface.

A Fresh Start for your Jewelry

Well-cared-for silver jewelry can give you many years of pleasure and enjoyment and even become family heirlooms. And, of course, silver is valuable. So don’t wait until tarnish has become so bad that you forget about your silver treasures or even get rid of them. Give your jewelry a fresh start today!

Santa Prisca Silver is a wholesale jewelry dealer and custom jewelry manufacturer based in Taxco Mexico. Here’s our jewelry store. Feel free to reach out using the form below if you have questions about our product or processes. We turn designs into reality by manufacturing designs of all types affordably and reliably.

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