Sterling silver is a beautiful precious metal that is a favorite for many. However, without proper care, sterling silver can tarnish over time.
Silver in its purest form does not tarnish. But pure silver is very brittle and can't be used for jewelry alone. Because of this, 7.5% of the material is copper, which produces a stable alloy. It is also known as .925 sterling silver.
When you wear your sterling silver jewelry, the copper constantly oxidizes, causing discoloration. With a bit of cleaning and maintenance, tarnish can be reversed.
What Is Tarnish?
Tarnish is a thin layer of corrosion that forms on the surface of silver products. The most common type of tarnish is silver sulfide, which is black in appearance.
Tarnish does not happen on pure silver. When silver comes into contact with hydrogen sulfide or other sulfur-containing compounds, like sterling silver alloy metals, the surface will tarnish over time.
Sterling silver is prone to tarnish because of the copper in its makeup, which reacts with sulfur and oxygen to form unsightly discoloration.
In addition, sterling silver jewelry is often made with intricate designs that provide nooks and crannies for tarnish to accumulate. Tarnish can also be accelerated by cold or warm water and humidity, so storing sterling silver jewelry in a dry place is essential.
Tarnish vs. Rust
Tarnish and rust are both forms of corrosion, but they have different causes and appearances.
Tarnish is usually caused by exposure to oxygen, making the metal react with chemicals in the atmosphere. This creates a thin, dark film on the surface of the metal.
Rust is caused by deterioration, chipping away at the metal and causing it to corrode. It is caused by exposure to oxygen and moisture. Rust causes damage to metal, and it becomes weaker and more brittle. As a result, rust is much more than just a cosmetic issue. Rust can also be dangerous should it get into your blood system through a cut or scrape.
Copper does not rust, so its presence in sterling silver keeps the metal from rusting.
Sterling Silver Tarnish FAQs
Here are some of the frequently asked questions about sterling silver.
Why does sterling silver tarnish?
The primary metal in sterling silver is silver. However, pure silver is too soft to be used in jewelry making; combining it with copper stabilizes it.
This gives sterling silver the strength to be used in delicate pieces like earrings and necklaces.
Unfortunately, the added copper can easily react with the salt and sulfur in the air, causing sterling silver to tarnish.
The tarnishing might also be caused by the metal reacting with your body's chemicals. Either way, it isn't pleasant. Luckily, regular cleaning will help remove the tarnish and keep your sterling silver looking new.
What causes sterling silver to tarnish?
Moisture, sunlight, and sweat can all contribute to heavy tarnish. When these elements come into contact with silver, they cause a chemical reaction that forms a thin layer of silver sulfide on the surface of the metal.
This process is perfectly natural and happens over time. In the same case, you might have noticed your finger turns green when you wear your favorite ring.
As mentioned, pure silver does not tarnish. Copper in the alloy metal causes tarnish. When the copper oxidizes, it turns green. (This is why the Statue of Liberty is green!)
So, if your skin is turning green, it's the copper in the metal reacting with your body. However, you can keep your sterling silver jewelry looking new for years with a bit of care and attention!
How long does it take for sterling silver to tarnish?
The rate at which sterling silver tarnishes depends on several factors, including:
- The quality
- How it is cared for
- The type of jewelry
In addition, the environment and usage can also play a significant role. For example, if the jewelry is constantly exposed to water or other chemicals, like white vinegar, it will quickly tarnish.
Likewise, if it is not cleaned and stored correctly, it will tarnish more quickly. However, with proper care, sterling silver jewelry can last for many years before it needs to be cleaned and polished.
Helpful Tips To Keep Your Sterling Silver From Tarnishing
Below are some recommendations to prevent your sterling silver from tarnishing.
Always Keep Your Jewelry Away From Moisture
Moisture includes water, sweat, and even humidity. Store your sterling silver jewelry in a cool, dry place. An airtight bag or container will help to keep the jewelry from tarnishing.
Store All Your Sterling Silver Jewelry Properly
When you are not wearing your sterling silver jewelry, store it in jewelry boxes or pouches. This will help to keep the jewelry from being scratched or damaged.
Throwing your jewelry on your dresser or side drawer is asking for trouble! So, instead, store them away in a safe place.
Avoid Touching Harsh Chemicals While Wearing Your Sterling Silver
Harsh chemicals like hairspray can cause sterling silver to tarnish. If you must touch these chemicals, remove your jewelry first.
Before Storing Sterling Silver Jewelry, Clean It and Polish It Thoroughly
Use a soft, lint-free cloth to clean your sterling silver jewelry. In addition to removing tarnish from silver, some mild silver polish can also restore the shine of jewelry.
Clean It When You See the First Signs of Tarnish
Don't wait until your sterling silver jewelry is severely tarnished. Instead, clean it as soon as you see the first signs of tarnish. This will help to keep the jewelry looking new. Years of tarnish build-up can be difficult to remove.
When cleaning your sterling silver jewelry, use a soft, lint-free cloth. Avoid using abrasive cleaners, as these can damage the jewelry.
Wear It Regularly but Remember the "Last to Put On, First to Take Off" Policy
Wearing your sterling silver jewelry more often will help to keep it from tarnishing. But remember to take it off before swimming or showering. Also, apply makeup and perfume before putting on your jewelry.
Makeup and chemicals used to treat water in swimming pools can cause the sterling silver to tarnish.
Cleaning Tarnish Off Your Sterling Silver Jewelry
Cleaning tarnishes off your sterling silver jewelry is generally an easy task. You can use either of the following items:
- Polishing cloth
- DIY gentle jewelry solution
- Jewelry cleaning machine
A polishing cloth works as a preventive measure. Throughout the day, your jewelry will inevitably collect dirt, chemicals, and other materials that can cause it to tarnish.
A polishing cloth can help remove these materials quickly and easily, limiting the amount of tarnishing. Over time, you will find that you won't have to take your jewelry for a significant cleaning.
DIY Gentle Jewelry Solution
The chemicals in many commercial cleaners can strip away the patina that gives sterling silver its characteristic luster. Over time, this can damage the metal and make it more susceptible to tarnishing.
A simple DIY cleaning solution like baking soda, toothpaste, and dishwashing soap is all. However, avoid dishwashing soap with ammonia and phosphate as these tend to be abrasive.
Jewelry Cleaning Machine
An ultrasonic cleaner is a machine that uses high-frequency sound waves to clean jewelry. The sound waves create tiny bubbles that scrub the jewelry and remove dirt and grime.
Ultrasonic cleaners are safe for cleaning sterling silver, as the sound waves will not damage the metal. In addition, the cleaners are gentle on delicate stones and can even help restore shine to dull jewelry.
Jewelers and home users alike can appreciate the convenience and effectiveness of ultrasonic cleaners in keeping their jewelry looking its best.
Rhodium Plated Sterling Silver
Rhodium-plated sterling silver is one of the best choices for jewelry because it is so durable and has a beautiful finish.
Secondly, Rhodium is a very strong metal, so it will protect the sterling silver from wear and tear. It also has a high shine, making your jewelry stand out.
Finally, Rhodium plating is also not susceptible to tarnishing, so you can be sure that your jewelry will always look its best.
High-Quality Sterling Silver Jewelry
High-quality sterling silver jewelry can last a lifetime if properly cared for. Although it may tarnish over time, regular cleaning and polishing will help keep your jewelry like new.
Simple regular cleaning with a soft cloth and mild soap will keep your sterling silver shining. The best way to store your sterling silver jewelry is in an airtight container lined with a soft material such as cotton balls or a jewelry polishing cloth to help prevent scratching.
At Lexie Jordan, we have a wide range of beautiful sterling silver jewelry for every occasion. So, whether you're looking for something simple or something more stunning, we have the perfect piece of jewelry for you!