How to Clean Silver Jewelry
Move over gold, silver jewelry is having a moment. So if you’ve been thinking about adding some silver pieces to your collection—or resurrecting old favorites—now is the time. While silver jewelry is equally suited for everyday wear and special occasions, know that over time, it can darken and dull in appearance due to tarnishing (more on the how and why of this below).
Thankfully, there are a few basic steps you can take to remove silver tarnish quickly and easily. Ahead, we’ll share effective ways to clean your silver jewelry using common household products. With proper cleaning, you can restore a bright shine to your favorite silver jewels so that they are always looking their best when you wear them, whether it’s a pair of oversized silver hoops or an intricately carved silver cuff bracelet.
What’s The Difference Between Pure Silver, Sterling Silver, and Silver-Plated Jewelry?
The metal composition of your silver jewelry determines how easily it will develop tarnish and the cleaning method that is best for removing it. Pure silver is just that—100% silver. However, in its purest form, silver is very brittle and therefore must be mixed with another, stronger metal (typically copper, zinc, or nickel) to make it sturdy enough for use for jewelry. This silver alloy is called sterling silver and is the most common type of silver used in jewelry.
To determine if your jewelry is sterling silver, look for a small mark that reads “925,” which indicates that the piece is 92.5% silver and 7.5% another metal. Whenever you wear sterling silver, the exposure can cause it to oxidize and, over time, cause discoloration. Don’t panic—we have loads of care and cleaning tips ahead.
Unlike sterling silver, silver-plated jewelry isn’t made of silver at all. In fact, it’s made of a base metal, such as brass or copper, that is then coated with a layer of sterling silver. Silver-plated jewelry isn’t durable and will scratch and tarnish easily. Because of that thin coating, it's important to use a gentle cleaning method (like mild soap and water) to avoid damaging the jewel’s surface.
Why Does Silver Jewelry Tarnish?
Chemically and technically speaking, silver tarnish is silver sulfide, a compound that occurs when silver
is exposed to oxygen and sulfur particles in the air. The tarnish may start with a dull yellow or green color, eventually manifesting as a black residue on the metal.
Silver jewelry tarnishes faster in areas with high humidity and air pollution. The chemicals present in makeup, lotions, sunscreen, hand soaps and sanitizers, deodorant, detergents, and even body sweat can likewise accelerate the tarnishing process.
How to Prevent Your Silver Jewelry from Tarnishing
While you can’t prevent tarnish from developing on your silver jewelry, you can slow down the process by following these care and storage tips:
- Remove sterling silver jewelry before applying makeup, hairspray, or perfume. Better yet, sterling silver jewelry should be the last thing you put on before leaving the house (and the first thing removed when returning home).
- Take off your silver jewelry before bathing or swimming in pools, hot tubs, the ocean, or other bodies of water.
- Remove silver jewelry before washing hands, doing household chores, gardening, sunbathing, or exercising.
- Use a soft, lint-free, or microfiber cloth to gently wipe your silver jewelry before and after you wear it.
- Don’t use abrasive products to clean your silver jewelry. Cleaning products containing strong chemicals such as bleach can damage and discolor silver jewelry.
- Store your silver jewelry in a cloth pouch, airtight plastic container, or plastic zip-locked bag. Placing a slip of anti-tarnish paper inside the bag alongside your jewelry can help further delay the effects of tarnishing. A piece of chalk, a packet of activated charcoal, or a container of silica gel in the storage area may also do the trick in a pinch.
- Store in a cool, dry place.
- Wear your silver jewelry often! The natural oils in your skin improve its shine.
How to Clean Your Silver Jewelry at Home
Learning to properly care for your sterling silver jewelry is essential for keeping it lustrous and tarnish-free. You can easily remove tarnishes from your pieces using a few common household items.
How to Clean Silver Jewelry with Soap and Water
For a tried-and-true, quick-and-easy DIY cleaning solution, all you need is warm water, mild dish soap, a toothbrush, and a microfiber cloth. (And if you have silver-plated jewelry or a fine silver jewelry set with diamonds or gemstones, this is generally considered the safest cleaning option.)
- Fill a bowl with water and mix in a few drops of dish soap.
- Place silver jewelry in the suds mixture and let soak for up to five minutes.
- Use a toothbrush to clean any nooks and crannies.
- Rinse under cold water, then dry it with a soft, clean cloth.
How to Clean Silver Jewelry with Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil
For heavily tarnished silver jewelry—especially silver chains—this method creates a chemical reaction by having the silver sulfide (i.e., tarnish) interact with aluminum. In effect, the sulfur atoms from the tarnish are transferred to the aluminum. This could be a fun one to try with kids!
- Boil some water.
- Line a bowl with aluminum foil, shiny side up.
- Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda per cup of water in the bowl; let it bubble.
- Place silver jewelry on top of the aluminum liner in the bowl of bubbling water.
- Soak for two to five minutes (or up to 10 minutes if needed).
- Remove the jewelry with a spoon or pair of tongs; rinse under cold water.
- Dry with a soft, clean cloth.
How to Clean Silver Jewelry with Windex® and Hydrogen Peroxide
If the tarnish on your silver jewelry is pretty gnarly, there’s probably a bacteria situation lurking there— hydrogen peroxide is the ticket to removing it. Meanwhile, the powerful cleaning agents in Windex® will tackle the dirt and build-up.
- Combine half a cup of Windex® and half a cup of hydrogen peroxide in a bowl.
- Soak your silver jewelry for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Brush off any residue with a toothbrush.
- Rinse silver jewelry under cold water.
- Dry with a soft, clean cloth.
When to Use a Commercial Silver Cleaner
If you’re not the DIY type, there are plenty of ready-made silver jewelry cleaners on the market to help you tackle the task.
Be sure to carefully review the product’s instructions prior to use and follow them to the letter!
Warning: Do not use commercial silver cleaners on gemstone pieces, as they may damage the stones. Consult your local jeweler to be sure.
When to Leave Silver Jewelry Cleaning to a Pro
For special keepsakes or high-value silver jewelry, you might feel more comfortable entrusting the task to an expert. Luckily, many jewelry stores offer cleaning services with professional-grade products. In fact, when you go this route, the results can be remarkable—so shiny, it’s almost like having a brand-new piece!
While routine cleaning and maintenance are crucial for maintaining the appearance of your silver jewelry, they won’t be completely protected from damage. Obtaining personal jewelry insurance through Jewelers Mutual is an affordable option and covers loss, damage, and mysterious disappearances. You can receive a jewelry insurance quote in just 30 seconds by clicking the button below.