Silver is a soft metal that requires ongoing cleaning to maintain its original luster, and proper storage to prevent scratches. Any jewelry or other item made with silver will change color over time due to a natural oxidation process with sulfides in the air. This can cause items to turn yellow, and then eventually darken to black over time.
There are several easy tricks of the trade that professional jewelers have developed to maintain the beauty of silver jewelry.
Proper Sterling Silver Storage
While it’s tempting to wear a favorite piece all the time, you should always remove your jewelry before using any type of product with chemicals or abrasives such as chlorine, bleach, ammonia, alcohol, turpentine or acetone. That includes finger nail polish, dish detergent, makeup, and even hair spray! Many of these products can permanently damage the silver as well as gemstones.
Dampness, air, and light can cause a piece to tarnish so the optimal method for storing sterling silver jewelry is in an airtight non-reactive container such as a box lined with special non-tarnish material or Mylar or polyethylene bag. Each piece of jewelry should be placed in its own bag so it does not rub up against anything which could potentially cause scratches, kinks in chains, or the damage of a gemstone.
Never place your sterling jewelry on wood surfaces as most wood contains acids which can damage the finish. Card board and paper can also speed up the tarnishing process.
Cleaning Your Silver Jewelry
The more often you clean each piece the easier it is, and the less wear and tear on your jewelry, because the tarnish is minimal which allows for safer cleaning methods.
Silver is a soft metal that can be scratched so be careful to rub gently when cleaning. Never use anything but a clean nub free cotton or flannel cloth, a special sterling silver cleaning cloth, or a very soft bristle brush like a baby’s toothbrush or a horsehair silver brush.
To remove light dirt, fingerprints or makeup just use a couple drops of mild liquid detergent (such as baby shampoo or Woolite) in a cup of warm water and rinse thoroughly with clean fresh water. Dry it completely and lightly buff with a cotton cloth. Always use a lengthwise motion when washing or drying your jewelry, as a circular motion often causes scratching.
The safest method for removing tarnish is to use a treated silver buffing cloth, but there are a number of silver spray polish or pastes that can work well for heavy cleanings if there is a large tarnish build up. To achieve the best results apply the spray or paste on the cloth and work into lather with your hand first. Tarnish in hard to reach areas can be left on to create an antique look and add definition to the jewelry. If you prefer to clean the entire piece you can have it professionally done, or use a soft bristle brush.
Sterling silver dips can be fast and easy but are not recommended by professional silversmiths and jewelers. If using a silver dip it is better to insert the item and remove it quickly, repeating after rinsing with water, rather than leaving the item in the dip for long periods of time. Follow up by buffing with a soft cotton cloth. If you leave the piece in too long, or don't rinse it well enough with fresh water, a white residue will be left which can be difficult to remove.
Should you purchase a cleaner or dip, ensure that the product is designed for the type of jewelry item you want to clean. Dipping is not recommended for liquid silver or silver items with gemstones, and even paste or spray cleaners remove the natural luster of stones so be sure to remove any trace of cleaner residue and rinse each item thoroughly with clean water.
Additional Jewelry Cleaning Tips
Baking soda is often mentioned a cleaner but some jewelers claim that this method is to abrasive. If you wish to avoid using chemicals and want to try baking soda you should always test a small part of your silver jewelry piece first to see if leaves any noticeable marks. To use baking soda, lightly the item with clean water, the pour baking soda over the jewelry and rub gently with your fingers. Once the tarnish is removed, rinse with more clean water and dry with an all cotton cloth.
If your jewelry has been coated with a lacquer shield (to slow the tarnishing process) you should clean the item only after all of the lacquer has completely worn off. Cleaning agents can reach underneath the lacquer causing residue spotting.
Professional jewelers recommend cleaning your sterling silver jewelry as often as once per month, with a yearly professional cleaning for luxury and heirloom pieces. Cleaning gives you the chance to also check for loose stones or parts. Always have your jewelry repaired right away to prevent further damage.
Understanding the proper methods for storing and cleaning sterling silver jewelry is essential to the life of each piece.