Silver jewellery is great – it’s versatile, pretty and can be worked with in so many different ways. No one can deny the beauty and brilliance of sterling silver jewellery.

Paired with any outfit, one can easily stand out and never go out of style because of the metal’s timeless charm. Made up of an alloy of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals (usually copper), sterling silver is also one of the most popular choices of material to use for all kinds of jewellery due to its versatility, durability and unique sparkle.

Cleaning Silver Jewellery

Custom-made sterling silver ring, handcrafted in our Kamloops workshop

Sterling Silver Jewellery Maintenance

Despite its beauty, a lot of silver jewellery ends up tucked in people’s drawers and jewellery boxes, hidden away from the light of day.

Why? Because of tarnish. Silver naturally becomes tarnished because of oxygen and other elements, making the jewellery look dirty and discoloured.

Like other precious metals, sterling silver can oxidize (tarnish) over time. Tarnish first appears as a golden hue which quickly turns to black. Fortunately, there are many ways to properly clean and care for your sterling silver jewellery. Read on to find out how you can protect your pieces and enjoy them for many years to come!

Cleaning Silver Jewellery

1. Polishing

Sterling silver tarnishes when exposed to certain elements. When the tarnish is not too severe, simple polishing is typically the best way to clean your jewellery and keep the shine intact. Here are a few notes to remember about polishing:

  • Keep in mind not to use anything other than a special polishing cloth or a lint-free microfiber cloth as sterling silver is a soft metal that can easily be scratched.
  • Frequently rotate to a new section of the cloth and avoid areas that were intentionally oxidized (darkened) for aesthetic purposes.
  • Never rub vigorously – instead, use soft back-and-forth motions that follow the grain of the silver.

2. Commercial Silver Cleaners

Chemical dips and commercial silver cleaners are easy to find and readily available in the market. They work by removing tarnish at an accelerated rate, yet are prone to leaving a dull, lifeless appearance to sterling silver jewellery in the long run. Do take note that although they are excellent at cleaning silver and work fast to provide shine, the effects are temporary and you might want to also consider the dangerous health and environmental concerns posed by the harsh solvents in most cleaners.

3. Homemade Silver Cleaners

Natural products can be just as effective as commercially-prepared silver cleaners. You might find most of the ingredients listed below obtainable already from your kitchen.

  • White vinegar + baking soda: Place ½ cup white vinegar and 2 tablespoons baking soda in a clean container. Soak your tarnished sterling silver piece for 2 to 3 hours. Rinse and dry after. Voila! Instant shine. This recipe is good for stubborn tarnishes that prevent you from efficiently polishing your silver.
  • Aluminum Foil Technique: The principle behind this is known as galvanic reduction in which the tarnish in your sterling silver piece (silver sulfide) is converted back to silver once it comes into contact with aluminum in a solution. You will need:
    • aluminum foil (or an aluminum plate);
    • a ceramic or other non-heat-sensitive bowl or pan;
    • sodium bicarbonate (baking soda);
    • boiling water
    Place the aluminum in the bottom of the bowl with baking soda distributed on the aluminum surface. Next, place your tarnished sterling silver jewellery and pour boiling water over until it is immersed. Remove the jewellery after 5 to 10 minutes. Then wash and dry with a soft cloth. You will find it good as new! The only drawback to this technique is that factory-applied patinas have a tendency to dissolve as well, and may eventually require refinishing.

4. Preventative Care

Prevention is always better than the cure and that also applies to taking care of your sterling silver jewellery. Avoid getting them in contact with perfume, lotions, detergents, bleach, household cleaners, and agents that contain sulfur such as hairspray. You should always remove them before taking a shower, going for a swim or washing the dishes. When storing, keep them in separate airtight polyethylene bags to minimize exposure to open air and humidity as well as friction against other objects.

5. Professional Care

Nothing beats the kind of sterling silver care an expert can bring to the table. If you find that your jewellery pieces are too heavily tarnished or if you don’t have the time to clean them yourself, it’s best to take them to a professional silver cleaner. It may cost a bit more but you’ll know that your valuable items are in good hands.

Last Words on Sterling Silver Maintenance

Looking after sterling silver jewellery is a walk in the park as long as you follow these simple guidelines and precautions. The more frequently a piece is worn, the less likely it is to get tarnished since the natural oils from the skin help minimize the tarnishing of sterling silver items. So wear your sterling silver jewellery more often! Just treat them well and you will be rewarded with pieces that last a lifetime.

Learn more about jewellery with The Bench’s Jewellery 101.