How to clean silver jewellery and remove tarnish
Knowing how to clean silver jewellery firmly fits into the category of style hacks that will serve you well for many years to come. Once you’ve learnt the process, you can use the skill again and again, meaning that tarnished silver jewellery will be a thing of the past – and good riddance, if you ask us.
But before we get into how to clean your favourite items using materials such as silver polish, laundry detergent, baking soda and ketchup (yes, really) let’s first take a quick look at what exactly tarnish even is and what causes it, plus, how to prevent it from happening.
Why does silver jewellery tarnish?
Tarnish is a form of corrosion that can happen to silver, appearing as discolouration in the form of a yellow, brown or even grey/black coating on the surface of your jewellery.
Pure silver is naturally resistant to tarnishing but, since it’s considered too soft to use for most jewellery, the majority of your necklaces, rings and bracelets are likely a form of sterling silver (which is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% composite material, such as copper).
Tarnishing is essentially a chemical reaction between sterling silver and chemicals like sulphur, chlorine and various acids. You might think you don’t come into contact with these chemicals very often at all, but you’d be surprised. The PH levels of your skin (which, fun fact, contains acids) can cause jewellery to tarnish, as can things like swimming or even showering and washing your hands, depending on the water and products used. Perfume, moisturisers and soaps are also common causes of tarnishing – who knew?
So, now that we’ve established that tarnishing is very common with silver jewellery, you’ll be glad to know that it’s also totally fixable – praise be!
How to clean silver jewellery
There are multiple ways to clean and remove tarnish from your silver jewellery – the right method depends on two things: how tarnished the item is and, of course, what you have available.
- Silver polish. In an ideal world, we’ll all have a bottle of silver polish sitting under the kitchen sink, ready for this exact purpose. It goes without saying that silver polish is incredibly effective at removing tarnish (it’s literally made for the job). To use, apply a small amount of the polish to a soft polishing cloth (be careful not to use a rough cloth, as this might scratch the metal). Then, rub the jewellery with the cloth in circular motions to remove the tarnish. Once the tarnish is removed, rinse with warm water, dry and buff with a soft cloth to shine.
- Detergent and aluminium foil. Line a bowl with aluminium foil, fill with hot water and add a small amount of laundry detergent before mixing carefully. Then, add your silver items and let them soak for a few minutes. Remove items with tongs, rinse with warm water, dry and use a soft cloth to buff.
- Baking soda. Mix two parts baking soda with one part water to form a paste. Then, very gently, apply the paste to the areas of jewellery in need of cleaning. Then, rinse with warm water, and dry with a soft polishing cloth.
- Ketchup. Yep, you read that right. Ketchup is surprisingly effective at removing tarnishing. Add a few drops onto a paper towel and apply to the surface of the jewellery. If the tarnishing is stubborn, let the ketchup sit on the area for 10-15 minutes before rubbing with a polishing cloth. Then rinse with warm water, dry and buff to polish.
How to prevent silver jewellery from tarnishing
- Try storing your silver jewellery separate from your other jewellery, in an anti-tarnish bag
- After removing your jewellery (and before storing), wipe it down with a polishing cloth to ensure it is clean and dry
- Keep your jewellery in a cool, dry location to avoid any moisture getting in (tarnishing speeds up in humid environments)
- Ensure your silver jewellery is stored out of direct sunlight, as this too can accelerate tarnishing
- Avoid wrapping your silver jewellery in tissue paper – as tissue can also contain acids
- Wear your jewellery regularly! The more friction there is, the less likely tarnish is to form