Silver Tarnish and Removing Silver Tarnish

Silver Tarnish and Removing Silver Tarnish


Each year we get hundreds of emails from silver jewelry lovers. They find that their lovely silver jewelry has tarnished. Many sellers do not clearly explain the process of silver tarnishing to buyers and buyers are shocked to see their gorgeous silver jewelry gradually change color to a darkish dull shade of yellow, brown and even black.
So what exactly is silver tarnish? Can the process of silver tarnish be slowed down or eliminated? What about anti-tarnish platings, are they really useful? How can silver tarnish be removed? and finally Can tarnished silver jewelry look good? In this article we provide simple and lucid explanations for these and other questions. We have been as non-technical as possible and hope that this would interest as most silver jewelry lovers. We have mentioned silver jewelry in this article though, tarnish occurs on all silver objects like spoons, watches, cups etc and not just on silver jewelry.

What is silver tarnish? Silver tarnish is a natural process that occurs on the surface of silver jewelry. Tarnish starts as a light yellow discoloration of silver, it then starts to change to darker shades of brown as the tarnish gets to be more severe. In extreme cases the tarnishing of silver could look very dark and almost black. Tarnishing occurs due to certain climatic conditions and also due to certain ingredients that are present in some materials. One such chemical that causes silver to tarnish is hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and things that contain this chemical will cause silver to tarnish quickly. Materials that stimulate silver tarnish are wood, felt, rubber bands, food items like eggs, onions etc. High humidity in the climate also hastens the silver tarnish process. Looking at these factors that cause silver tarnish, you will realize that the process of silver tarnishing can hardly be avoided.
Does silver tarnish mean that the silver used is not good? Surely not, because silver tarnish is a natural process and occurs with silver of all purities. Silver jewelry is generally made from silver that is around 92.50% pure and this is done to increase the hardness of silver. Sterling silver as it is normally referred to (925=92.50% purity), is an alloy of silver and other metals. The tarnishing of sterling silver has nothing to do with the percentage of silver in the alloy. It would be safe to assume that all silver will tarnish.
Can silver tarnish be removed? The answer to this question is, yes. It is possible to clean tarnished silver jewelry and the procedure followed will depend on the degree of tarnish that is present on the silver jewelry. Reputed companies sell silver polishing solutions that can be used for removal of silver tarnish. Most of these can be used at home to remove light to mild silver jewery tarnish, however keep a few points in mind when buying or using these silver polishes. Check only for reputed brands and do not stress on low prices as these cheap polishes could destroy your silver jewelry. Read the complete instructions on the container before purchasing it. You can then judge the suitability for your particular use and select the right silver polish. For example, do not get a silver tarnish removal lotion meant for severe tarnish, if your silver jewelry has only mild tarnish. Some polishes might emit fumes that could irritate the eyes and nose, so use them in well ventilated areas. The instructions could also advise the use of gloves when handling the polish so ensure that you follow all recommended precautions. In the case of very severe tarnish on your silver jewelry, professional help is recommended and home remedies might not be possible.
What are the different types of silver polish available? We will answer this question without referring to any commercial brand names. Silver tarnish polishes can be classified as two broad types, the first is the type where the silver jewelry will have to be washed clean after the polished is applied as instructed on the container. The second type is the polish that is meant to be applied to the jewelry and left, this type of silver polish is supposed to form a protective layer on the silver jewelry. This layer will reduce the rate at which the silver jewelry will subsequently tarnish. More importantly, silver polishes would also be classified according to the severity of the tarnish that they are supposed to handle. Choose the right type depending on the degree to which your silver jewelry has tarnished. Anti tarnish polishes meant for severe and stubborn silver tarnish are obviously more abrasive too.
Can the way silver jewelry is stored influence the rate of tarnish? This is an important aspect that is ignored by many silver jewelry lovers. Never wrap your silver jewelry in newspapers or plastic as these will cause your jewelry to tarnish severely. Add rubber bands to the list of material that should not be used to pack silver jewelry. Wrap each jewel in anti-tarnish tissue (available at most jewelry stores) and then seal them in polyethylene bags. This is one way in which tarnishing can be minimized. Tarnish absorbing cloths are also available and can be used in the same way. Anti-tarnish strips work in a slightly different way. These strips absorb tarnish producing gases and are made from paper that contains activated charcoal. They do not emit fumes or vapours but absorb the gases that cause silver to tarnish. Finally, we will talk about the famous Silica Gel granules that are man made and absorb moisture from the air. High humidity is one of the causes of silver tarnish and these granules that contain numerous tiny crevices ‘suck’ excess moisture from the air. Hydrosorbent Silica Gel granules are used in medicine containers too and have been around for many decades. The important thing to note about these materials is that they have a life span during which they will prove effective. Read instructions when using them and ensure that they are changed as and when recommended. Silica Gel granules can be made to change color when they are fully ‘soaked’ with moisture and become inactive.
What are anti-tarnish platings? Silver jewelry manufacturers have for many years plated silver jewelry with metals like rhodium, gold and even platinum with an effort to eliminate tarnishing of silver. The idea is to protect the silver from tarnish by forming a layer on the surface of silver jewelry. Newly plated silver jewelry looks gorgeous and appears very much like gold or platinum jewelry. However the truth is that, the plating will wear off with time and expose the silver underneath. The rate at which the plating on silver will come off depends on many factors like the humidity in the atmosphere, the chemical composition of sweat (of the person wearing them), the frequency with which such silver plated silver jewelry is worn and also the chlorine content in the water. Once the plating starts coming off, the jewelry starts to look patchy and cheap. This is because the peeling does not occur uniformly throughout the jewel. This is something that you need to be aware of. Such jewelry cannot be polished and your best option would be to get it professional re-plated. This could be an expensive proposition for silver jewelry.
Can tarnished silver jewelry look good? The answer to this question is not a simple one. Depending on the design of your silver jewelry, tarnishing can add to it’s good looks or make it appear cheap and lousy. Antique style silver designs will look more classic and valuable when the jewelry tarnishes. An occassional mild silver polish applied to such jewelry would leave some traces of tarnish on the jewel and give it an ancient authentic look. On the other hand sleek modern designs for silver jewelry will not look good if silver tarnish sets in. Most silver jewelry lovers are aware of this and therefore spend premium budgets on classic antique style designs. High end craftsmanship for silver jewelry is not easy to find as most sellers cater to low priced markets. Even gemstones used in silver jewelry are in most cases,low grade reject quality gemstones. There are just a few high end custom jewelry manufacturers for silver jewelry and their merchandise is highly valued among lovers of silver jewelry.

Before we wind up this informative article on silver tarnish and the procedures for removal of silver tarnish a few random thoughts from our team of designers and craftsmen.

The moment you notice a yellowish tint on your silver jewelry, use a mild phospate free detergent and water to gently wash the jewelry. Then immediately dry the jewelry with a soft cloth, pat gently rather than using vigorous rubbing to dry the jewel. These are the first traces of silver tarnish and if handled well, will not develop into more severe silver tarnish.
Do not use toothpaste to clean silver jewelry. The abrasive particles in the toothpaste could scratch your jewelry. Ironically, toothpaste is very often used to clean tarnished silver jewelry as no one cared to clear this issue.
When applying silver polish, shake the container well before use. Do not use old polish that is mostly dried, as such lotions could be very concentrated and abrasive.
The old saying still holds true, when wearing jewelry for an outing or special occassion ‘……… let your jewelry be the last thing that you put on, and the first thing to come off when you get back home……….’. Remember hair sprays and other powder packs can also tarnish silver jewelry.
When cleaning your tarnished silver jewelry give due thought to the gemstones in the jewelry. Certain gemstones require special care when cleaning and the silver polishes and vigorous cleaning could affect the gemstones. In cases where your silver jewelry consists of expensive gemstones, seek professional help for cleaning tarnish on the silver.

We do hope that this article has been useful to you. We will be back with more interesting information regarding gemstones and jewelry. You are welcome to read the complete Kaisilver jewelry newsletter at this link:
Thanks and God Bless.

About The Author

Ms.Tuk is Senior Executive at the world’s leading online provider of high end custom jewelry. All jewelry is custom made in yellow or white gold with gemstones of your choice. You can even send us images of your favourite designs to be custom made.

This article was posted on March 13, 2005