Care Tips For Silver

The following are some care tips for looking after your silver jewelry and other silver items.  Please note that all tips given here should be tried carefully, and at your own risk.  While they are prudent and tested, results can vary and we will not be held responsible for any undesired results that you may get.

  • Silver pieces that get regular use usually require little or no cleaning.
  • Salt is highly corrosive to silver, causing it to convert into a dark gray coating made of silver sulphate, so contact should be avoided.
  • Never handle fine silver pieces with latex gloves, as they contain sulphur that causes tarnishing.
  • If you use a cleaning solution or polish to clean silver, ensure that it is made specifically for silver.
  • Silver plated items should be cleaned tenderly.  Vigorous and frequent cleaning will remove the thin layer of silver to permanently reveal the base metal.
  • Whenever possible, avoid contact between silver objects and any material containing sulfur (ie: eggs, rubber, fossil fuels, and certain paints), as this leads to an accelerated formation of tarnish.
  • Avoid going swimming in a swimming pool while wearing jewlery.  There is a strong possibility of  losing the item, plus the chlorine in the water is harsh on most metals.
  • All commercial grade polishing compounds have some type of abrasive properties.  Try washing the item first with a detergent that is lemon and phosphate free.  To remove tarnish, you may also want to try Windex mixed with white vinegar, or an unscented, aloe-free hand sanitizer (such as Purell).  Use a clean cotton swab drenched in the liquid to gently rub the dark areas.
  • Never use toothpaste as a silver polish.  It contains abrasives and Fluoride, which attacks silver.
  • Some people develop a dark or greenish tint on their skin when wearing a new silver jewelry item and they do not normally have this reaction with other silver pieces.  A possible cause of this is traces of copper left on the surface from firescale that were not thoroughly removed during the manufacturing.  Something to try is to heat the piece over a gentle flame to a high black heat of around 900 degrees Farenheit, then quenching it in pickle.  This may need to be repeated three or four times to dissolve the copper that causes the skin colouration.  Please note that the term "pickle" does not refer to the edible kind.  It is the term used for an acidic solution made by dissolving the dry pickle compound in a ceramic or plastic container, mixed with water to create a pickle solution.  The pickle compound can be obtained in silver supply stores.  The solution should not be allowed to make contact with the skin, because it is corrosive at high concentrations.  After treating the piece of jewelry, the item should be rinsed throughly.  No other metalic items other than silver should be dipped into the pickle so as to prevent it from being dissolved by the solution, then potentially transferred to the silver.
  • If you’ve purchased a silver item that has a price sticker stuck to it, try first to warm the area with a hair dryer set to medium heat.  That will soften the glue to help it come out.  If any sticky residue remains, try using  91% isopropyl alcohol or mineral spirits with a cotton ball in a well ventilated area.
  • Do NOT use alcohol on pearl jewellry.
  • To store silver jewelry for extended periods, place the items inside polyethylene bags than can be squeeze-locked, such as Ziploc.  Place a packet of silica gel inside the bag to absorb any moisture, or place a strip of 3M or Intercept Anti-Tarnish strip in order to absorb any surfer in the air.  Under no circumstances should you wrap the item with newspaper material, regular tissue paper, or rubber bands.  These will provide sulphur and acids, which will cause tarnishing.  Silica gel is safe for all noble metals and can be re-used by drying it gently in an oven at low temperature.  It is the material found in many medicine containers to keep the contents moisture-free.
  • To display silver items, the ideal is a sealed glass case.  If the case is made of wood, then it should be finished with lacquer and thoroughly dry.  No bare wood.  Cases or containers finished with certain paints, oils, or cloths can cause tarnishing due to sulphur content in the material and the latex in the paint.
  • There are products, such as Tarni-Shield that provide anti-tarnish protection that can be applied to items that get infrequent use.
  • Silver combines with sulfur in the air and other objects near it to form tarnish.  The tarnish is composed of silver sulfide, which is black. The chemical reaction is expressed as H2S + 2Ag --> Ag2S + H2.  Chemistry comes to the rescue to fix this problem by using a method of placing a piece of aluminum foil immersed in an  electrolytic bath made sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and salt.  A non-metallic container should be used, and the item to be cleaned should be free of grease or attached dirt.  The tarnished silver item is placed on top of the foil in the container, making sure that it makes contact with the aluminum.  The electrolyte is made with warm water.  If using a cup of water, add a teaspoon full of baking soda and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt to dissolve in the warm water.  This is then added to the container to completely cover the items.  This forms a bi-metal galvanic (electrical) reaction.  This method is generally not recommended for all applications.  While it may be suitable for such items as a plain ring, it will also remove any deliberate oxidation that adds to the design and character of the item.  The reaction causes the sulfur atoms to combine with the aluminum to produce aluminum sulfide.  The chemical reaction is represented as  3 Ag2S + 2 Al -> 6 Ag + Al2S3.  The aluminum sulfide easily hydrolyzes (combines with water) to form aluminum hydroxide and hydrogen sulfide.  The sulfide will emerge as a gas, which should not be inhaled.  The salt acts as the electrolyte to allow the reaction to occur, and the bicarbonate is required because aluminum forms a thin film on the surface when placed in water made of aluminum hydroxide, which shields the rest of the aluminum atoms.  The bicarbonate reacts with this aluminum hydroxide.  Hydroxyl atoms from the sodium carbonate quickly dissolve the aluminum hydroxide film, to expose the aluminum atoms to combine with the silver sulfide.  The warmth of the water help the reaction proceed faster.
    This method has the advantage that whatever silver had been lost to form the tarnish is actually reversed and gained back to produce a beautiful, shiny piece again.  The resultant liquid is non-toxic and can be disposed of in the drain.
  • When polishing silver pieces (especially larger, non jewelry items), use cotton balls with a minimum amount of polishing compound and keep using a clean area of the cotton.  Use straight back-and-forth strokes, rather than circular patterns.  Let the polish dry and use a cloth made of 100% cotton, untreated, and lint-free (such as a Selvyt cloth) to remove the dried residue and to polish the piece.
  • Do not clean your silver pieces or silver flatware by running them through the wash cycle of a dishwasher.  It will actually ruin the metal and even a professional restorer may not be able to undo the damage.  The high heat and dishwasher soap are too harsh and will leave the surface of the item dull, and possibly white washed or black depending on the conditions such as detergent used.  Additionally, if any silver items come in contact with stainless steel, a chemical reaction can form at the point of contact, possibly causing pitting or black tarnish.
  • If you have a solid silver or silver plated serving tray, never cut food on it, as this will cut lines into the metal that cannot be removed.
  • Be aware that collectible items should usually not be cleaned, as doing so can cause a drastic decrease in the value of the item.
  • Ultrasonic cleaners should only be used for metallic only items.  Gemstones have natural imperfections ("inclusions") which can be magnified by the ultrasonic cleaning process, resulting in a loss of value of the natural beauty of the gemstone, including pearls.
  • Verdigris is a corrosion of the metal caused by exposure to moisture, makeup, or other contaminants.  The metals affected are copper, brass, or bronze.  It is greenish in colour, and does not happen to sterling silver.  It often does happen to costume jewelry.  The main natural occurrences are when these metals are exposed to the elements, to seawater, or to vinegar, creating copper carbonate, copper chloride, or copper acetate, respectively.  The Statute of Liberty is a classic example of this verdigris oxidization process.  The material is frequently used in industry as a fungicide.  Other uses include a catalyst for organic reactions, in dyeing, as a pigment for paints, and in some medical uses.  Jewelry that has verdigris can be cleaned with alcohol, with vinegar, or with ketchup after carefully scraping off the bigger pieces.  You should NOT continue to use jewelry that has verdigris without cleaning it thoroughly first to remove the verdigris.

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