Silver Jewelry Care

Reasons Why Your Silver Jewelry is Tarnishing and Ways to Prevent It

Difference Between Pure Silver & 925 Sterling Silver

Pure silver metal does not tarnish or rust. But unfortunately, 100 percent pure silver is too delicate and fragile to be fashioned into jewelry. To strengthen its attributes, the metal is alloyed with other metals, mostly copper, in the proportion of 92.5 percent pure silver to 7.5 percent copper to achieve 925 Sterling Silver.

Does 925 Sterling Silver Tarnish?

Yes, sterling silver is susceptible to tarnishing over time, but the good news is proper care and storage can considerably reduce and slow down the process. So, what exactly is tarnishing? Tarnish is a kind of oxidation that happens when silver comes into contact with sulfur-containing gases, which could be present in air molecules or emitted by certain substances. The resulting chemical reaction produces a silver sulfide compound, which coats the metal’s surface with a thin, black-colored film. Moreover, interaction with oils, cosmetics, water, and a few other substances accelerates the process and causes discoloration. Even wrapping the jewelry in printed paper or tissue paper which contains sulfur-based dyes, can tarnish it. Rubber bands, exhaust, leather, and cellophane can all speed up the process of tarnishing. The copper in the alloy causes the oxidation; more copper causes more tarnishing – a reason to always look for 925 sterling silver (the most high- quality silver for jewelry) and not an adulterated silver alloy that has higher
concentrations of copper.

Is Tarnish Different from Rust?

Both are natural processes, but tarnish does not damage the silver beneath, while rusting wears off and erodes the metal. Rusting usually happens to iron, while silver only tarnishes and does not rust. Silver tarnishing occurs only at the surface level and can easily be reversed with polishing and cleaning techniques. Rusting, on the other hand, spreads and deteriorates the metal at a deeper level. The metal keeps chipping away, eventually becoming fragile and brittle.

How Quickly Does Silver Jewelry Tarnish?

The speed at which your silver jewelry tarnishes and discolors depends entirely on the frequency and concentration of sulfate gases it comes in contact with. If you keep the jewelry open in the air with very high levels of sulfate-releasing gases, your silver jewelry can tarnish within a couple of hours. But if you store it in a dry place with no moisture, sunlight, or air, the jewelry will not tarnish, even for year.

How Does Tarnishing Impact the Color of Silver Jewelry?

Looking at the color of your silver jewelry, you can determine to what extent it has tarnished. Not all tarnished silver jewelry is black - some appear yellow-brown, brown-red, and even blue. This varying color of the tarnished silver is credited to a phenomenon called ‘thin film interference.’ The color of the tarnish is a combination of the different lights reflected by the two surfaces on which the incoming light falls – the topmost surface of the tarnish and the original silver beneath the tarnish layers. As the thickness of the tarnish changes, the proportion of the final light being refracted from these two surfaces also changes. When the tarnishing of the silver jewelry begins, the layer is really thin, and the jewelry color changes to yellow-brown; as the layer grows thicker, it adopts a more reddish hue, eventually turning blue. When the thickness of the tarnish reaches its maximum intensity, the color turns black, which is the actual color of the chemical compound, silver sulfide, that causes the tarnish.

How to Keep Silver from Tarnishing?

The best way to keep sterling silver from tarnishing is to take proper care of it. This includes restricting contact with water, chemicals, and other elements. It is also important to store the jewelry separately in airtight packaging and avoid exposure to extreme temperatures. Read below to learn more.

1. Keep Away from Moisture

Your jewelry may be more vulnerable to tarnishing in water and humidity. Therefore, sterling silver jewelry should be kept in a cool, dry location like a container, jewelry box, or airtight bag. Also, before you put it in the package, all air must be drawn out so that no oxidation can occur. A common hack not discussed much is adding a few bits of chalk to your silver jewelry during storage. This absorbs any moisture and helps prevent tarnishing. To avoid potential scratching and tangling, store your jewelry pieces separately.

2. Invest in Silver Care Products

Many silver maintenance solutions are available that inhibit or slow down the tarnishing process and keep your silver jewelry gleaming. Some popular silver care products include silver polishing cloths, silver polishes, silver tarnish inhibitors, and silver dips. These products are specially designed to help remove signs of tarnishing from silver jewelry. The silver jewelry polishing cloths and silver polish contain chemical compounds that help keep your silver jewelry shining and restore its original luster. Apart from these, get your silver jewelry regularly polished and cleaned by a professional jeweler.

Keep Harsh Chemicals at Bay

Sulfates are abundant in hairsprays, shampoos, lotions, and perfumes. Whether it’s through airborne particles or residue on your hands, when these sulfates come into contact with silver, they form silver sulfide compounds and tarnish the jewelry. Follow the golden rule - ‘it should be the last item to put on and first to be taken off.’

To simplify, make sure you put on your silver jewelry after you’re completely dressed to avoid makeup particles or perfume coming into contact with it, and ensure that it’s the first thing you remove (yes, even before your makeup). Avoid touching the jewelry with lotion on your hands or while handling makeup.

4. Clean Sterling Silver at the Very Initial Stage of Tarnishing

Waiting until your sterling silver jewelry is significantly tarnished is not recommended, as getting rid of sulfide layers accumulated over the years can be challenging. Even professional cleaning techniques may not be able to restore the original appearance. Rather, clean it the moment you notice the first signs of tarnish beginning to develop. This will keep your jewelry looking new and maintain its luster.

5. Wear It Often

Yes, you read that right. Saving your silver jewelry only for special occasions may speed up tarnishing. Whereas wearing it often can keep it looking lustrous for posterity. How? The natural oils in your skin protect the silver jewelry from interacting with the sulfur-producing gases in the air, thereby preventing tarnishing and maintaining the metal’s natural shine.