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The Chemistry of Silver Tarnish and How To Avoid It

tarnished jewelry

Tarnish on silver, or copper for the mater, is s simple chemical reaction between air and the metal. Sometimes I use a solution to intentionally  speed up this reaction to get effects like in this pair of earrings where the recesses maintain the tarnish, but the high points have a high polish.

fine silver earrings

There’s no way to avoid your jewelry developing tarnish over time,  but there are some ways to slow the development and safe and effective ways to remove it.

Using harsh chemicals to clean tarnish off your jewelry can cause damage to the integrity of the metal. I often see makers recommend things like Tarn-X to their clients for their silver jewelry. That’s a big NO-NO! Tarn-X and similar “silver cleaners”, will pit your silver.

First, let’s talk about some steps you can take to slow the development of tarnish.

  • Store your jewelry in the plastic bag I provide and push as much air you as you can without damaging your piece.
  • Store your jewelry in a dark place such as a jewelry box with a lid. The box it was shipped in has an anti-tarnish pad in it that will help if you can store it in that box.     
  • Don’t swim or bathe with your jewelry on (I’m guilty of this)
  • Wipe your jewelry with the polishing cloth I provide when you put it away to remove some of the lotions, perfumes or sweat while wearing it. Those things can speed up the tarnishing process.

So, you’ve skipped all those steps above and now you have tarnish…now what? The solution is quite simple really. Use the polishing cloth that came with your order to clean it off. It has a very mild abrasive imbedded in it that will clean your jewelry without pitting or scratching it. If you have a piece that is intentionally oxidized, rub across the top of the piece lightly so as not to remove the patina in the recesses.

polishing cloth

While we’re at it, check out this article on removing silver tarnish with baking soda and aluminum foil. I haven't tried it on jewelry yet, but I have a piece I’m allowing to tarnish so I can give it a try. It will work on your silver or silver-plate tableware. 

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