Cleaning Silver Jewellery
Pure Silver, a precious and malleable metal, is usually alloyed with copper to enhance its durability and prevent damage to the metal. Typically, sterling silver consists of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper.
Over time oxidation reactions will occur, especially with sulphur and oxygen, causing silver to become tarnished. Care should be taken to prevent this tarnishing.
To avoid this tarnishing, try to avoid the following:
· Applying hair colours or permanent solutions while wearing your jewellery.
· Showering or swimming with your jewellery on.
· Body lotions, hair spray, suntan lotions, or oils of any kind on your jewellery.
· Physical Activities (Sweat).
· Never removing your jewellery.
Silver does not oxidise in air. However, it does react with sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide in the air or other sulphur compounds and chloride salts, resulting in discolouration called tarnish. Tarnish is a brown discolouration caused by air pollution, cigarette smoke, some foods, furnace fumes, etc. Egg yolks, mustard, table salt, vinegar, olives, salad dressing, perspiration, rubber floor coverings, rubber bands and sulphur in some household synthetic detergents can also tarnish or affect silver. Latex paints may contain rubber and will tarnish silver.
How do you keep it from tarnishing and becoming dull again?
Provide an environment that will prevent or retard tarnish. Protect silver from sulphur by wrapping it in acid-free tissue and storing it in tarnish resistant cloth or polyethylene bags. Use caution in storing to avoid trapping moisture and do not allow the polyethylene bags to directly contact the silver. If anti-tarnish strips are used, do not allow them to touch the silver and change strips regularly (every 3 to 6 months, depending on where you live and how fast jewellery tends to tarnish) as they can re-deposit the sulphur onto silver.
Some jewellers use ordinary blackboard chalk in place of the no-tarnish strips. Add a single piece of white chalk to the drawer or cabinet where your silver is stored. White chalk is reported to prevent tarnish.
For jewellery you store on display racks or in trays or cases, place the rack and several no-tarnish strips inside a large plastic rubbish bag and close the bag up tightly with a twist-tie. Change the no-tarnish strips every 3 to 6 months. Every time I change my no-tarnish strips I write a quick note on my calendar 3 months from the date I change them, reminding myself it’s time to change them again!
Silver is a soft metal. Use care in cleaning it. No matter how mild an abrasive polish is used, some silver will be removed each time it is polished. Rubbing with a soft cloth causes some wear.
Clean with soap (not detergent) and water. If additional cleaning is necessary, use as mild a cleaner as possible.
Rinse and polish with soft cloth or felt (tissue is not recommended).
Dry the silver jewellery very well before storage to prevent residual water stains.
Use a Silver polishing cloth for general cleaning
Silver polishes, rubbing and buffing removes tarnish but they should be used with care. Avoid polishing silver with any compounds containing abrasive. A paste of very fine precipitated chalk and denatured alcohol can be used.
After using any commercial polish, rinse the silver in water and polish dry with a soft cloth. Residues of some polish left on silver may cause silver to tarnish faster. Soap may dull silver. Detergents with phosphates may leave a stain if not rinsed.
Chemical electrolysis should not be used on silver items, which have oxidised areas as a part of the decoration, or on plated silver. The silver plate may be stripped off. Electrolysis can also affect some finishes and adhesives and may result in a hazy surface on some silver which then requires polishing. Although this method is easy, it may leave the surface dull. Consider the advantages and disadvantages before using this method. In electrolysis, the silver is placed in contact with aluminium and covered with a dilute solution of washing soda and water (1 ounce soda and 2 quarts water). Some experts suggest that only experienced conservators should use this method.
According to some experts, silver-dip, although quick to use, may remove decorative oxidation.
IMPORTANT TIP: Do not use silver dip on rhodium or rhodium-plated jewellery as this will damage the rhodium finish and is known to remove colour and polish from certain gemstones, including turquoise and pearls. Although it may be acceptable to use silver dip on pieces that are not set with gemstones or finished with rhodium, the chemicals are extremely harsh and should be reserved for instances in which the item is completely tarnished, such as antique sterling silver items.
Valuable silver items should be treated with care and carefully stored and cared for. Consult a conservator or a jeweller knowledgeable about silver, silver polishes and processes before attempting to clean valuable items.
Try Ionic jewellery cleaners such as the SpeedBrite, which is considered generally safe for all metals and stones. Ionic jewellery cleaners do not use heat, sound waves, or abrasives, and they do an excellent job of removing tarnish and dirt very quickly.
(Note: I've heard that drusy (quartz crystal) stones should not be cleaned in an ionic cleaner because of their delicate crystal structure. I haven't tested that theory, but I don't recommend ionic cleaning of drusy unless you can first test a small piece of it that you don't mind messing up if it gets damaged. Always test small items or areas if unsure! Full instructions and recommendations are included with the unit.
Windex is often used to shine up silver and gold jewellery, including some gemstones (but not the delicate stones listed above; also don’t use Windex or any other ammonia solution on oxidised sterling silver, since the ammonia can damage the oxidised finish). Spray Windex on the jewellery, wait a few moments, rinse, and wipe clean with a soft, dry cloth.
But again, I recommend an ionic cleaner to remove tarnish and quickly get sterling silver sparkling like new.
Ultrasonic cleaners, though not as good as Ionic cleaners, are safe to use on most jewellery EXCEPT delicate stones. Small home models of ultrasonic cleaners are available in many stores.
Steam and other hot methods of cleaning are safe for metals and all but the delicate stones listed above. To steam clean jewellery at home, slowly boil a solution of trisodium phosphate (available at hardware stores in white powder form, is a cleaning agent and degreaser, commonly used to prepare household surfaces for painting. It can also be called trisodium orthophosphate) and water in a saucepan. Hang the jewellery in the pan (being very careful not to get burned by the steam!) on a small wire hooked over the edge of the pan. Don’t let the jewellery touch any part of the pan.
You can make your own chemical dip by following these instructions:
1. Fill sink full of steaming hot water.
2. Mix 2-tablespoons salt and 2-tablespoons baking soda in bowl.
3. Add mixture to sink of hot water.
4. Cut a small sheet of aluminium foil and push it to the bottom of sink.
5. Dip silver items. Most tarnish will slide off. For stubborn stains, allow them to sit for up to 5-minutes at a time.
6. Rinse well.
8. Store properly.
Stainless steel damages silver.
Don't use rubber gloves when you wash or polish silver – they emit sulphurs!