SILVER TARNISH…. WHAT IT IS, WHERE IT COMES FROM, AND IS IT NORMAL?
If you have ever noticed that your silver jewellery turns black over time you have experienced silver tarnish. Not to worry! All silver jewellery tarnishes over time. While tarnishing can be annoying, it is relatively easy to remove once you know what you are up against. It is important to know that tarnishing silver has nothing to do with the quality of silver or the quality of the product. It has everything to do with chemistry!
SO WHAT DOES TARNISH REALLY MEAN?
Tarnishing in silver products is the result of the oxidation of the silver’s surface with the air; specifically, with sulphur in the air. When sterling silver is exposed to general environmental conditions it begins to react with chemicals leading to the formation of silver sulphide on the surface of the metal. Unfortunately, for jewellery owners everywhere, silver sulphide is black. As this coating continues to build on the silver’s surface, the silver darkens, eventually turning black.
IS SILVER TARNISH NORMAL?
Absolutely. Silver that is used in jewellery, flatware, and other utilitarian purposes, is an alloy. Typically, these are made from sterling silver which is made from 92.5% pure silver, and 7.5% alloy. These combinations of metals make for a metal that is reactive in the natural environment. Pure silver is much less reactive than silver alloys. However, silver in its elemental state is too soft and not suitable for or used in jewellery making. Sterling silver is the jewellery industry standard and unfortunately, alloying with copper means it will always tarnish.
HOW FAST DOES SILVER TARNISH?
The rate at which silver tarnishes varies depending on environment. Generally, compounds containing sulphur are naturally occurring, which means that jewellery left exposed will tarnish naturally to a dark colour. Wearing the jewellery and exposing it to sweat, lotions, perfumes, colognes, soaps, and other chemicals can speed up the tarnishing process. Under the right circumstances silver can begin to turn black in just a few days. In other instances, it can take many months or years.
WHY DOES MY SILVER TARNISH FASTER THAN OTHER PEOPLE'S?
It is important to know that silver will tarnish faster or slower depending on its environment. Each person’s unique bodily chemistry will affect the rate at which this occurs. Sometimes this is referred to as a silver allergy. In cases of extreme silver tarnish that occurs quickly, it is likely because the specific chemistry of the wearer forces the sterling silver to prematurely tarnish. Again, this is nothing to worry about.
HOW TO CLEAN TARNISHED SILVER
When it comes to cleaning tarnished sterling silver jewellery, there are several options and types of cleaning to consider. The primary methods for cleaning sterling jewellery is physical methods, chemical methods, or some combination of both.
Typically, this means polishin. A physical method is one that aims to remove the silver sulphide by means of an abrasive. Popular ways to do this include using a jewellery polishing cloth or pad (like the one with your order) or having a professional use a buffing or polishing wheel.
- Polishing cloths and pads are pieces of material with a polishing rouge embedded to make it slightly abrasive. This allows the silver sulphide to be buffed off the piece of jewellery, leaving it with a nice shine!
- A local jeweller will have special polishing equipment that will make quick work of your tarnished jewellery.
Chemical cleaning is just as it sounds - using a caustic chemical to strip away at the surface of the metal - removing all the silver sulphide. Chemical cleaners typically come with very strict warnings about how long you should expose your jewellery to the cleaner. If left longer than recommended, chemical cleaners can damage your jewellery. This method of cleaning will also not polish your jewellery and restore the shine of the piece. Many cleaners, while effective at removing black tarnish, will leave the surfaces of the jewellery pitted and rough causing a dull overall appearance. For this reason, we do not recommend solely using jewellery chemical cleaners.
- Chemical + Physical: With this method you would combine the use of a chemical cleaner followed by polishing to restore.
HOW TO MAINTAIN STERLING SILVER JEWELLERY
Keeping it clean!
Keeping your jewellery clean is vital to its maintenance. Now that we know what causes tarnish to form on sterling jewellery (sweat, dust, cologne, perfume, soaps, detergents, in some cases skin contact, etc…) we know how often it is exposed to tarnishing agents. Removing these contaminants is key. This can be done with a mild dish detergent and warm water. A soft bristle toothbrush could also be used. When finished make sure all the detergent has been washed clean and dry the jewellery. This can be done as often as necessary and can be done in the shower assuming your soap is sulphide free, just make sure you dry your jewellery after you are finished.
Regular polishing will not only help your jewellery tarnish more slowly, it will help keep the shine on the piece much longer. For maintenance cleaning, a polishing cloth at home is best.
There are certain special fabrics, bags, and boxes that are made for storing jewellery that will inhibit the formation of tarnish on silver as well as other jewellery. If you are serious about your jewellery, it may be wise to invest in a proper jewellery storage container!