Sterling silver jewelry is nowadays trending among women across the globe due to its grace and luster. It is available in different unique designs by renowned jewelry brands all over the world. Sterling silver is not pure silver as silver alone is naturally available in liquid form and is tarnish-resistant but too soft. To use it as jewelry, some other metals or alloys are needed to be added to make it hard and durable enough to make jewelry. So silver is used as an alloy with different compositions of other metals to impart different characteristics to jewelry.
Sterling silver with 92.5% purity with 7.5 % other metals or alloys to use for jewelry making. It is the purest form of sterling silver and is referred to as .925 silver. Sterling silver is one of the most loved raw materials used in jewelry making due to its strength, malleability and unique designs. Its history goes back to the time of Britain’s King Henry II. People from all over the world still love to wear sterling silver because of its steady value, durability and affordable price.
Metals on exposure to air undergo an oxidation reaction known as tarnishing, resulting in different outcomes specific to different metals like rust in the case of iron and tarnish in case of silver. Every metal has its tendency to reacts with different components in the air to undergo oxidation. As already mentioned pure silver is tarnish-resistant, so mostly it’s the copper in sterling silver that undergo oxidation reaction and tarnishing.
In the case of sterling silver, there are certain factors responsible for its tarnishing
- Exposure to air
It reacts with sulfur in the air to produce sulfur sulfide that is dense and black. It is considered the main product of silver tarnishing. The sulfur in air is present in the form of sulfur dioxide or hydrogen sulfide that comes from different environmental factors like volcanic eruptions and natural organic decomposition. Thus the oxidation reaction between sulfur and silver takes place to produce a black thin layer on sterling silver.
Silver + sulfur (from air) → silver sulfide (black)
This tarnish can appear as a thin film across silver plating or in the form of irregular discoloration of sterling silver jewelry.
Another research claims that sterling silver tarnishes naturally as silver always tries to get back to its original color to black, naturally silver is black from the outside and silver insides. Place sterling silver jewelry at some place for some duration it will tarnish. Tarnish can appear in the form of yellow, dull gray or black discoloration.
- Body’s natural oil
Natural oils secreted by our body also speed up the oxidation reaction of silver. The body’s acid levels are high in some people, the oils secrete out during sweating or perspiration causes sterling silver jewelry to tarnish.
How long does it take to tarnish
There is not a fixed time duration for sterling silver to tarnish. It might take 2 months to 3 years to tarnish depending upon the following factors
- Quality of sterling silver and the alloys added to make sterling silver like higher the copper content sooner it will lead to tarnishing and oxidation.
- Time of exposure to air
- Exposure to chemicals like chlorine
- Moisture like creams or sprays
- Environmental pollution
The color of tarnish deepens with time from a light thick layer to a thick coating or complete decolorization of jewelry. In a controlled environment, sterling silver jewelry can be maintained for years.
How to clean the tarnish
Clean your sterling silver jewelry regularly as it is easy to clean than to remove tarnish from sterling silver. Tarnish can be handle as it does not corrode the silver completely and affects the surface only. There are various ways and tips to remove tarnish from silver jewelry depending upon the extent of tarnishing
- For light tarnishing, scrubbing sterling silver jewelry with an anti-tarnishing cloth can be effective enough to remove tarnish. It is recommended not to overdo scrubbing as it can reduce the luster of jewelry
- For the medium level of tarnishing, baking soda and boiling water is used. Place the shining side of aluminum foil in the bowl. Put some baking soda on it, place jewelry and again add baking soda. Now pour boiling water into it. 10 min later when water turns black with nasty smell, wipe the jewelry and scrub baking soda on it with your finger before and in between the treatments. Repeat the process till you get clean silver jewelry. Polish it at the last stage.
- For very heavy tarnishing, high-quality polishing clothes are available to remove tarnishing. It is recommended to use over-the-counter tarnish remover or polishing cloth. Similarly, silver cleaner or silver dip of different renowned brands can also do wonders.
Sterling silver jewelry can be made to wear for years with grace by following some of these preventive measures
It is strongly recommended to clean sterling silver jewelry before and after wearing it to remove any accumulated dust or body oils in it that can speed up its tarnishing. For cleaning, wash with warm water, scrub and gently dry it.
- Avoid wearing it in the pool
Pool’s water has chlorine in it that tends to react with sterling silver and enhance the oxidation reaction. So it’s better to remove sterling silver jewelry while swimming
- Limit exposure to air
Try to use an airtight jewelry box for storing sterling silver jewelry to allow its minimum exposure to air. By limiting exposure to sulfur in the air, chances of its tarnishing will reduce.
- Use of Tarnish tabs
Nowadays tarnish tabs are available that are effective in reducing the chances of tarnishing. Place the tarnish tab in a jewelry box containing sterling silver jewelry, it will remove or limit the sulfur exposure thus prevents oxidation.
Some jewelry brands put a thin layer of another metal like rhodium, gold or platinum on sterling silver to limit the contact of silver to air or body oils. Rhodium plating is common as it is a rare hypoallergic chemical and tarnish resistant so helps in preventing tarnishing.
Lacquer can also be applied on the silver to prevent the contact between the copper of sterling silver and moisture or sulfur in the air. This helps to avoid oxidation reaction and tarnishing.
- Select pure sterling silver while buying
Sterling silver .925 i.e., 92.5% pure silver mixed with other metals and alloys is considered pure sterling silver. While shopping, there are different designs of jewelry available in the market and most claim to be pure. There are 2 methods by which you can have an idea about the purity of sterling silver
- A magnet test is the most common method used to check the .925 purity of sterling silver. Place a small magnet near jewelry if there is no attraction or no effect on jewelry and magnet, it is pure .925 sterling silver and vice versa
- Gently rub the soft white cloth on the tarnished area of sterling silver jewelry. Black marks on the white cloth will indicate the .925 purity of sterling silver and vice versa
Polishing sterling silver is also recommended. Wash jewelry with soap and water, thoroughly dry it and polish it by using a polishing cloth to remove accumulated dirt and body oils etc.
- Keep sterling silver jewelry dry
Taking shower with sterling silver jewelry on is no big deal unless you keep them dry soon afterward. Tarnishing or oxidation enhances in humid or moist conditions. It is recommended to place sterling silver jewelry in airtight jewelry box as daily beauty products like hair sprays, lotions, body creams can enhance the tarnishing.
- Don’t wear it 24/7
As already mentioned body oils or sweat enhances the tarnishing process so it is better not to wear sterling silver jewelry all the time especially during a hot day or strenuous workout.
- Use silica gels for storage
It is recommended to place silica gel bags in the drawer you store your sterling silver jewelry in. Silica gel helps keep moisture away and prevent tarnishing
- Store with the chalk
Place one or two Chalk pieces in the jewelry box. It is naturally hygroscopic so removes all the moisture and chemical residues in the environment
- Keep it away from harsh solutions
It is advisable to remove sterling silver jewelry while using solutions containing salt or harsh chemicals. For example, many household cleaning products contain chlorine that enhances the oxidation reaction manifold.
- Use of anti-tarnish strips
Anti-tarnish strips are available and trending nowadays as they are quite effective in removing all the toxic residues from the environment to prevent the damage
So, it is advisable to follow all the above mentioned precautions while using sterling silver jewelry. If it is kept with care and in a controlled environment, its luster can maintain for 10 to 20 years.