How to Care for Sterling Silver Jewelry

Handmade Sterling silver necklace
Handmade Sterling Silver Necklace, Siam Butterfly

It’s hard not to be crazy about sterling silver jewelry. Between its luster, its brilliance, and its versatility, it’s easy to see why silver is one of the most popular materials for jewelry.

Still, many of us find ourselves neglecting all the beautiful silver pieces in our jewelry boxes for one simple, annoying reason: tarnish.  When oxygen or sulfur come in contact with silver, they chemically bond to its surface and cause the silver to appear dirty or discolored.  Who wants that?

Fortunately, caring for silver and reducing tarnish is as simple as doing the dishes. All you need is to arm yourself with a few facts about the metal and a few tips and tricks for care and cleaning. With this ultimate guide, you’ll leave ready to start wearing your fabulous silver again with all its shine!

A few things about sterling silver

Knowing a few industry terms will help you understand the physical attributes of your jewelry and how to care for it. The purity of the metal, for instance, determines how malleable the silver is and how quickly it will tarnish:  .950 sterling silver will bend more easily and tarnish more quickly than .925 sterling silver because of its increased purity, so extra caution should be used to take care of .950 silver jewelry.

“Oxidized” is another term used to describe silver. For some works silversmiths intentionally allow parts of the jewelry to darken and oxidize, typically small details, to make them stand out more. This detailing can be lost, though, with excessive cleaning and polishing. So be sure to identify any purposefully oxidized silver bracelets, earrings, rings or necklaces you have and set them aside for separate cleaning.Oxidized Sterling Silver Jewelry

Sterling silver dangle earrings, ‘Denpasar Mystique’

Preventative care

Wear: You can avoid tarnish by wearing your jewelry often. The oils in your skin will “clean” the silver and keep it looking shiny.

Avoid exposure: Contact with household chemicals, perspiration, rubber, chlorinated water, or any substances which contain sulfur (e.g., mayonnaise, eggs, mustard, onions, latex, wool), will cause corrosion and tarnish — so it’s a good idea to remove silver jewelry when doing household chores. Direct sunlight also causes silver to tarnish, so be sure to take off your silver jewelry before you go swimming and sunbathing.

Lotions, cosmetics, hair spray and hair products, and perfumes are also “enemies” of silver and will accelerate tarnishing. There’s a reason generations of women have been getting dressed with jewelry last, as a finishing touch!

Storage: As exposure to air tarnishes it, storing silver in airtight plastic bags with anti-tarnish strips is a great preventative measure. Just make sure you don’t store multiple jewelry pieces in the same bag: silver is a soft metal, so the individual pieces can scratch each other. Link or chain bracelets should be kept unclasped or unhooked to prevent scratching as well. If you can’t use plastic bags, try to make sure that the storage area has low humidity. You can also place a piece of chalk, a packet of activated charcoal, or a container of silica gel in the storage area to minimize tarnish.

Handcrafted sterling silver jewelry
Sterling silver link bracelet, ‘Centipede Crawl’

Polishing

Simply polishing your silver works well when the tarnishing is not too severe. It’s also the best method for cleaning oxidized silver, as you can stay away from the intentionally tarnished areas.

Silver is soft and can become scratched easily. You can use a special silver cloth to polish your items, but a lint-free flannel, microfiber, or other soft nonabrasive cloth will do as well. Do not use paper towels or tissues to polish your jewelry as they contain fibers that can scratch the silver.

When polishing, use long back-and-forth motions that mirror the grain of the silver. Do not rub in circles, as this will magnify any tiny scratches. Also, change to a different section of your cloth frequently to avoid placing tarnish back on the silver. You can use a Q-tip to get into small, detailed areas.

Be careful with silver-plated items, as excessive polishing can remove the plating (depending on the thickness) and leave pieces worse than when they started.

Professional care

If your pieces are heavily tarnished and you don’t have the time to clean them, take them to a professional silver cleaner. Very old, fragile, or valuable pieces should also be cleaned by a professional.

Handcrafted sterling silver jewelry
Sterling silver pendant necklace, ‘Laughing Elephant’

What about commercial silver cleaners?

Commercial silver polishes and dips are easy to find and use, but have several serious drawbacks. For one, the vapors from silver polish can cause damage and even be fatal if inhaled in an unventilated room. The powerful solvents in commercial silver cleaners may also require special hazardous waste disposal to avoid contaminating groundwater or causing other environmental harm.

As if these health and environmental concerns weren’t enough, commercial silver cleaners can also actually harm your silver by removing the anti-tarnish coating and valuable patina. Even though cleaners might give a temporary shine, the pieces will tarnish much more quickly and have to be cleaned more frequently once you have broken down the surface.

Homemade silver cleaner

For cases when the polishing cloth isn’t enough to remove tarnish, you can make your own economically- and environmentally-friendly silver cleaner using ingredients from your kitchen.

It should be noted, however, that silver cleaners are not for all types of silver jewelry. You should not, for instance, ever immerse jewelry adorned with pearls or opaque gemstones (e.g. turquoise, opal, carnelian, onyx), as this could seriously damage these softer stones. (Give these pieces a very brief rinse if they become too dirty.)

Even for jewelry with clear gemstones (e.g. blue topaz, amethyst, garnet), take special care when using a silver cleaner: the chemicals could lodge under the gemstone settings or loosen any glue. And remember, do not use silver cleaners on your oxidized jewelry — stick to the polishing cloth instead.

After using any cleaner, be sure to thoroughly rinse your silver with running water or a clean, damp cloth. This is especially important for detailed or etched items, since polish can stick in small crevices and harden. After, dry the pieces with a microfiber cloth to prevent white water spot stains from forming.

Handcrafted sterling silver jewelry
Sterling silver drop earrings, ‘Urban Minimalism’

 

Soap and water: Warm water and a mild, ammonia- and phosphate-free dishwashing soap should be your first line of defense if the polishing cloth fails to remove tarnish. Soap and water should also be used to clean your pieces before using any of the methods listed below.

Baking soda and water: You might have heard that a non-whitening, non-gel toothpaste can be a good substitute for commercial silver cleaners, but nowadays these basic toothpastes are hard to find or distinguish from the toothpastes that will discolor your silver. Instead, make a paste of baking soda and water and use a clean cloth to apply a pea-sized amount to the silver and polish. For etched, stamped or detailed items, thin the paste with more water and use a clean, soft-bristled toothbrush to get the cracks and crevices. Run the silver piece or pieces under running warm water, and dry with a clean cloth.

Olive oil and lemon juice: Mix 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1 tsp. olive oil in a bowl large enough to hold the cleaning solution and a small microfiber cloth. Dip the cloth in the solution and wring it out so that it doesn’t drip, then polish the silver, rinse, and dry.

White vinegar and baking soda: Use this gentle cleaner to remove heavy tarnish that’s preventing you from polishing your silver. Soak the tarnished piece in a solution of 1/2 cup white vinegar and 2 tbsp. baking soda (be prepared for the fizzing!) for two to three hours, then rinse and dry.

Baking soda, salt, aluminum foil, and boiling water: You can take advantage of a simple chemical reaction to clean your silver: all you’ll need is some baking soda, salt, and aluminum foil. Line a glass roasting pan or the kitchen sink with aluminum foil, dull side facing down. Place the silver pieces on top of the aluminum foil. Then pour boiling water over the pieces until they are covered and add 2 tbsp. each of baking soda and salt. Stir the solution to allow the baking soda to dissolve — you don’t want any granules scratching the metal.

The reaction causes the tarnish to transfer to the foil, and in about 5-10 minutes you’ll see the tarnish “magically” disappear from the jewelry. (Be prepared for the smell of rotten eggs, though, as the sulfide tarnish comes off the silver.) Using salad tongs or nitrile gloves (not rubber gloves, which contain sulfur), remove the silver jewelry from the hot water or drain into a colander. Rinse the jewelry with water, then dry and buff with a soft cloth. Voila! Your silver should be sparkling clean and ready to keep you looking fabulous.

Combination: If your pieces have very stubborn tarnish, you can use these treatments in succession to get them looking shiny again.

Handcrafted sterling silver jewelry
Sterling silver band ring, ‘Memory of Bali’

 

A fresh start for your jewelry

Well-cared-for silver jewelry can give you many years of pleasure and enjoyment and even become family heirlooms. And, of course, silver is valuable. So don’t wait until tarnish has become so bad that you forget about your silver treasures or even get rid of them. Give your jewelry a fresh start today!

SEE MORE SILVER JEWELRY

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Isabel Fernandes
Isabel Fernandes
7 years ago

I have a lot of silver jewelry that needs cleaning real bad…..I’m going to try it…then will post the results.

barbara
barbara
Reply to  Isabel Fernandes
5 years ago

I couldn’t believe the schmuch that floated to the top of the water immediately. They are soaking now but I see it working. thank you.

isabellsmith
isabellsmith
6 years ago

When it comes of the sterling silver jewelery you need to take good care of the same in order to avoid the blackness and tarnish of the same. All of the above posts are very reliable and gives all the beneficial aspects of getting rid of all deteriorating things that can happen to the silver jewelery.

Vivian Lois
Vivian Lois
6 years ago

I have amazing silver ear rings and I do not wear them any more because they have tarnish coverage! I thought that I should buy some special silver cleaner but this article showed me how to clean them myself! Thanks a lot! Deptford Carpet Cleaners Ltd.

Sisilia
Sisilia
6 years ago

Baking soda, salt, aluminum foil, and boiling water -> is the best cleaning method (my personal opinion). Your silver pieces will be look very clean like new!

Catherine Lombardi
Catherine Lombardi
6 years ago

I have a counted cross-stitch piece that calls for the addition of sterling silver hearts, I have a piece I stitched years ago and the sterling on that piece is tarnished. What I need to know is how to protect these little hearts without having to remove them. Several people I have spoken with suggest clear nail polish, is that the key?

Kasey
Kasey
Reply to  Catherine Lombardi
5 years ago

I would not suggest clear nail polish at all. I was told the same thing as well as reading it in a comment. I put it on a sterling silver ring to avoid tarnish and it made the ring look awful!!! It was as if it accelerated the tarnishing processes, I was so upset because I loved that ring. I tried to remove the tarnish after that but it would not come off, it was like the polish had slowly destroyed the silver. If you follow what the article says regarding cleaning and storing in a very small zip lock… Read more »

Jim
Jim
Reply to  Kasey
3 years ago

Lawyer thinner will do it. Just let it soak a while. Polish is clear lacquer. Ever notice the smell. Might need to use old tooth brush to get it all. Go fast the lawyer thinner could melt the brush. If it does no problem. Finish brushing. Put it back in thinner to reliquify everything. Clean w/soap and water.

Donna Phillips
Donna Phillips
Reply to  Catherine Lombardi
5 years ago

Katharine, I imagine that your cross stitch piece is displayed or worn. I would suggest that you polish the silver pieces with a silver polishing cloth on a regular basis especially if you don’t want to remove them to clean. I would protect the fabric first with a cloth or acid free paper as the polishing cloth and your fingers will get the black tarnish on them. The nice part about the cloths are they are dry and they have contain an anti tarnish product that will protect the silver and delay tarnishing. If your piece is stored instead of… Read more »

Michael Green
Michael Green
6 years ago

The best way to clean your silver pieces is with commercial sterling silver cleaner. The cleaner is specially formulated to clean, shine and protect your silver pieces to maintain their brilliance. If you aren’t able to find commercial cleaner, toothpaste or baking soda can be used to shine the silver and remove any tarnish.

Iris
Iris
5 years ago

I hate it when my silver gets tarnished! Or any other metal jewelry gets that filthy layer. I’ve been converted to argentium silver jewelry for that reason alone. No tarnish and made from recycled silver 😉

Always curious to know more..about anything..
Always curious to know more..about anything..
Reply to  Iris
3 years ago

I’ve honestly never even heard of that silver?? That’s crazy that I have never, however, when it does get dirt or build up, what do you use? Will any of these solutions work since you sat it does not tarnish..and….I’m not real sure I even went so far into all this and the question. Lol . I guess I could just look that up Huh?…lol …then again, any personal opinions , I always appreciate :).
Thanks in advance if you get this and if you reply.. ::
Later on..

Jyoti shokeen
Jyoti shokeen
5 years ago

I have amazing silver earrings and i do not wear them anymore because they have tarnish coverage ! Jewelery should always be removed before swimming and washing dishes. Sterling silver is not difficult to take care of if these few simple precautions are followed. Great article indeed!

shah puja
shah puja
Reply to  Jyoti shokeen
3 years ago

Nice diamond jewellery. thanks for the write your article. I love silver hoop earrings. silver color is so nice jewellery color.

antique silver jewellery
antique silver jewellery
5 years ago

Ohh really liked your tips..I have lots of silver jewellery, thanks to you i will wear them again.

Rachel Bradley
Rachel Bradley
5 years ago

White vinegar and baking soda – that’s my favorite recipe for cleaning the jewelry. We all have baking soda and vinegar in our pantry. It helps a lot! Thank you for sharing! I will definitely try your other recipes! Greets!

Izzy
Izzy
5 years ago

Don’t discard old jewellery that you think is beyond restoration or repair. Polishing up an old, unworn piece of jewellery will make you feel like you’ve got a new item – for free! If you’re not getting results with either professional or home made silver cleaner, take it to a jewellery store where you can ask for the assistance of a jewellery restoration professional.

Natalie
Natalie
5 years ago

How do I store jewerly that is made with sterling silver AND (cultured freshwater) pearls?? Is it okay to store in a velvet pouch with an anti-tarnish strip or will this dry out the pearls? Help!

Juliette
Juliette
5 years ago

Hi, Thanks for the great advice. I’m having trouble with my jewellery becoming tarnished overnight very quickly. I always take it off and leave it on my bedside table. I bought a China bowl and have been putting it in that since the first few times, but it’s happened again. It’s so badly tarnished that it’s unwearable after just one night. The tricks above haven’t worked, and toothpaste just made it lose its shine. It only happens sometimes and I can’t work out what’s causing it. Could leaving it next to other jewellery that isn’t silver do it? Any advice… Read more »

DaviannaDavis
DaviannaDavis
5 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing several ways to clean Silver Jewelry. Keep posting.

Bali Yoyo
Bali Yoyo
5 years ago

Thank you for your great article. We can also add information that the simple way to clean the silver jewelry is using warm water mix with cleaning soap for china ware, then brush with teeth brush softy and dry it with soft cloth. Hope this helpful..thank you.

Vuyo
Vuyo
5 years ago

white vinegar and baking soda works 🙂

Cynthia
Cynthia
Reply to  Vuyo
1 year ago

Yes it does!!!!

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jgalaxy17
jgalaxy17
3 years ago

This site NOVICA.com is providing the knowledge of how to care our jewelry & how it will storage with best way.

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[…] How to Care for Sterling Silver Jewelry […]

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[…] on silver earrings while easily avoiding intentional oxidation. When polishing with a cloth, Novica suggests making long back and forth motions that mimic the grain of the silver, and avoiding […]

Nancy
Nancy
3 years ago

I have a friend that works for an auction house. When they are auctioning off estate jewelry, vintage or antique silver they have to clean it first most of the time. They have found that using anything containing baking soda will in fact “pit” the silver and they refuse to use this method. I have seen it for myself and would not make a habit of using this system. I like non toxic things in everything I do so I want to try the lemon and olive oil method listed above. If you have sterling that has pearls or opals… Read more »

Tushar G
Tushar G
3 years ago

The biggest problem with silver jewellery is the perfume. If perfume touches the silver, it will start getting darker.

Cynthia
Cynthia
Reply to  Tushar G
1 year ago

Wow, I had no clue. That’s what happens

Janelle Moorefield
Janelle Moorefield
3 years ago

I love the jewelry that you have shown in the pics. I’m very interested in of the pendants. Where did you get them or where can they be purchased? I also love the article. I wear a lot of sterling silver. I’ve also been going more natural and organic with many things in my life. So I’m adding natural jewelry cleaners to the list of things to change in my life.

Pamela Hofman
Pamela Hofman
Admin
Reply to  Janelle Moorefield
2 years ago

We are so glad you liked the article! Thank you so much for your comments!
You may find some of the pendants you see here with this link: https://www.novica.com/jewelry/necklaces/pendant/silver/

Maria
Maria
3 years ago

Great site. Perhaps someone can direct me. I polished my sterling jewelry and bead to result in a dull, no-shine finish. The lovey oxidation in the crevices if gone, but mostly I want to RESTORE the SHINE.
Anyone? Thanks!
Maria

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Neer Mishra
Neer Mishra
3 years ago

Thank you for sharing a blog on How to clean and care for Sterling Silver Jewelry . I will definitely try your shared homemade silver cleaner to remove tarnish from my Silver Jewelry. I appreciate for your hard work as you have written every step from making toner yo its ingredients. Keep Posting I’ll be waiting for next one.

sarah
sarah
3 years ago

I worked in a jewelry store. We recommended that people rub their opals over their oily skin to lubricate them.

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Marry Smith
Marry Smith
3 years ago

Thank you for sharing, great advice. I use baking soda and vinegar to clean my jewelry and I have some amazing results.

Malcolm Scott
Malcolm Scott
2 years ago

Many years ago I used to sell sterling silver rings at my market stall in England. As the rings were always displayed outside in all weather, I had to ensure that they did not tarnish. I achieved this simply by rubbing them with a soft cloth one by one. When I had finished polishing the entire stock, I just started from the beginning as before. Not only were my stock of rings always gleaming, customers got the impression that I was always busy and consequently, I sold more rings just by looking continuously occupied. I trained my staff to do… Read more »

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Quartzhouse
Quartzhouse
2 years ago

Sterling silver is a popular metal because of its affordability and malleability, but it also tarnishes quickly because of its composition. It is critical that you properly care for your new purchase to keep it looking as beautiful as it is today. Proper sterling silver jewelry care includes being aware of how you wear it, store it, and clean it.

925silverjaipur
925silverjaipur
2 years ago

Hey!
Thanks for sharing this lovely blog with some very useful tips.

Pamela Hofman
Pamela Hofman
Admin
Reply to  925silverjaipur
2 years ago

We are so glad you enjoyed it!

brett bevan
brett bevan
2 years ago

Nice advice

House of Silver
House of Silver
2 years ago

Thanks for your advise. We used to dip onyx bead jewelery and it was absolutely fine.
https://www.houseofsilver.co.uk

catherine
catherine
2 years ago

Thank you so much. Worked awesomely on my AVON sterling silver jewelry pieces. With summertime right around the corner, finding your article was perfect timing.

Pamela Hofman
Pamela Hofman
Admin
Reply to  catherine
2 years ago

I’m so happy to hear it was helpful for you!

Latoya O.
Latoya O.
1 year ago

Thank you so so much for this! I used the aluminum foil, boiling water, salt, and baking soda method and my sterling silver stud earrings came out GORGEOUS!!! They look brand new. Thanks so much again!

Pamela Hofman
Pamela Hofman
Admin
Reply to  Latoya O.
1 year ago

That’s so great to hear! Thanks for letting us know!

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Thu
Thu
1 year ago

Beautiful results!!! Tnank you so much.

Gowtham M
Gowtham M
1 year ago

Thanks for your content. We used flaux seed to polish jewelery and it was absolutely fine.
https://www.gemsfly.com

Jan
Jan
1 year ago

Recently recovered Granddaughters sterling silver trinity knot after it fell down the bathroom sink several months ago. Needless to say, it had turned black. Silver cleaner has removed most It. Ideas on how to remove the rest. Thanks.

Pamela Hofman
Pamela Hofman
Admin
Reply to  Jan
1 year ago

How great that you were able to recover your granddaughter’s jewelry! Have you tried cleaning it with some of the methods in the article?

Debra
Debra
1 year ago

Just cleaned all my nasty black jewelry…baking soda, salt, tinfoil, hot water……AWESOME!

Pamela Hofman
Pamela Hofman
Admin
Reply to  Debra
1 year ago

I’m so glad it worked for you!

Thanks for letting us know!

Pam for NOVICA.

richard
richard
1 year ago

Coca-cola, beer, vodka also works for some tarnish on silver jewelry

Shannon Patrick Coolbaugh
Shannon Patrick Coolbaugh
1 year ago

Thank you. I have a new found appreciation for silver, and have bought a few nice, (well, as far as my novice opinion is concerned), pieces off from Ebay, but wasn’t really sure how to keep them nicely polished. The appeal of silver to me, as I’m sure with others, is the shine. However, I DO like to utilize things I buy, be it a nice pen or a sterling silver cordial. That being said, my next door neighbor had a loss in his family, and in true Irish style, we did a few shots of Jameson. Well, I brought… Read more »

Pamela Hofman
Pamela Hofman
Admin
Reply to  Shannon Patrick Coolbaugh
1 year ago

Hi Shannon,

It’s so great to hear that it worked for you!

Thanks so much for letting us know!

Pam for NOVICA

Gyani Jewel
Gyani Jewel
2 months ago

Sterling silver looks stunning when you wear them but its maintenance is equally important. Found this blog worth reading and interesting.