5 Ways to Clean Silver Jewelry

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When it comes to silver jewelry, it’s hard to not bring up the big, grey elephant in the room: Tarnish.

It’s one of the most common complaints I’ve received during my years working in jewelry studios and galleries; removing tarnish is a chore. Its presence in our jewelry collection brings us pause each time we’re choosing what to wear. And, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be one cure-all method to remove tarnish on every piece.

Over the years I’ve used each one of the 5 methods below to remove tarnish from hundreds of designer jewelry collections—no joke! Not all silver jewelry is created equal; differing alloys, finishes, and presence of gemstones all come into play when finding the right method to clean.

These 5 methods are relatively simple. They require items found in your kitchen or at a local jewelry store. So, without further delay, let’s dig into the basics.

THE GROUND RULES

  • Take a good look at the jewelry item you want to clean. Note the gemstones used and the texture of the silver. Use the charts below to determine which methods should work best for you.
  • Glued gems cannot get wet! Pearls, mother of pearl, and turquoise are often glued into place. Moisture can break the glue’s bond.
  • Use a mild dish detergent and soft toothbrush to remove dirt and grime prior to these tarnish-removal methods (unless, as mentioned above, your gems are possibly glued).
  • Clean your jewelry in accordance with the softest gemstone.
  • If you have questions about your gemstone or metal type, contact your local jeweler before attempting to clean yourself.
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METHOD 1: POLISHING CLOTH

Restore the luster of your polished silver pieces.

corey-egan-cleaning-silver-jewelry-polishing-cloth

GOOD FOR:

Items with gems of any hardness (avoid rubbing directly on soft gems)

Polished (shiny surface), silver chains

AVOID ON:

Textured silver surfaces

HOW TO USE:

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These cotton cloths have a polishing compound built into the fibers. As you rub the cloth on a metal surface, you will notice the black and grey marks where the compound, a mild abrasive, is being rubbed through. Rub over the entire piece of silver, using caution around pearls, gemstones, and blackened (oxidized silver).

Since the compound is abrasive, it can rub away textured metal surfaces such as brushed or sandblasted finishes. Opt for another method below when cleaning textured metal.

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Left: uncleaned. Right: cleaned with polishing cloth.

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METHOD 2: BAKING SODA

Raid your pantry for this quick homemade jewelry cleaner.

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GOOD FOR:

Shiny and matte silver, hard gemstones, cleaning specific areas of jewelry (such as two-tone pieces)

AVOID ON:

Soft and porous gemstones, oxidized silver surfaces

HOW TO USE:

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Mix 1 tsp of baking soda (or more as needed) with just enough water to form a paste.

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Use this paste as you would toothpaste on your teeth, gently massaging over the areas of the jewelry in need of cleaning. Thoroughly rinse and dry.

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Left: cleaned with baking soda. Right: uncleaned.

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METHOD #3: SUPER BAKING SODA

My favorite home remedy for tarnished silver: Baking soda, salt, and tin foil clean multiple items at a time without harsh chemicals.

corey-egan-cleaning-silver-jewelry-super-baking-soda

GOOD FOR:

White (reduction guilded) silver, shiny and matte silver, hard gemstones

AVOID ON:

Soft and porous gemstones, oxidized silver surfaces

HOW TO USE:

You will need:

  • Tin Foil
  • Pyrex Dish
  • Baking Soda – 1/4 to 1/2 cup
  • Salt – 1 tsp
  • Boiling Water – approximately 1 cup

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Line your Pyrex dish with tin foil, shiny side up.

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Lay silver jewelry in the dish ensuring all pieces are touching the tin foil.

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In a separate pot, bring water to a boil. Pour into a Pyrex measuring cup and stir in salt. Pour in baking soda and stir to dissolve all.

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Mixture will begin to react.

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Immediately pour mixture into Pyrex dish lined with tinfoil so the jewelry is completely submerged.

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Wait 1-2 minutes. Bubbles will form on the surface of the jewelry as the reaction takes place.

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Remove jewelry from dish after 2 minutes. Thoroughly rinse and dry. Change foil after each use.

Left: cleaned with super baking soda solution. Right: uncleaned.

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METHOD #4: LAVISH JEWELRY CLEANER

A mild, gemstone friendly cleaner for use on many types of silver surfaces. A great all-around cleaner.

corey-egan-cleaning-silver-jewelry-lavish

GOOD FOR:

All jewelry metals & gemstones (Label says this cleaner is OK for pearls, but I am skeptic. Pearls are often glued in and should not get wet. Proceed at your own risk.) Cleaning specific areas of jewelry (such as two-tone pieces)

AVOID ON:

Glued in gemstones, use caution on oxidized silver surfaces.

HOW TO USE:

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This cleaner is a foam which you pump onto a brush, cloth, or directly onto your piece of jewelry.

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Rub onto the surface to remove tarnish. Rinse thoroughly and dry.

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Left: uncleaned. Right: cleaned with Lavish jewelry cleaner.

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METHOD #5: TARN-X

Tried and true cleaner for silver-only surfaces.

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GOOD FOR:

Plain sterling silver (shiny or matte), hard gemstones

AVOID ON:

Soft gemstones, oxidized surfaces

HOW TO USE:

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Using gloves, apply Tarn-X to the surface of your jewelry.

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This can be done with a clean cloth or paper towel, or by submerging the entire piece. Rinse thoroughly and dry.

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Left: cleaned with Tarn-X. Right: uncleaned.

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Regardless of which method you choose, the best way to prevent tarnish from reappearing on your jewelry is careful storage when it’s not in use. Tarnish is formed by a chemical reaction between sterling silver and moisture in the air. Store your jewelry in airtight ziplock bags to slow this reaction between wears.

Do you have a favorite home remedy for removing silver tarnish? I’d love to hear how you keep your collection sparkling clean. Leave a comment below!

Special thanks to Will Geddes (Graphics) and Ryan Leggett (Photography)
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