I am often asked by customers what the best way is to clean jewelry. At Pico Design, we use sterling silver, brass, gold, and bronze and sometimes oxidized or plated finishes. And while we keep our inventory sealed up tight in ziploc bags, many of our samples and display jewelry sits out in the open, leaving it exposed to the air.
Most metals, whether sterling silver, brass, or gold vermeil can easily be restored to their original finish. Below, we provide some background and insider techniques we use at Pico to keep our sterling silver jewelry looking new.
A Little Background – What Causes Tarnish?
Since our line at Pico is primarily sterling silver (also called .925 silver, because it is 92.5% silver), we had to establish and maintain a system to keep our inventory clean. What we are doing, in effect, is protecting the silver from tarnish. Tarnish is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a chemical reaction that protects the underlying metal, like a patina on copper. With silver, though, this patina isn’t always desirable because it drastically changes the look and innate beauty of the silver color.
Sterling silver tarnishes when exposed to both oxygen and sulfur containing materials, the most common of which is hydrogen sulfide. Wool, felt, rubber and latex are all sulfur emitting and can cause tarnish. Oxygen and hydrogen sulfide react and form a surface layer on the silver. Tarnish is not corrosive, like rust, but protective. Nonetheless, we don’t want it on our jewelry. Here are three ways you can keep your silver jewelry looking brand new:
- Keep the air out!
When at all possible, store your sterling silver jewelry in an airtight container. That can be a ziploc bag, a jewelry box, a tupperware or anything that has a tight seal. Wood is a good material for jewelry boxes, but try not to get one lined in wool or felt.
Do not store your jewelry in your bathroom. Humidity in the air will facilitate the reaction that causes the tarnish. It is much better to keep it in a dry environment. Your bedroom or a closet is fine.
Try to keep larger, statement pieces stored separately to avoid scratching caused by rubbing together of metals.
When traveling, carry your jewelry in a jewelry roll or the ziploc bags. Keep these protected and if you’re at a hotel, try not to leave it out on the vanity in the bathroom.
You can go a step further and put an anti-tarnish strip in your bag or jewelry box for added protection. We use 3M Anti Tarnish Tabs.
- Silver Dip
Because we tend to clean multiple pieces of jewelry at a time, we use a chemical dip to remove tarnish. Goddards Silver Dip is readily available at hardware stores. Dip your tarnished silver jewelry in the container until you see the tarnish come off, then rinse under cool water and use a soft bristled toothbrush to get in any hard to reach areas. We also use a mild dish detergent after this step, applied with the soft bristled toothbrush. Rinse again with cool water, pat dry with a soft cloth and lay out to dry. Once the piece is fully dry, return to storage with your anti-tarnish strip.
NOTE: Putting a wet piece of silver jewelry in an airtight bag is NOT good. Trust us, we’ve done it. You will have to start the process all over again. Make sure the piece is fully dry before returning to storage!
- Baking Soda and Water
Another option is to use household materials to clean the silver. Get a pyrex baking dish and line it with aluminum foil. Place your silver jewelry on the foil so that it sits flat and as many parts as possible touch the foil. Sprinkle with baking soda. (Don’t go crazy on the baking soda! Just a dusting.) Boil enough water to cover the pieces and pour over the jewelry. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Rinse under warm water and lay out on a soft towel to dry.
Both dipping and using baking soda and water should preserve the finish on your silver, whether the finish is shiny or matte. A silver polishing cloth, while helpful on shiny pieces, will tend to ruin a matte finish.
Once your piece is cleaned, it should look like it did when you first got it. Maintaining your silver jewelry will keep it wearable for a long time.