solid silver won't tarnish but it is too soft to use for making jewelry - it could
easily be scratched, dented and bent.
Sterling silver has a small amount of
one or more other metals usually copper, added to the silver. To be called sterling
silver, the alloy must contain at least 92.5% pure silver. Sterling silver alloy
is harder than pure silver but the added metals also can cause discoloration or
Both tarnish and rust
are due to exposure to air. Rust occurs when items such as those containing iron,
combine with oxygen to form iron oxide. Rust eats into and deforms the iron, degrading
Tarnish, on the other hand, is a layer that forms on the surface
of a silver alloy, for example, when the item is exposed to sulfur or hydrogen
sulfide in the air. The chemical reaction that takes place produces silver sulfate,
the smoky, gray or black residue that some people dislike. Others love it - it
is called patina. Interestingly, a layer of tarnish actually protects an item
from further tarnishing.
is the film on the surface of an item produced by chemical changes over a long
period of time. The green patina on the Statue of Liberty is verdigris, a normal
darkening of copper when it is exposed to the atmosphere.
Patina is what gives
older silver pawn jewelry its character. That's why in our pawnshop, we never
remove patina - we let the new owner decide if they want the item to show its
age or to be shiny. Authentic patina increases the value of old Native American
in the air varies depending on location. Air near volcanic activity, some industries
and heavy traffic can be high in sulfur. Homes built within the last 10 years
or so that used drywall from China have been found to have very high concentrations
If you want to keep your sterling
silver jewelry bright and shiny, here are some tips.
you remove your jewelry, look for a build up on the inside of a bracelet or the
back of a pendant, this is usually caused by sweat, make up, sloughed skin cells
and the like. Carefully wipe the jewelry with a damp cloth or sponge to remove
the buildup. Although silver doesn't rust like iron, the salt in sweat can be
corrosive to silver-copper alloys such as sterling silver so you want to remove
any caked-on sweat or residue before storage. If your jewelry piece has stones,
take care not to get the stones wet as it could loosen their settings.
contact of your jewelry with moisturizers, perfume, and makeup.
your silver jewelry before you go swimming or if you can't part with it, rinse
it off promptly after swimming.
- Store your
silver jewelry in a dark, low humidity area. Sunshine, high humidity, body sweat
and oils all hasten tarnishing. (see complete list below)
large valuable pieces in anti-tarnish cloth (ATC), store in ATC
pouches or line your jewelry boxes or a jewelry drawer with ATC. You can purchase
the cloth by the yard - it is the same type that lines your silverware box. (Watch
for a future edition of PP for photos of jewelry storage drawer ideas. Go
here to see anti-tarnish pouches.
jewelry pieces with special
silver polishing cloths to remove fingerprints and tarnish before wearing.
not use polishing cloths on the stone portion of your jewelry.
that cause tarnish on your sterling silver jewelry:
the best method we have found for quickly and easily cleaning tarnished silver
items. (Many jewelers have reported that this method will not harm turquoise and
other gemstones, although steel and hematite may be affected. Do not use this
method on items that should not be submerged in water.)
Place a double layer of aluminum foil in the bottom of a non-metallic container
enough hot water to cover the item
- Add 2 heaping
tablespoons of washing soda (sodium carbonate) or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
(stores stock washing soda with laundry supplies - it works a bit faster than
- Place the tarnished item in the water
to soak in contact with the aluminum foil for a few minutes (heavily tarnished
items may take two or three treatments - if the water turns grey and the item
is sitll tarnished, replace the solution)
tarnish is gone rinse item thoroughly under running water
dry with soft polishing cloth or towel to restore luster - the solution removes
the tarnish, but buffing brings out the shine
chains and liquid silver, you can make a thin paste of baking soda and water and
rub it gently onto the piece with your hands and then place the item in the aluminum-lined
tray with the very hot water.
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