July 14, 2023

How to Care for and Clean Your Sterling Silver Jewelry: A DIY, Affordable Guide

Tarnished handmade silver bracelet from Taxco Nueve Sterling

All of the jewelry I offer at Nueve Sterling is handmade using high-quality 925 sterling silver, and all of the pieces come from the famous silversmithing town of Taxco de Alarcón in Mexico.

While each piece is carefully crafted and made to last, all jewelry is susceptible to tarnishing over time. Luckily, cleaning and caring for your sterling silver jewelry is straightforward and can be done with various products you probably already have in your home. But first, let me explain what sterling silver is and how it can tarnish.

What Is Sterling Silver and What Does Tarnish Mean?

Sterling silver is an alloy composed of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of another metal. The reason for this composition is to enhance the durability and strength of silver, which is naturally a soft metal. The resulting alloy is known as 925 sterling silver or simply sterling silver.

Copper is the most used metal for alloying with silver and there are several reasons why copper is preferred over other metals like nickel or zinc:

  1. Strength and Durability: Copper is a relatively strong metal that adds strength and durability to silver. By alloying silver with copper, the resulting sterling silver becomes more resistant to bending, breaking, and general wear and tear. This is particularly important for jewelry pieces that are designed to be worn regularly.
  2. Tarnish Resistance: Copper is less prone to tarnishing compared to other metals like nickel or zinc. Tarnish is a natural oxidation process that causes silver to darken and lose its luster over time. By using copper as the alloying metal, sterling silver jewelry is better able to resist tarnishing, allowing it to maintain its beauty for a longer period. However, just because copper is less prone to oxidize, that doesn't mean it won't oxidize. The molecules of copper interact with gases in the air, moisture, chemicals, and body oils and can cause 925 sterling silver jewelry to darken or tarnish over time, when proper care is not taken.
  1. Hypoallergenic Properties: Nickel, commonly used in other types of jewelry alloys, can cause allergic reactions for some individuals. By using copper in sterling silver, it reduces the risk of triggering allergies or skin sensitivities. This makes sterling silver jewelry a safer and more comfortable option for a wider range of people to wear.

Overall, the use of copper as the alloying metal in sterling silver offers a balance of strength, durability, tarnish resistance and hypoallergenic properties. These factors make sterling silver jewelry an excellent choice for those seeking beautiful and long-lasting pieces that are less prone to tarnishing and safe for most individuals to wear.

My jewelry at Nueve Sterling comes from different certified workshops, ensuring that each piece is made using 925 parts of silver alloyed with copper as the non-silver metal. This means you can enjoy the beauty of my jewelry with peace of mind, knowing that it is nickel-free.

Some Do’s and Don’ts To Help Take Care of Your Sterling Silver

By taking good care of your jewelry, you can keep it looking beautiful for longer. These are some things that you can do to minimize tarnishing and avoid damaging your beautiful sterling silver jewelry.

Don’t Wear Your Jewelry While Washing or Cleaning

Many household cleaners contain chemicals that do not mix well with sterling silver. Wearing gloves or removing your jewelry before cleaning or washing the dishes is a safe practice to avoid potential damage from unforeseen chemical erosion.

Don’t Go Swimming While Wearing Your Jewelry

Chlorinated pools or saltwater can structurally damage and chemically react with any 925 sterling silver jewelry. Taking off your jewelry before entering the pool is the best way to avoid rapid tarnishing.

Do Store Your Jewelry In A Cool, Dark Place Away from the Bathroom

Storing your sterling silver jewelry in a velvet-lined jewelry box or in separate bags in a drawer, significantly slows down the tarnishing process. I recommend keeping that container in an area outside of the bathroom to reduce exposure to excess moisture. You can also add a silica bead packet or a piece of chalk to the storage container as an extra precaution if you live in a moist climate.

Do Wear Your Jewelry Often

Wearing your jewelry for a little bit each day can help preserve it. If your work doesn’t involve manual labor or chemicals, wearing your jewelry during your shift is excellent for helping prevent rapid tarnishing. The natural oils from your skin help keep the jewelry's natural shine, but it's a good practise to wipe it with a soft cotton towel every time you take it off to eliminate any excess oils that could tarnish it.

Affordable, At-Home Methods For Cleaning Your Sterling Silver Jewelry

Toothpaste

When you’re in a rush and your go-to silver jewelry doesn't look its best, you can add a bit of toothpaste and rub gently. After cleaning, rinse the jewelry with warm water to remove any residue from the toothpaste, pat it dry with a soft cloth or allow it to air dry completely before storing.

Toothpaste can be an effective household remedy for cleaning tarnished silver jewelry due to its mildly abrasive nature and chemical properties.

However, when using toothpaste to clean tarnished silver jewelry, it's important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Choose a non-gel, non-whitening toothpaste: Opt for a basic toothpaste formulation without any added gels or whitening agents, as these can be too harsh and potentially damage the silver.
  • Avoid gemstones or delicate elements: Toothpaste may not be suitable for cleaning jewelry pieces that contain gemstones, pearls, or delicate elements. These should be cleaned using other methods or brought to a professional jeweler for proper care.

Warm Water and Soap

You can add a few drops of mild dishwashing soap to warm water and let your jewelry soak in the solution for a few minutes. Gently rub it, then rinse it with clean, warm water. Leave it out to air dry or pat it dry using a microfiber or cotton cloth to prevents scratches.

Baking Soda Paste

If you find some tarnish in the crevices of your jewelry that the soap solution didn’t clean out, you can try a baking soda paste instead. Mix some baking soda with a little warm water until it becomes a paste and then gently scrub it on your sterling silver jewelry with a soft-bristled brush. I usually use a toothbrush to clean those difficult spots. Rinse with clean water, and dry with a microfiber or cotton cloth.

Baking Soda, Water and Aluminum

Cleaning tarnished silver jewelry with baking soda and aluminum is a popular DIY method that can effectively remove tarnish and restore the shine to your pieces.

Start by wrapping aluminum foil around a heat-resistant container, like a glass or ceramic dish. Ensure that the foil's shiny side is facing up. Pour some boiling water into the container and add a tablespoon of baking soda. Place the jewelry immediately after, making sure it touches the aluminum.

You can retrieve your jewelry almost right away after submerging it in the water, or you can wait a few minutes, depending on how badly tarnished it is.

Carefully take the pieces out of the container, rinse them thoroughly under warm water to get rid of any baking soda residue and use a soft cloth to properly dry the jewelry.

Once dry, you can polish the jewelry further using a soft cotton cloth to bring back its shine and remove any remaining tarnish.

This method works because a chemical reaction occurs between the aluminum foil, baking soda, and tarnish. The tarnish transfers from the silver to the aluminum foil, leaving the silver jewelry cleaner and brighter.

However, it's important to note that this method is not suitable for jewelry with porous gemstones, pearls, or delicate components, as it can cause damage. If you have such pieces, it's best to consult a professional jeweler for appropriate cleaning methods. 

 

And last but not least, here are a few additional recommendations for easily taking care of your sterling silver jewelry at home:

  1. Regularly wipe your jewelry
    Use a soft, lint-free cloth to gently wipe your sterling silver jewelry after each use. This helps remove any oils, dirt, or residue that may have accumulated on the surface, preventing tarnish buildup.
  2. Avoid direct contact with cosmetics and chemicals
    Chemicals present in cosmetics, lotions, perfumes, and hairsprays can accelerate the tarnishing process. It's best to apply these products before putting on your sterling silver jewelry and allow them to dry completely before wearing the jewelry.
  3. Handle with care
    Avoid excessive pulling, tugging, or bending of your silver jewelry, as this can cause damage or distortion. When taking off or putting on your jewelry, handle it gently to preserve its shape and integrity.
  4. Store jewelry individually
    To prevent scratches and tangling, store each piece of sterling silver jewelry separately. You can use soft pouches, jewelry boxes with individual compartments, or even resealable plastic bags. This ensures that your jewelry remains protected and doesn't encounter other metals that could cause chemical reactions.
  5. Regularly check for loose stones or clasps
    Inspect your silver jewelry periodically to ensure that stones are securely set and clasps are functioning properly. If you notice any loose components, it's best to have them repaired by a professional jeweler to prevent further damage or loss. 

By following these simple jewelry care tips at home, you can help slow tarnishing and easily maintain the sparkling beauty of your unique Taxco silver designs from Nueve Sterling.

Just a last recommendation, while DIY cleaning methods can be effective, it's also a good idea to periodically take your sterling silver jewelry to a professional jeweler for deep cleaning and maintenance. They have specialized tools and cleaning solutions to restore the brilliance of your silver jewelry.

Remember that regular care and attention go a long way in preserving the exquisite charm of your precious pieces.