Silver requires more maintenance than other precious metals, and it scratches easily, but when it is properly cared for, this whitest of all metals shines like no other.
Silver undergoes a natural process called oxidation, which inevitably causes it to tarnish. Tarnish results from silver reacting with sulfur and moisture in the atmosphere. There are many factors that affect the speed of tarnishing, such as humidity, pollution, the pH levels of skin, the type of water in a particular area, and even the foods you eat. Tarnished silver at first takes on a golden cast and eventually turns black. The more oxidized silver becomes, the harder it is to clean, so it best to try to prevent dullness and tarnishing and to address the signs as early as possible.
A good preventive measure against tarnishing is to wear your silver jewelry often. At the same time, avoid exposing it to detergents containing phosphates, hair dyes and hair sprays, body lotions, sunscreen and oils, sweat, rubber, latex, chlorinated or salt water or direct sunlight. Take it off while showering, as soap residue will cause dull finish that is difficult to remove. Avoid contact with rubber bands, because with time they release sulfur that accelerates tarnishing. Other materials that often contain sulfur and should not be kept in close proximity to your silver jewelry are newspapers, plastic wraps, leather and silk. Certain substances, such as turpentine, acetone-based nail polish remover, bleach, ammonia and alcohol can destroy silver and also cause damage to gemstones.
Silver is relatively soft, so remember to separate the stored jewelry to prevent the pieces from scratching one another. Make sure stored jewelry is not directly touching wood, as some wood might contain acids that can be damaging. To slow down the oxidation process of silver pieces that are not worn on a regular basis, store them in airtight, tarnish-resistant containers or bags that are specially treated to slow down tarnishing. It is also a good idea to wrap your piece in anti-tarnish tissue and lay it flat in a plastic bag, squeezing out as much air as possible before sealing the bag.
Ideally, keep your silver jewelry in a cool, dry area, avoiding warm and humid rooms, such as kitchens and bathrooms (heat and moisture speed up the oxidation process). It has been reported that white chalk placed in the storage area prevents tarnish, and silica packs (such as those found in medication and supplement bottles) help absorb moisture. You can also buy special anti-tarnish strips and replace them every few months.
General dirt and minor marks can be polished off with a soft cloth. From time to time, clean your untarnished silver jewelry with gentle soap and warm water – avoid harsh soaps and chemicals as well as abrasive fabrics and tissue. Do not use toothpaste or baking soda. Rinse your silver jewelry well and let it dry completely before storing. If it looks dull, rub it with a clean polishing cloth in straight lines (not in a circular motion, to avoid forming a pattern). Buff your silver from time to time with polishing cloths infused with special jewelry cleaner to restore the finish and further protect silver from tarnishing.
When your silver jewelry is mildly tarnished, you can clean it at home using special dips – but keep in mind that these can damage your gemstones (gems such as such as pearls, opals, turquoise, lapis lazuli or any other soft stones are especially vulnerable), so it is very important not to dip silver pieces with attached stones. Never use such cleaners on rhodium-plated jewelry. Remember to rinse off the pieces thoroughly and polish them dry to avoid leaving any residue that might actually accelerate tarnishing or change the color of silver. When using the dips, always closely follow the instructions.
By the time the tarnish on your silver jewelry turns brownish or black, it is best to have the piece professionally cleaned and polished to remove scratches and maintain its shine and beauty.