How To Clean Sterling Silver

by - Friday, January 19, 2024

At Marleylilly, we cherish the timeless elegance of sterling silver. Whether it's in charming home accessories or our intricately designed jewelry, sterling silver adds a touch of class and sophistication. However, even the most beautiful silver pieces aren't immune to the trials of time. 

Tarnish, a dull and often dark discoloration, is a common issue that can diminish the luster of your beloved silver items. However, with the right care and attention, you can keep your sterling silver looking as stunning as the day you first fell in love with it. 

We'll tell you all the secrets to maintaining the beauty and value of your sterling silver, ensuring it continues to shine for years to come.

What Causes Silver to Tarnish?

Tarnish on sterling silver isn't just an aesthetic issue — it's a chemical reaction. When silver is exposed to air and certain substances, it reacts with sulfur-containing gasses, forming silver sulfide. This dark layer is what we see as tarnish. 

Several factors accelerate this process:

  • Exposure to Air: Prolonged exposure to air, especially humid air, speeds up tarnishing.
  • Moisture: Humidity or contact with water, including wearing silver jewelry while bathing or swimming, can contribute to tarnish.
  • Air Pollution: Pollutants and sulfur compounds in the air can react more quickly with silver.
  • Contact with Certain Materials: Rubber, wool, and latex are known to expedite tarnishing in silver.
  • Personal Care Products: Perfumes, lotions, and hairsprays can contain harsh chemicals that increase tarnishing.
  • Skin Oils: Natural oils on human skin can also interact with silver, causing it to tarnish faster.
  • Food Substances: Foods high in acidity or containing sulfur compounds, such as onions and eggs, can accelerate tarnishing.
  • Household Chemicals: Cleaning agents and chlorine can cause quicker tarnishing of silver items.

Understanding these triggers is the first step in effective silver care. By knowing what causes tarnish, we can adopt preventive measures to protect our cherished sterling silver pieces, keeping them bright and beautiful for every occasion.

What Are the Basic Cleaning Methods for Sterling Silver?

Maintaining the brilliance of your sterling silver — whether it's our Monogrammed Necklaces or heirloom silverware — doesn't require complex tools or expensive cleaners. 

Here are some basic yet effective cleaning methods to restore the shine and luster of your sterling silver pieces:

Soap and Warm Water Solution

The simplest way is often the best way. Use a mild, phosphate-free dish soap mixed with warm water. Dip a soft cloth or a microfiber cloth into this solution and gently rub your silver pieces. This method is particularly effective for lightly tarnished items and regular maintenance.

Baking Soda Paste

Make a paste of baking soda and water for items with more stubborn tarnish. Apply this gently with a soft cloth or a non-abrasive sponge, and rub it onto the silver in a back-and-forth motion. This method is ideal for detailed items, as the paste can get into the crevices to remove tarnish.

White Vinegar and Baking Soda

For heavily tarnished silver, soak the items in a mixture of a half cup of white vinegar and two tablespoons of baking soda for two to three hours. Rinse under cold water and dry thoroughly with a clean cloth.

Aluminum Foil Bath

Line a bowl with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Fill it with boiling water and add a tablespoon of baking soda for every cup of water. Place the silver items in the bowl, ensuring they are touching the aluminum foil. This causes a chemical reaction that removes the tarnish. Rinse and dry with a soft cloth.

Toothpaste Method

Use a pea-sized amount of white, non-gel toothpaste on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Gently scrub the silver and rinse. This method is suitable for items with heavy tarnish but should be used sparingly, as toothpaste can be abrasive.

Lemon Juice and Olive Oil

Mix a half cup of lemon juice with a teaspoon of olive oil. Dip a clean cloth into the solution and gently rub the silver. Rinse and dry. This method is effective and leaves a pleasant scent.

What if DIY Just Doesn’t Cut It?

While the above DIY methods are great for regular upkeep, sometimes your sterling silver demands a professional touch. 

Here's when and why you might consider calling in the pros:

  • Deep-Seated Tarnish: A professional jeweler's expertise becomes indispensable for sterling silver pieces with deep-seated tarnish or discoloration that home remedies can't tackle. They use specialized tools and silver cleaners that can safely restore your items to their former glory.
  • Delicate Gemstones: If your sterling silver jewelry has precious gemstones like diamonds or pearls, it's best to consult a professional. They know the right techniques to clean without damaging these delicate additions.
  • Antique and Heirloom Pieces: Antique silver pieces and family heirlooms often have immense sentimental and monetary value. Professional silversmiths can clean and restore these items while preserving their integrity and historical significance.
  • Complex Designs: Sterling silver items with intricate designs or hard-to-reach crevices may require professional cleaning to ensure every nook and cranny is addressed without causing damage.
  • Preventive Maintenance: Regular visits to a jeweler for cleaning and maintenance can prevent tarnish and corrosion, especially for high-use items like silver rings and necklaces. It's also an opportunity for the jeweler to inspect for any necessary repairs.

While your precious silver items can often be maintained at home, don't hesitate to seek professional help for those special pieces that require extra care. This ensures their cleanliness and longevity, allowing them to continue being a cherished part of your collection.

What Are Some Other Tips to Keep Sterling Silver in Tip-top Shape?

Keeping your sterling silver sparkling involves regular care and some smart practices. 

Here are some tips to help you maintain the luster and prevent tarnish on your sterling silver:

  • Proper Storage: Store silver in a cool, dry place. Use a jewelry box or a tarnish-resistant pouch to protect it from air and moisture. For larger items like flatware or silver-plated decoratives, consider a tarnish-proof chest.
  • Avoid Contact with Harmful Substances: Keep your silver away from household chemicals, chlorine, and harsh soaps. It's best to remove silver jewelry when doing household chores or swimming.
  • Gentle Jewelry Cleaners: Opt for a mild jewelry cleaner specifically designed for sterling silver for periodic cleaning. Ensure it's a non-abrasive formula to keep the precious metal scratch-free.
  • Minimize Exposure to Air and Light: Store your silver pieces in airtight bags or containers when not in use. Exposure to air accelerates tarnishing, so keeping it airtight helps a lot.
  • Remove During Sports and Exercise: Sweat can accelerate tarnishing, so removing silver jewelry during physical activities is a good practice.
  • Use Anti-Tarnish Strips: Place anti-tarnish strips in your storage area to absorb the tarnish-causing elements.
  • Check for Needed Repairs: Regularly inspect your silver for any loose parts or damage. Early detection means simpler repairs.
  • Avoid Paper Towels: Don’t use paper towels when drying or cleaning your silver. They can scratch the surface. Instead, use a soft, lint-free polishing cloth.
  • Educate Yourself on Different Silver Types: Understand the care for different types of silver like pure silver and silver-plated items. They may require slightly different handling.
  • Avoid Extreme Temperature Changes: Sudden changes in temperature can cause the metal to expand and contract, potentially weakening it over time.

How Often Should You Clean Sterling Silver Jewelry and Other Items?

The secret to keeping sterling silver in its best form is regular polishing. We recommend polishing your sterling silver pieces every two to three months. 

This frequency keeps them shining without overdoing it. However, if you frequently use or display your silver, you might need to polish it more often.

So, how do you polish sterling silver effectively? At Marleylilly, we’ve got you covered:

  • Get that Sterling Silver Polish: Choose a specially formulated sterling silver polish, ensuring it’s non-abrasive to avoid scratching your silver.
  • Use a Soft Cloth: Dip the cloth into your polish, then apply it to the silver piece in gentle, circular motions. Choose a clean section of the cloth regularly for efficient polishing.
  • Details Matter: Use a cotton swab or a soft brush to reach into tiny crevices for intricately designed pieces.
  • Rinse and Dry: Thoroughly rinse the item with lukewarm water after polishing. Finally, dry it using a fresh soft cloth to avoid water spots.

A Final Word

Sterling silver holds timeless elegance. Each piece — from our monogrammed jewelry to cherished heirlooms — holds a special place in our hearts and homes. And now, with these care tips, they can continue to sparkle and tell their tales for generations.

Whether adorning your neckline or gracing your dinner table, your sterling silver deserves the best of care. Regular, loving maintenance will make these pieces more precious over time. So, treasure your sterling silver just like the memories it represents.

Explore more of our useful tips and tricks by visiting our blog.


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