Fun Fact: Sterling silver is not 100% silver.
Sterling silver is actually a metal alloy (blend), made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals, most often copper or zinc. (FYI, you’ll see sterling silver stamped with 925, as sterling silver is regulated by U.S. code. Not all countries regulate it, however, and handmade jewelry rarely has this stamp.)
Silver: A Mini History Lesson
Silver is one of the seven metals of antiquity, along with gold, tin, copper, iron, lead and mercury. It’s so old, in fact, that the origin, discovery and early use are not known. But suffice it to say … it’s been around a loooong time.
Pure silver, also known as fine silver, (stamped with 999 as it’s 99.9% silver) is a very soft metal, meaning it is easily bent, misshapen or damaged. Obviously is not ideal for jewelry. (Especially jewelry you want to pound metal stamps into. Or, you know, actually wear.) It also will eventually tarnish when exposed to air, but not very quickly.
Actually pure silver is kind of extra now that I think about it.
Sterling silver is much more durable, although it does tarnish even more easily than pure silver. That is because the “not silver” part – the copper – tarnishes easily. It will turn brown or even black, especially in humid conditions. (Like, say, a steamy bathroom.) Exposure to sulphur will also quickly tarnish your silver.
The good news, though, is that although silver tarnishes, it does not rust. Underneath the ugly brown tarnish, your silver is good as new. All it needs is a bit of polishing.
About Cleaning Silver
Tarnishing is a natural process that occurs when a metal is exposed to oxygen and moisture. All precious metals tarnish … it’s just a matter of how quickly. And how often you wear it. In fact, wearing sterling silver every day will keep the tarnishing at bay. (Oh hey!)
In addition to wearing it regularly, cleaning your silver regularly will help prevent tarnish. (Not unlike brushing your teeth every day to prevent plaque buildup.)
Because silver is a softer metal, use care when cleaning it. It is not a good idea to use gritty cleaners like baking soda or toothpaste, which may scratch the metal or wear it down over time. Use warm, soapy water to clean instead.
It’s good to keep a jewelry polishing cloth handy for any tarnish or color spots that do appear. This is a cloth with a special silver polishing compound in it. (Guess what? Each one of my pieces comes with it’s own polishing cloth.) They are the safest way to get rid of tarnishing, and shine up your piece at the same time! Simply rub your jewelry with the cloth until the tarnish disappears. Sometimes this takes some pressure and patience. (Be careful about blackened letters, though. Most of my letters are blackened by intentionally tarnishing them, as this is the most permanent method. The cloth can take off the black if you scrub it enough.) Alternatively, if your piece has a matte finish, you could use a Scotch Brite pad to scrub the tarnish off while maintaining the matte look.
There is a cleaning product called silver dip, which you can buy online, as well as some homemade alternatives (see below). I do NOT recommend using these on any stamped jewelry, as it will remove all of the black out of the letters!
DIY Silver Cleaning Solution (great for removing tarnish from chains. DO NOT USE WITH STAMPED SILVER!)
This simple solution will do a good job of removing tarnish from chains and other items that are difficult to scrub with a polishing cloth. Best of all, you should have all the ingredients in your cupboard.
Cut a piece of aluminum foil to cover the bottom of a glass or ceramic small bowl. Then pour a cup of hot water into the bowl and mix in the following:
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon of baking soda
- 1 tablespoon of gentle, fragrance free detergent (castile works well!)
Place the chain in the bowl, covered by the solution. After 5 to 10 minutes remove the chain and discard the solution and the foil, which may have turned a grey color. Repeat if necessary.
Rinse the chain and pat dry.