You love your jewelry. So much, that you probably wear it everywhere.
But, how in the heck do you keep it from tarnishing? Even our heirloom jewelry that we wear infrequently will eventually tarnish. It feels like a never-ending battle.
Luckily, there are some tips and tricks to cleaning tarnished jewelry at home that won’t break the bank.
We’ll dive into what tarnishing is, how to slow down the tarnishing process, and tools and methods you can use to rid your jewelry of tarnishing.
What is Tarnished Jewelry?
First off, tarnishing is a chemical reaction that affects various metals. Yes, it can be caused by prolonged exposure to oxygen and oxidizing agents, but different metals react differently to other elements like hydrogen sulfide.
Tarnishing isn’t to be confused with patina or toning. Patina is a type of tarnish, and some people love the way it looks. A patina can form on brass and bronze but is mainly found on copper. And, patina can actually protect metals from further corrosion or damage from the elements. You’ll see the term patina used a lot when talking about tarnishing.
Toning, which is basically the same thing as tarnishing, is a term for oxidized coins.
When your pieces start to dull or look gray or black, it’s probably tarnished. Some tarnished pieces may even have an iridescent appearance and you may see shades of green or blue as well.
So, unless you plan on not wearing your jewelry ever, it will oxidize and tarnish over time.
What Tarnishes Jewelry
When you know what causes tarnishing, you’ll know how to avoid those elements (if you can). Here are the big ones that take a toll on your jewelry.
Oxygen is the obvious one. It’ll affect everything from your anklets to your heart drop earrings.
Unfortunately, we also have to consider air pollution. In a better world, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about that, but here we are.
Also, if your jewelry has copper in it, be wary of wearing it when handling lemons, limes, and other citrusy items since citrus accelerates the tarnishing process. Copper also reacts to saltwater. And, there’s this weird reaction to sulfur that may leak out of packaging like boxes and paper that will attack your jewelry.
The humidity in the air can also affect your jewelry pieces. So if you’re a Southern Belle dealing with the August humidity, you may have to tackle tarnishing issues more frequently than, say, living in Canada where the climate can be dryer. If you live close to a body of water, your jewelry will be prone to bouts of tarnishing as well.
Your Body and Your Routines
You don’t have to stop running or working out, but it’s best to remove your jewelry before doing so.
It’s crazy. You want to look and smell your best without hurting your precious metals, but, honestly, there’s no getting around it. While there is still a lot of debate about how your body’s chemistry affects the metals you wear, you want to remain conscious of the process.
Lotions, perfumes, dyes, and other chemicals may play a role in tarnishing. They may even cause discoloration or corrosive damage, so be careful!
We recommend letting your lotions and perfumes absorb into your skin before putting on your jewelry. So don’t lather up and then get all fancy right away. Wait a few minutes--it’ll make a difference, trust us.
Wacky hormones and even your body’s pH level may be contributing factors to tarnishing. If you wear jewelry for a while, you’ll start to see patterns and discover which metals react to your body’s natural chemistry.
Methods for Cleaning Tarnished Jewelry
Now that you know a little bit about what tarnishing is and how it develops, let’s figure out some cleaning solutions for you.
Pure gold does not tarnish. But unless you’re a billionaire, you probably have jewelry that has gold in it or is covered in a layer of gold. You most likely have gold-plated, gold-filled, or “solid” gold jewelry (like 18-karat or 10-karat).
Gold is alloyed with different metals like zinc, silver, and copper to provide strength and durability to jewelry. And, other metals in your gold jewelry influence the final color of gold such as white gold, yellow gold, or the new darling—rose gold. Your gold pieces may be intermingled with other metals or it may have a layer of gold plating fused to a base metal.
As you probably guessed, it’s these other metals’ fault that your jewelry tarnishes.
You can clean the tarnish off of gold jewelry by using a polishing cloth. Or, you can check with the place where you bought the piece to see if they have a lifetime tarnish guarantee.
Sterling Silver Jewelry
Like gold, sterling silver isn’t pure silver. It’s actually 92.5% silver while the other 7.5% is composed of other metals for strength and durability.
To clean sterling silver, you can easily use polishing mitts or gloves. There are a ton of products like foams, wipes, and sprays that contain silver-safe chemicals. And, they’ll get your sterling silver back to its original luster and shine in no time!
You can also use baking soda and warm to hot water.
- Line a pan with aluminum foil, shiny side up.
- Place your sterling silver pieces on top of the foil. Be sure they’re not touching.
- Throw in around two tablespoons of baking soda or enough to cover your jewelry.
- Pour hot (not boiling) water over the baking soda to activate it. It’s best to pour a little bit at a time to ensure you really mix up the baking soda and water for maximum cleaning.
After about 20-30 minutes, you can take your sterling silver jewelry out, rinse in warm water, and, using a soft cloth, polish it off.
Fast Fashion and Costume Jewelry
Have you ever bought cheap jewelry just to throw it in the trash once it begins to show signs of damage? Yup. We’ve all been there.
If you do want to clean these items, be very careful as they tend to easily corrode, get chipped, or tarnish. Most can be cleaned with a simple wipe of a polishing cloth and some warm water. If it’s really gunky, get a soft-bristled toothbrush and gently scrub your jewelry in between water. You can even add a little dish soap to your water bath to help fight scum. Just be sure to rinse your pieces off and dry them.
Ultrasonic Cleaners for Tarnish Removal
For a really simple solution to cleaning tarnished jewelry, you can purchase an ultrasonic cleaner.
These little robots are a set-and-(kindof)forget method. They use ultrasonic vibrations that activate a specialized solution (although some simply use tap water). This process creates little baby bubbles that will pick up residue and help remove patina from your pieces.
Never Fear Tarnishing Again
So, you should now be an expert un-tarnisher!
But, how can you get ahead of the game? Simple. Buy your jewelry from a reputable jewelry retailer that actually cares.
We lovecraft meaningful everyday pieces—they’re ethically made, with no crazy markups (we cut out the middlemen who work on commission), using long-lasting materials, and we’re always releasing new collections to keep you inspired.
Tell your story through your pieces by customizing them to your liking. And when it comes to tarnishing, well, we have you covered for life.
Simply send us your pieces when they begin to tarnish, and we will clean them up for you! How cool is that?