Types of Metals that Tarnish, and Why
Unfortunately, you can count on silver jewelry to tarnish. Almost all silver jewelry is actually a blend of metals, rather than being pure silver. This has a lot of benefits, but it also means the other metals blended with the silver (usually copper) will react with the air and your skin. This can either cause your sterling silver to tarnish, or it can make your skin turn green.
GoldSolid gold jewelry doesn’t tarnish, but pieces that have gold plating, gold fill, or gold vermeil can. That’s because eventually that gold veneer will chip away, leaving the base metal underneath exposed. When that happens, you’re likely to see tarnish.
CopperCopper is a common culprit for tarnished jewelry. You don’t often see jewelry made entirely out of copper, but it’s common to mix other metals with copper to make it stronger, or to change the color of the metal. When exposed to your skin’s oils and to the air, it often oxidizes, leading to discoloration on the jewelry and on your skin. If you’ve ever noticed your finger turning green after a day of wearing a ring, that's why.
How to Clean Jewelry at HomeThe best way to keep your jewelry clean is to not get it dirty in the first place. Your jewelry is an investment in your self-expression, so take time to care for it. Take your jewelry off whenever you do manual labor, wash your hands, or apply lotion. Store silver jewelry in a soft felt container separately from other metals. Keep gold jewelry in a felt-lined box as well.
But inevitably, your jewelry will get dirty someday, no matter how careful you are with it. You can take your jewelry to a jeweler to be cleaned professionally, but if you’re anything like me, you have enough on your schedule already. Here are some ways to keep your jewelry clean at home.
Soap and warm waterYour go-to technique should be lukewarm water, a soft-bristled toothbrush, and mild dish detergent. Scrub away any dirt, grime, or tarnish with the toothbrush. If you need to, soak the piece in soapy water for a few minutes. When you’re finished, rinse, pat dry, and let it finish air-drying before you put it away.
If that doesn’t work, here are a few other options:
Drop your dull pieces into a glass of water with Alka-Seltzer for a few minutes.
Clean tarnish off of gold and silver pieces by soaking them in a solution of 1 part ammonia and 2 parts warm water. Wipe away the tarnish with a jewelry loth, then let them dry. Don’t do this with any pieces that have pearls.
To clean away silver tarnish, make a paste of ¼ cup baking soda and 2 tablespoons of water. Gently rub the paste onto the jewelry, then rinse and dry with a soft cloth. To polish gold jewelry, dust it with baking soda, pour a splash of vinegar over it, then rinse it clean. Just make sure you don’t do this with any jewelry that has pearls or gemstones.
Tarnish-Proof MetalsIf this all sounds like a lot of hassle, you don’t have to forego jewelry entirely. Just look for pieces made out of tarnish-proof metals.
- Stainless steel
These all come in a wide variety of colors, so you don’t have to forego the aesthetic of gold and silver metals if you don’t want to. I have a few stainless steel rings that easily pass as sterling silver when they’re freshly polished. The lesson is, no matter what metals you choose to wear, take care of your pieces and they’ll take care of you.