How to Keep Silver from Tarnishing

A lot of the jewelry here at Silverthaw Jewelry is finished with a matte finish, otherwise known as a satin finish or brushed finish. This is a gorgeous finish for silver jewelry in my opinion, and really brings out the details on jewelry that you might not see as well on a high polish piece. While it's difficult to keep a highly polished piece of jewelry ultra shiny, it can also be challenging to clean a satin finish piece of jewelry that has "gone to pasture" with tarnish. I think with a satin finish piece of jewelry, preventing the silver from tarnishing in the first place is extremely important to keep your jewelry looking great, as it's a bit more work to restore it to the original finish once tarnish sets in. That is a topic for a whole other blog post. Luckily, I have a few tips for you on how to keep your silver jewelry from tarnishing! 

A sterling silver death head moth necklace with rainbow moonstone. The death head moth is etched into silver and cut out in a moth shape. It is suspended from the wing tips by a sterling silver rolo chain. A rainbow moonstone hex shaped stone is on top

Before I begin, I think it's important to address something - the elephant in the room when it comes to sterling silver jewelry - sometimes you just can't prevent silver from tarnishing. Yes, I said it. Sometimes it's just not possible. That doesn't mean you should despair - there are ways to clean it off. But wouldn't it be better to prevent it as much as possible?

What is tarnish and why does silver turn black?

Sterling silver is an alloy that contains a small amount of copper, and copper will naturally oxidize/tarnish (turn black) over time when exposed to air, salt (sweat!), chemicals, humidity, etc. Your silver WILL start to dull and even turn black at some point in your life, even with diligence. Some people's body chemistry will naturally cause oxidation of the silver - this could be just due to your body's natural pH, it could be diet, it could even be medications you're taking! In other words, sometimes it's out of your control. 

Where you live is another big factor that can affect the speed with which your jewelry tarnishes. Do you live on the coast, near salty air? You'll notice your jewelry will tarnish really quickly. Do you live in a desert or low humidity climate? Your jewelry probably won't tarnish as quickly.

Did you know sulphur makes silver turn black? I once was making some egg salad, and was chopping a freshly boiled egg in my hand. The hand holding the egg happened to be wearing one of my silver rings. When I was done chopping eggs, my ring had tarnished just from exposure to the egg! 

A hand with a silver ring that has tarnished from exposure to egg


With that said, there are a few things you can do to prevent your silver jewelry from tarnishing - let's begin!

#1 Tip on How to Keep Silver Jewelry Clean - Wear it! 

Have you ever noticed that silver jewelry that's left to its own devices in the back of your jewelry box will eventually turn black? That silver flatware that grandma passed down to you that's sitting tucked away in the closet? It's probably black, too.

The #1 tip to prevent tarnish on your silver jewelry is to wear it, and often! Unless you are one of those people I mentioned above whose body chemistry will quickly tarnish silver, wearing your jewelry is the best way to maintain the silver. Your skin and its natural oils will naturally protect and polish the silver. The caveat to this tip is you need to know when to remove your jewelry or you could do more damage to it than good. 

#2 Tip on How to Prevent Tarnish on Silver - Protect it from Chemicals! 

You gotta protect your jewels, y'all. Silver jewelry can be heirlooms too - but you have to treat it right. Always put your jewelry on last. Always, always! Do not put on lotion or perfume while wearing your jewelry. These contain chemicals that could damage your jewelry! If you like to moisturize and perfume yourself on a regular basis, let them absorb and then put on your jewelry last.

Do not use household cleaners while wearing your silver jewelry! Just like lotion and perfume, household chemicals are bad for both silver and gemstones. They could corrode the metal, or even worse they could damage or discolor your gemstones. Just don't do it! Wear gloves if you have to, but it would be best to just remove your jewelry entirely. 

Hand sanitizer gets an honorable mention on this list for worst things you could do to your jewelry. Do you know how much alcohol is in that hand sanitizer? And sometimes added perfume or moisturizer? I am cringing as I write this. Please take off your rings before applying hand sanitizer! 

Do you go swimming in your jewelry? Chlorine will do a number on silver. So will salt water. Please remove your jewels before swimming!

#3 Tip on How to Clean Sterling Silver Jewelry - Clean it!

Sometimes, life happens. You forget yourself and use some lotion while wearing your jewelry. Or you exercise and don't take off your jewelry beforehand, or just have a particularly sweaty summer day. Or you drop some yogurt on yourself while having a snack and it gets all over your jewelry (this one has happened to me personally). Whatever happens, it's important to keep your jewelry clean to prevent tarnish.

My go-to is regular ole dish soap and warm water. Not handsoap, because that usually has perfumes and moisturizers and leaves a residue. Dish soap usually rinses away clean off dishes because you're going to eat off of it, so this is also best for your silver. This is the gentlest option aside from plain water, especially if your jewelry has gemstones in it. Maybe even utilize a soft tooth brush if you've got some visible dirt (or yogurt) in crevices - only if it's soft and used gently. A lot of jewelry is purposefully oxidized with a patina, which means the top layer of silver is blackened for design effects. If you scrub too hard at this, you could scratch the patina. 

You don't want to use anything abrasive at this point, especially if your jewelry is just dirty but not tarnished. But if you neglect to clean it and leave your jewelry dirty for too long... tarnish will happen. Grime/sweat + air + time = tarnish. Just be sure to dry your jewelry well after cleaning, because as we'll see next - moisture is the enemy!

#4 Tip on How to Keep Silver from Tarnishing - Proper Storage

Do you keep your silver jewelry in a jewelry box in your closet, or do you leave it on the bathroom counter near the sink? A humid bathroom is one of the worst places to store jewelry if you want to prevent tarnish! Even I'm guilty of leaving jewelry on the bathroom counter, but this is a huge no-no if you want to keep your jewelry tarnish-free.

Moisture is the nemesis. You should most definitely keep your jewelry dry, if you do anything. The best thing to do is store your jewelry in a dry, dark place inside an air-tight container. Do you ever get those little silica packs when you buy something, like shoes? If you live in a particularly humid climate, you may need a little help to keep your jewelry's environment dry. Throw some of those silica packs into your jewelry box for extra help in moisture prevention.

There are also specific anti-tarnish products you can purchase, such as anti-tarnish tissue paper, anti-tarnish bags, or even anti-tarnish "tabs" that you can put in your jewelry storage of choice. I find that these products really do help. I've started including an anti-tarnish tab in every Silverthaw Jewelry package, and you can re-use this tab in your own storage solution.

Be careful if you store your jewelry inside paper/cardboard jewelry boxes long term - the glue that holds these boxes together can cause tarnish. I'd also recommend keeping your jewelry items separate from each other in separate plastic baggies so they don't touch each other, especially if you have some costume jewelry in the mix. You don't want to scratch your jewelry for one, and the base metals and glue that may be in that costume jewelry isn't great for your sterling silver jewelry. 


How to keep silver jewelry clean infographic


In summary, if you keep your jewelry clean, dry, wear it regularly, and store it properly when you're not wearing it - you can usually maintain its appearance fairly well. However, tarnish can and will still happen to the best of us - stay tuned for my next post, where in I will address what to do if your jewelry is tarnished and how to restore its appearance. 

Thanks for reading!

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