Sterling silver jewelry care
Cleaning sterling silver jewelry
Sterling silver jewelry develops a beautiful, soft patina
over time. Sometimes, oxidation is part of the design and should not be
removed, but most of the time people like their silver jewelry to shine
brightly. Here are a few ways you can keep your sterling silver jewelry
looking its best.
Polishing Cloth is a favorite of jewelers because it's quick and easy to
use, isn't messy, and does a nice job of shining metals to a nice polish. If
your piece has high and low areas and the low areas are intentionally
oxidized, you can polish just the high, shiny areas without ruining the
oxidized "shadows" that accent the details. You can buy the Sunshine
Polishing Cloth at many jewelry supply stores and jewelry stores. If
you make your own jewelry, you may also want to check out the amazing
which sells it direct.
Commercially prepared silver cleaners
can work well if used according to directions. Hagerty's is one reputable
brand of silver polish. One of my favorite cleaners is a long, coiled strip
of cotton fiber infused with cleaning polish. You can tear off a small
piece and rub the silver vigourously to bring up a beautiful, long-lasting
shine. Silver "dips" can contain dangerous chemical fumes; they work almost
instantly, but there are less noxious alternatives out there, so I tend to
avoid them. If you do use them, dip the piece quickly and then immediately
rinse thoroughly in water. Then dry and buff it with a soft cloth to remove
any potential residue that can develop into a dull film later on.
An inexpensive and effective way to clean
silver when you are not trying to preserve any oxidation or patina is to use
an electrolytic cleaning solution. You can purchase these
commercially, but they're fast, easy and inexpensive to make yourself. Here
are two recipes - one for cleaning small amounts of silver, one for larger
To clean small amounts
Line a large, flat, glass container (such
as a rectangular Pyrex baking pan) with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Add 2-3 inches of
boiling water, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Place the silver
in the solution in a single layer, making sure each piece of silver
touches the foil and that all the silver is covered with the boiling water.
Let it sit for anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes until clean. Pour off
the solution, remove the foil, rinse the silver thoroughly in clear water,
and dry and buff it with a soft cloth (I like flannel). This method "pulls"
out the tarnish like a magnet.
To clean larger
batches of silver:
If you want to clean a large amount of
silver at once, dedicate a large pot specifically for this purpose. DO NOT
use it for cooking after you use it to clean silver! Again, line it
completely with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Add ¼ cup baking soda, ¼ cup
salt and ½ gallon of water. Add your jewelry, again making sure some
part of each piece touches the foil. Bring the solution to a slow boil and
simmer it for about 3 minutes, then turn off the heat and let it sit for
another 5-7 minutes. CLOSE YOUR SINK DRAIN AND LINE YOUR SINK WITH A
DISHTOWEL TO CATCH ANY JEWELRY THAT SLIPS THROUGH THE COLANDER HOLES. Place
a colander on the towel and pour out the solution so it drains out, leaving
just the jewelry. Remove the foil (don't throw it away until you've
made sure you can account for all the jewelry you put in!) and rinse the pot
clean. Put the jewelry back into the clean pot and fill it with clear water
to rinse the silver thoroughly. Drain again and dry thoroughly. Buff, if you
wish, to soften the shine.
To remove tarnish or stubborn stains from
silver jewelry, cover the piece with a coat of toothpaste. Use a
soft-bristled toothbrush to reach into corners, crevices or engraving. I
like using small toothbrushes designed for young children; they're
easier to fit into tight places. Run the piece under water briefly and work
the toothpaste into a lather, then rinse thoroughly in clear water.
Cleaning liquid silver jewelry
Liquid silver jewelry is made up of long
strands of silver heishi beads (thin tube beads) strung on beading thread.
Normal silver cleaning methods aren't safe for liquid silver jewelry.
Tarnish-removing "dips" may rot the thread, as can silver cleaners that
involve soaking the jewelry in liquid. Paste silver polish is nearly
impossible to remove completely from in between the hundreds of slender
beads (and the stringing thread).
While I am not aware of any way to
restore liquid silver jewelry to as-new shininess, I have been able to
remove a lot of the tarnish by rubbing each strand of silver with a generous
amount of baking soda, which serves as a gentle abrasive. Rub the baking
soda onto each strand thoroughly, working an inch or so at a time before
moving onto the next segment. Finish by shaking the strands gently but
thoroughly and then brushing with a soft-bristle brush to remove the
remaining baking soda powder.
A similar recommendation is in the
Rio Grande Catalog:
"To clean tarnished liquid silver,
sprinkle a fair amount of dry baking soda on a soft cloth and hold it in the
palm of your hand. Rub the strands of liquid silver while carefully pulling
them through the cloth. After cleaning the strands, shake them to remove
If you have had good results using other
techniques for cleaning liquid silver, please e-mail me with your best tips.
The main thing about storing sterling
silver is to 1) clean and/or wipe it with a soft cloth just prior to storing
it, 2) protect it from scratches and 3) keep it as air-tight as possible to
minimize tarnish and oxidation. You can store sterling silver wrapped snugly
(and untwisted) in plastic kitchen wrap (I like Stretch-Tite because it's
heavy and hard to tear), in a heavy zip-top plastic bag with an anti-tarnish
strip sealed into it and most of the air pushed out before sealing, or
wrapped in a anti-tarnish-treated flannel cloth or pouch. Personally, I seal
even tarnish prevention-treated cloths or pouches into zipped plastic bags
with most of the air pressed out before sealing.
liquid silver jewelry
To minimize tarnish and oxidation on your
liquid silver jewelry, pull the strands gently through a soft cloth (such as
flannel or chamois) to remove natural skin oils and acids that may have
coated the silver. Then store it as you would any sterling silver.