When you first wear your silver jewellery, it's bright, shiny and beautiful, but over time silver tarnishes, from the interaction of silver and sulfides in the air.
Tarnish is that dark, dull coating on the surface of the silver.
Why does silver tarnish?
Sterling silver is a mixed metal, combining pure silver (92.5%) and copper (7.5%) and it is the copper in the silver that reacts with moisture and sulphur in the air to create the tarnish.
Pure silver - which isn't mixed with other metals is called fine silver and although it doesn't have such tarnish issues isn't great for everyday jewellery as it is much softer than sterling. That copper mix is very necessary to give the silver it's strength!
So if that dark coating of tarnish is caused by the reaction of copper in the metal with moisture you can see how the tarnish is produced more quickly in areas with high humidity - like swimming pools, or if it's often left on the side in the bathroom. All jewellery and particularly silver rings with lots of handwashing and sanitising going on, are prone to tarnishing.
The tarnish will also happen with different speeds on different people, due to the differing body chemistry effecting the oils on the skin, and the environments they live in.
First the tarnish will take on a golden hue, which changes to grey and eventually, it will turn the piece black.
How can you stop silver tarnishing?
There are things you can do to avoid that grey;
1) USE a soft cotton cloth to polish away light tarnishing. Regular buffing in this way should keep your jewellery shiny. A special silver polishing cloth makes the job a lot easier and faster.
2) If the tarnish does not come off, try WASHING the piece in soapy water using a soft bristled brush (like a toothbrush). This should prove effective in most cases.
3) AVOID - wearing your jewellery in swimming pools - silver and chlorine do not mix well. And be careful when handling chlorine cleaning products and bleaches. What better excuse not to clean the bathroom !!
4) Finally when you're not wearing your item - STORE it in a sealed bag or similar to stop the reaction with the air.
But if your silver has already gone past this point - what next?
How to clean your silver jewellery.
If you don't fancy watching me faff around for 5 minutes the steps are really easy:
1) line a shallow dish with aluminium foil - shiny side up
2) put jewellery in (be mindful of stones which shouldn't get submerged in water - turquoise, opal etc..)
3) sprinkle on some bicarbonate of soda
4) cover with boiling water
5) leave for 1 or 2 mins
6) remove jewellery and dry with a clean cloth
7) buff with a silver polishing cloth for a better shine
You might see a yellowy tinge in the water, and the shiny foil is now more dull as the suplur has trasferred off the silver.
You can just recycle the foil in your household recycling as usual (apparently wrapping foil together into a large ball makes it easier for the recycling machines to separate).
I think the easiest solution is to keep the tarnish at bay by getting a silver polishing cloth, and giving them a quick rub every day when you take them off. By keeping the tarnish down in that way, it should never build up to a problem level.
Hope this all helps - if you have any top tips for cleaning jewellery without resorting to silver dip I'd love to hear it!