Restoring luster to tarnished silver jewelry is a simple task. Clean the piece first to remove body oils and environmental grime, then deal with tarnish. Tarnish is caused by acidic sulphur compounds that exist in the air, water and in your body. Contact with rubber also causes tarnish. Keep in mind that jewelry with engraving or detailed designs should retain some darkened areas in the crevices of the design. This is considered patina; it highlights the engraving and makes the artistry more apparent.
Swish the necklace very slowly in a small bowl of warm water and phosphate-free dishwashing soap, or immerse it in a shallow dish of a liquid silver-cleaning product. Handle it very gently. If the necklace has a heavy or ornate pendant, you may wish to remove the chain from the pendant and clean each piece individually. Rinse the necklace, lay it out on a clean, soft cotton cloth, and pat it dry. A cotton dishtowel or plain flannel cloth is best. Avoid terry cloth, as the fabric loops can catch on intricate jewelry. Most silver cleaners are formulated to remove dirt, but not to alter tarnish.
Buff the neck chain and the pendant with a treated silver cloth by gently rubbing the cloth over the necklace. Regular use of a treated cloth can reduce the need for more involved cleaning and polishing. A silver cloth also allows a soft patina to develop in appropriate indentations of the jewelry design while restoring the shine to pronounced areas of the piece.
Polish the silver if it still seems dull, using a silver polish product and a soft cloth, following the manufacturer’s directions. Use a cotton swab to gently remove tarnish from intricate areas of the necklace, but leave some patina in recessed areas. Rinse the polishing product as directed, and buff the necklace to a sparkling shine with a soft cotton cloth. If you removed a pendant, replace it on the chain after polishing.
- Wetting or washing silver cloth negates its effectiveness. Keep the cloth dry. You can use it even if it is black from tarnish -- as long as it buffs the silver to a shine, it still works.
- After wearing silver jewelry, wipe it clean with a plain soft cloth, then buff it with a treated silver cloth. Line the storage box with treated cloth, or fold a small piece of treated cloth around each piece. To make a small pouch for each piece of jewelry, cut a treated cloth into rectangles, fold each rectangle in half and sew the two side edges. Storing silver jewelry in its own pouch keeps it clean and slows the formation of tarnish as it protects the silver from scratches.
- Use cleaning and polishing products formulated specifically for silver to avoid damaging the finish. Most manufacturers use proprietary formulas in their products, each developed for different purposes. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely.
- Read product labels carefully. Avoid using metal cleaning or polishing products on jewelry that has gem or stone inlays, including pearls, coral, turquoise and other soft or semi-precious stones.
- Avoid abrasives. Although it is sometimes mentioned as a home remedy for polishing silver, toothpaste is abrasive and can cause permanent damage. Also avoid bleach, stiff bristles, metallic cleaning pads, and extended soaking -- even in water, which may contain dissolved metallic and mineral compounds. Products that contain ammonia or acidified thiourea are toxic and can permanently damage the silver if it soaks too long.
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