How to Clean Silver Jewelry for Women
Lester Fangonilo - December 25, 2021
While most women prefer the sunny shimmer of gold for their jewelry, others are more enamored by the pristine look and elegant simplicity of silver. However, as with anything, silver jewelry needs to be properly cared for if it is to retain its gleaming appearance for years to come. In this feature, we talk about how to properly clean silver jewelry, both in terms of professional and home-based care.
You may be surprised to learn that there are actually a number of products you may already have in your kitchen or bathroom that can help you clean and care for your silver jewelry on your own.
First of All: What is Silver's Biggest Enemy?
Despite the fact that, like gold and platinum, silver is an inert metal, its appearance can be dulled - the technical term here is "tarnished" - over time by a buildup of oxidized material on its surface called a patina.
A patina occurs when the surface of a piece of silver comes into contact with air. Certain chemicals in the air around us, specifically hydrogen sulfide or elemental sulfur, tend to react with any lesser metals mixed in to make the silver alloy to cause this sort of discoloration. This usually happens in alloys using copper or nickel to make the silver more durable.
For this reason, silversmiths tend to store and display their pieces in airlocked containers or air-restricted areas - and it's a challenge to ensure that display cases are airtight enough to maintain the glistening appearance of the wares on display.
Likewise, wearing your silver jewelry frequently will lead to similar results. Our sweat contains other minerals apart from salt, particularly sulfur and amino acids, and these cause the same chemical reaction with silver, hence a darkened and unappealing look.
How Do the Professionals Do It?
Professional jewelry cleaning is usually a three-step process:
First, the jeweler places the items for cleaning in a machine called an ultrasonic cleaner together with a chemical cleaning solution. During the cleaning cycle, ultrasonic waves vibrate within the chamber, activating the ingredients in the chemical solution and dislodging minuscule particles of dirt and debris clinging to the silver.
Once the cleaning cycle ends, the jeweler takes the pieces out of the ultrasonic cleaner, pats them dry, and polishes each piece using a polishing wheel rotating at a high speed in order to smoothen out any scratches that the jewelry has sustained over time, restoring the smoothness of the surface.
Finally, the polished silver pieces are washed in a strong blast of hot steam in order to remove any residual debris and to restore the silver's shine.
What's the Best Way to Clean Women's Silver Jewelry at Home?
If you love to bake, then you most probably have both baking soda and aluminum foil in your home pantry. As crude as this sounds compared to the professional jeweler's high-tech ultrasonic equipment, cleaning silver jewelry with a solution of baking soda and scrubbing it clean with aluminum foil actually yields desirable results.
This method also has the additional virtue of being cheap, simple, and relatively fast; you can get good results within 30 seconds to three minutes depending on how grubby your silver jewelry was to begin with.
You will need the following items:
- A soup bowl or any container big enough to hold all the silver items you're polishing;
- A sheet of aluminum foil;
- Boiling water;
- A tablespoon of baking soda per cup of boiling water;
- A spoon or a pair of kitchen tongs; and
- A soft dry cloth for rubbing the cleaned jewelry down, particularly one made of flannel.
Keeping in mind to have enough water to reach the top of the bowl after boiling, bring your water to a boil in a saucepan. Line the soup bowl or container of your choice with the aluminum foil, keeping the shiny side up. Add one tablespoon of baking soda to every cup of water poured into the bowl; be sure to be ready for the solution to bubble up.
Place your silver jewelry into the solution, ensuring that each piece is touching the aluminum foil in order to kickstart the chemical reaction. For moderately dirty jewelry, you can keep the pieces in the solution for two to five minutes; in case of seriously discolored jewelry, you can soak them for as long as ten.
Remove the jewelry with the tongs or a spoon, and immediately rinse under cool - not cold - water. Use the flannel to rub the pieces dry and get them nice and shiny. If you want to improve the luster of your cleaned jewelry, spritz on some commercially-available window cleaner and rub vigorously with the flannel.
Likewise, if your silver jewelry isn’t at all that discolored, giving it a quick scrub with a good laundry detergent will help bring it back to its pristine state. However, be sure to check if your detergent has abrasive particles as these can scratch the surface of your silver jewelry and mar its appearance further.
About Using Acids to Clean Silver Jewelry
It’s old kitchen “wisdom” to say that soaking your silver jewelry in a solution of lemon juice and salt will clean it. While this does work, it doesn’t give as thorough a cleaning as the baking soda solution. Also, the coarseness of the salt may put scratches on your jewelry - not a nice thing to contemplate.
Likewise, if you’ve seen videos of people cleaning metal home accents and jewelry with Coca-Cola, then we have to break it to you: it isn’t very effective when it comes to polishing silver. In fact, some of the ingredients used in the popular soft drink may even corrode silver jewelry of a poorer quality. We also suggest that you turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to TikTok influencers who say you can use tomato catsup to clean your jewelry - yes, it is acidic, but not acidic enough to do any real work.
If you really want to ensure that your jewelry looks good for years to come, we suggest that you invest in a good silver cleaning cloth and solution; both of which are commonly sold at reputable jewelry stores.