It’s a fact that silver tarnishes to black as it oxidizes on exposure to air. Silver is also a relatively soft metal and can easily scratch or dent, even with the pressure of a firm fingernail. Maintaining the look of silver jewellery is a balancing act between polishing and preserving an unmarred surface finish.
One of the simplest ways to keep your silver jewellery clean is to wear it. The contact with your skin and clothing will gently polish the silver to a lustrous glow.
To remove light tarnish, sweat and finger marks, wash your silver jewellery in lukewarm soapy water, then rinse and dry immediately with a soft 100% cotton nub-free cloth. Many jewellers sell tubs of liquid “jewellery cleaner” which will also clean your jewellery, although not necessarily any better than the warm soapy water.
Heavily tarnished silver requires more work. A jeweller’s polishing cloth is a good option, as they are made especially for this purpose and are infused with material that leaves a protective coating on the jewellery to retard further tarnishing. When a polishing cloth becomes dirty, replace it – never wash and attempt to reuse it. Keep a spare for use on your travels – at a pinch, it can double as a storage cloth. When using your cloth, rub the item gently in one direction rather than in a circular pattern, using only the pressure of your finger pads.
Any dust particles, grit or dirt should first be removed by rinsing or washing; otherwise, they will grind into the surface of the jewellery, leaving unsightly scratches behind. Don’t be tempted to use commercially available silver-cleaning products meant for silverware and do not use the “lifehack” toothpaste – both are extremely abrasive and will lead to serious scratching.
Cleaning silver tribal jewellery can be difficult. Most of it is intricate in design, incorporating complex and elaborate features designed to display the skills of the silversmith. Antique tribal jewellery may also have a pitted and eroded finish, resulting from decades and sometimes centuries of service. For this type of jewellery – and ONLY this type – I use a thick paste of bicarbonate of soda and water or even the bicarbonate powder on its own.This is worked into the crevices of the jewellery using fingers or sometimes a soft toothbrush, makeup brush or paintbrush. Thorough rinsing is important otherwise a residue will result. Blot with a towel (for some very elaborate pieces I use a hairdryer on low-heat setting), and then polish with a soft cotton cloth. Note that bicarbonate can be used on this type of jewellery because maintaining a mirror-like finish is not relevant. This method should not be used on gilded, plated or enamelled jewellery as it will eventually damage the finish. Note also that collectable antique jewellery should not be cleaned at all as it may potentially decrease the value of the piece. Consult a professional for advice in this regard.
Silver can technically be worn in both freshwater (i.e. the shower) and seawater, however salt water will speed the tarnishing process and is not recommended for any silver with a high-quality finish as the salt crystals left behind can potentially scratch the jewellery. Silver jewellery (in fact jewellery of any description) should never be worn in swimming pools as the chlorine will corrode metals and stones.
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