Tuesday Tips - Cleaning Silver Jewellery

The secret to keeping your silver jewellery looking good is to look after it well and, ideally, it should be cleaned after every wear! I'm often asked what is the best method of cleaning silver jewellery. All sorts of things can tarnish (oxidise) silver, no matter how well you look after it. Cosmetics, perfumes, perspiration, humidity, air pollution, and other metals can all react with silver, as can the acidity of your skin (I'm one of those unlucky people who's skin acidity turns silver black after just a couple of wearings!)

Step 1 - Clean

For lightly tarnished silver, wipe gently with a silver cloth. Alternatively, apply a little washing up liquid, or a vinegar-based window cleaner, with a damp soft cotton cloth or a soft toothbrush, then rinse thoroughly. This is my favourite way of keeping all my precious metal jewellery bright and sparkling

For more heavily tarnished silver, try lemon juice, white toothpaste or silver wadding.
  • Lemon juice: Mix some lemon juice with bicarbonate of soda, and apply directly onto the silver (or simply squeeze lemon juice directly onto the silver). Rub gently with a soft cloth, then rinse thoroughly
  • White toothpaste: Apply a small amount of toothpaste (not gel)to a very soft bristled brush (an old soft toothbrush is ideal) and brush gently, then rinse thoroughly in clean water
  • Silver wadding: Wear rubber gloves for this method, as it's very messy! Rub the item gently with a small piece of wadding. Allow to dry, then wash the polish off in warm soapy water. Rinse thoroughly in clean water

For badly blackened silver (to prevent damage, do not use this method if your jewellery contains pearls or gemstones):

  • Line a deep dish with aluminium foil, with the shiny side up. Position the silver jewellery on the foil, ensuring each piece touches the foil and is not touching any of the other pieces. Sprinkle your cleaning solution over the jewellery (see the alternative recipes below), and pour boiling water on top to completely cover the jewellery.

    Gently stir the solution or shake the dish to make sure the mixture reaches every nook and cranny, then watch as the chemical reaction starts to dissolve the tarnish. This should only take a few minutes. Turn the pieces if you wish, using plastic tongs, and remove the jewellery as soon as it looks clean. Dispose of the solution and rinse the jewellery thoroughly in clean water. Repeat if necessary to remove any stubborn tarnish

    Recipes (pick just one of these!):
  • 4 table spoons of bicarbonate of soda OR
  • 2 table spoons of bicarbonate of soda and 2 table spoons of table salt OR
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda and 1 tablespoon white salt and half a cup of white vinegar

There are lots of proprietary silver cleaning products on the market, including silver cloths, silver wadding, silver dip and jewellery dip. Silver wadding works well, though it is rather unwieldy for cleaning very small pieces of jewellery. Some jewellery dips are safe to use with pearls and porous stones but do read the label carefully.

Silver dips are much stronger and must be used with extreme caution, as they remove a fine surface layer of the silver and can leave a dull finish. They will also strip the patina off specially-patinated pieces, and can damage pearls and gemstones. Either way, only leave your jewellery in the dip for a moment or two! You can also use an ultrasonic cleaner, although these are rather expensive to buy unless you have lots of jewellery. Always follow the manufacturers instructions, and avoid using the cleaner for gemstone jewellery

Step 2 - Dry

Drying the jewellery thoroughly is vital, to prevent water stains that can be very difficult to remove. First dry the jewellery with a soft towel then leave it to dry in a warm place overnight, out of direct sunlight and away from direct heat (an airing cupboard is ideal), to allow any water to evaporate. You can also use a hairdryer on a low setting to speed up the drying process

Step 3 - Polish

Polish with a silver cloth, which is impregnated with a compound that polishes the silver and also gives it a protective coating that helps to prevent tarnishing (silver cloths are also suitable for pearl and gemstone jewellery that might be damaged by chemicals). Alternatively, apply a silver-polishing compound, such as Glanol, and gently buff to a shine with a soft cloth

Step 4 - Store

If you're not going to wear your jewellery for a while, wrapping it in acid free paper and storing it in a ziplock plastic bag will help reduce oxidisation. I supply my handmade silver jewellery in one of my signature jewellery boxes with an anti-tarnish tab, so customers can store their jewellery safely and minimise tarnish Although very strong, silver is also quite a soft metal so needs to be handled carefully.

To avoid scratches, store your silver separately from other metal jewellery, and never store it with copper jewellery or coins as this will make the silver tarnish more quickly

Step 5 - Wear

Finally, enjoy wearing your jewellery! Always remove your silver jewellery before swimming or using a hot tub. The chemicals, especially chlorine, can react badly with silver. Silver jewellery set with pearls or gemstones should also be removed before a bath or shower