Does Sterling Silver Tarnish?

Yes, sterling silver tarnishes, even real ones. As with most metals, you’ll notice subtle changes in the appearance of sterling silver as you use it continuously. If you do not adequately care for your sterling silver pieces, one of the effects you’ll observe over time is that they’ll begin to tarnish.

Why Does Sterling Silver Tarnish?

tarnished Sterling Silver

Sterling silver tarnishes as a reaction of the jewelry to sulfur-containing gasses such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S). When metals react to sulfur, the resulting material is called a sulfide. Therefore scientifically speaking, the tarnish on sterling silver is silver sulfide.

Sterling silver usually consists of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% of metal alloy (mainly copper). While pure silver can be subject to tarnish, sterling silver tarnishes faster than pure silver. What causes the faster tarnish in sterling silver is copper, as it is more prone to tarnish than silver.

Humid surroundings and moisture can cause the sterling silver to tarnish faster. Oxygen can also increase the speed at which your silver jewelry will tarnish, causing it to lose its shine and form a red oxide on the silver’s surface.

How Long Does it Typically Take for Sterling Silver to Tarnish?

The rate at which sterling silver tarnishes varies depending on how much you expose it to conditions that encourage the formation of silver sulfide. It’ll take around a year for signs of tarnish to start appearing for the regular person who wears their sterling silver jewelry every day. However, if you don’t take proper care of your jewelry, your sterling silver jewelry will start to tarnish in a few months.

Your Sterling Silver and Water

Water plays a vital role in the life of every human, and sometimes, you will expose your sterling silver jewelry to it. As durable as sterling silver jewelry is, it’s essential to understand how it reacts to different sources or types of water.

  • Ordinary Water
    Unlike iron, which rusts when exposed to water for an extended period, sterling silver does not react when exposed to water. Even if you add mild soaps or detergents, you’ll generally have no reactions from your sterling silver jewelry. The disadvantage of letting soap water touch your jewelry is that it can cause a build-up of soap in its hidden parts.
  • Jacuzzi/Hot Tub
    The water in jacuzzis and spas usually contains high doses of chlorine, a chemical harmful to sterling silver. Chlorine can lead to your sterling silver piece’s discoloration, causing it to have a dull brown or black tint. Also, it can weaken the piece and cause it to have little cracks and holes.
  • Swimming Pool
    Swimming pools also contain lots of chlorine, meaning that your sterling silver jewelry will darken if you wear it to the pool. As with the jacuzzi, if you keep using sterling silver in the pool, it’ll eventually wear out over time.
  • Beach/Saltwater
    The first issue with wearing jewelry to the beach is how easily it can slip from your possession. Just as important is the effect salt has on silver; it corrodes the metal, causing it to have a dark surface. Even if you don’t stay in the water long enough for your jewelry to begin tarnishing, the saltwater will inevitably dull the finish of your jewelry.

Read More: Why Does Jewelry Turn Green?

How to Stop Sterling Silver From Tarnishing Quickly

Sterling Silver care

Jewelry care is critical if you want your pieces to last. Knowing how to stop your sterling silver jewelry from quickly tarnishing will help you use it for longer while ensuring it looks good all the way. Below are a few practical steps you can take.

1. Use the Jewelry Regularly

Many times, tarnishing occurs when you allow jewelry to sit for long. While wearing your jewelry often won’t prevent it from tarnishing, it makes the process more difficult. As you wear your jewelry regularly, it rubs against your skin, which is an unintentional way of cleaning the jewelry.

Sometimes you might observe that sterling silver jewelry leaves green marks on your skin. The green marks on your skin show that your skin is “washing” the tarnish away.

2. Use Proper Storage Container

It’s impossible to wear every jewelry piece if you have several. For some people, some pieces are reserved for special occasions while others are too expensive to wear every day. Regardless of your reason, there’ll always be periods when you need to store your jewelry; using a suitable container can prevent it from tarnishing.

anti-tarnish jewelry storage bag

Do not use storage units like plastic bins, rubber, and crinkly plastic bags, as some are high in sulfate. An anti-tarnish bag is the best choice for storing sterling silver, and Anti-tarnish bags are highly absorbent of moisture and will not allow any sulfates to get to your jewelry.

3. Clean Your Jewelry Regularly

Regularly cleaning your jewelry will help remove all the tarnish-inducing elements that might be stuck on it. You do not have to wait until the effects of tarnish have begun to show on your piece to find out how to clean tarnished silver. It’s better to go ahead of the curve and eliminate the sources before they begin to dull and wear out your piece.

A simple means of cleaning your jewelry is to use dishwashing liquid and warm water to wash it regularly. You can also use an anti-tarnish cloth to clean the piece regularly. The anti-tarnish cloth will wipe any traces of tarnish on your jewelry while absorbing all sulfur and oxygen in the air.

4. Store Away From Moisture

While water will not cause your silver to tarnish, humidity and moisture will make the process faster. Therefore, you must ensure that you store your sterling silver jewelry far from all types of liquid. Don’t store your jewelry in a position where liquid spillages can get to it.

Also, remove the moisture and humidity from your storage system. Silica packets and anti-tarnish strips are excellent ways to absorb moisture in your storage bags. Alternatively, you can use chalk to eliminate all the moisture in your jewelry bag; the only drawback is the stains it might leave on your piece.

5. Store Jewelry Pieces Individually

Your sterling silver can also tarnish as a result of something called galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion occurs when charged particles move between certain metals that are put together, causing them to tarnish. 

The solution to this issue is to put each jewelry piece in an individual or sectioned anti-tarnish bag. Alternatively, you can find out which types of metal are more likely to tarnish your sterling silver jewelry and keep them away.

Buying sterling silver jewelry mixed with other metals is generally bad. While some mixed metal jewelry might look good, the long-term consequence is a piece that will tarnish quickly.

6. Avoid Exposure to Chemicals

Sometimes, the chemicals present in cosmetics and perfumes can lead to the tarnishing of your sterling silver jewelry. It’s always advisable that you do not use your jewelry when you want to spray perfume or use creams.

Chlorine is a facilitator of tarnish on sterling silver; therefore, you must avoid using your silver jewelry in pools, jacuzzis, and some showers. Also, the chemicals in your sweat can tarnish sterling silver, so you shouldn’t wear your jewelry when you exercise.

Finally, items like dyed tissue paper and printed newspapers can have some sulfur residue, so keep them away from sterling silver.

7. Leave Some Tarnish

If you keep your sterling silver jewelry away for an extended period, any tarnish present on your jewelry can help protect it from further tarnish. Tarnish spreads faster on freshly-polished silver than on already tarnished ones. So, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, it’s best to leave that layer of tarnish on your jewelry till you’re ready to use it.

Some silver gets lost each time you remove tarnish from your jewelry. Therefore, leaving a tarnish on sterling silver jewelry can make it last longer.

Read More: Silver vs Gold Jewelry

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