Silver is one of the most popular metals jewelers use in producing various jewelry types. However, some other metals look like silver, and you might want to confirm if what you’ve bought is real silver or not. There are several ways to test silver at home, and one of them is using an item that’s in most kitchens– vinegar.
Testing Silver With Vinegar
Vinegar is one of the simple household items you can use to test silver. The way the metal reacts to vinegar would help you determine if the piece you have is silver or not. To test silver with vinegar, you need some distilled white vinegar, a bowl, and the silver you want to test.
When you have all you need for the test, follow the steps below:
Step 1— Pour some vinegar into the bowl you want to use for testing the silver.
Step 2— Place the silver item into the bowl of vinegar, ensuring that you immerse the item in the vinegar.
Step 3— Leave the item in the bowl for a few hours; if the jewelry you’re testing is real silver, you’ll begin to notice it darken slightly after a couple of hours. If you leave the jewelry in vinegar for about 48 hours, the jewelry should be completely blackened. If you try the same test on some other metals like copper, the result you’ll get won’t be the same.
Why Does Vinegar Blacken Silver?
The vinegar test is one of those tests that is counterintuitive; the reason is that you can use vinegar as a silver cleaner. If you leave your silver jewelry in vinegar for a few minutes and wipe it off with cheesecloth, it’ll make your jewelry shine. Also, a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water with salt is a good silver polish.
Why then does something that clean silver blacken it? The reason is that vinegar’s high acidity facilitates the quick oxidation of silver. Oxidation is a chemical reaction caused by oxygen and moisture that leaves a coat on metals. All metals react differently to oxidation, and silver’s reaction is to become black.
Can Blackened Silver Be Cleaned?
Seeing your brightly-colored jewelry item go from its shiny color to dull black might be scary; however, you can clean it. The good part about cleaning blackened silver is that you can use things you likely have at home or buy cheaply at a grocery store.
If you want to clean blackened silver, you only need to follow the steps in this article explaining how to clean oxidized jewelry. You can also find out how to clean tarnished silver here, and you should see your jewelry looking as good as new.
Other Ways to Test Silver
Testing silver with vinegar is just one of several ways to ensure you aren’t buying fake jewelry. When you think about it, the vinegar test takes too much time to get certain results, and you can only do it with pieces you already own. Most of the tests you’ll conduct on silver aren’t conclusive, and the best thing to do is mix a variety of tests to be sure.
1. Look for a Stamp
A hallmark trade stamp authenticates the metal whenever manufacturers sell silver products abroad or locally. Always check for a typical “sterling” stamp before buying anything made of silver from a store. A little engraving that reads “ster” or “sterling” indicates that the item contains silver that is 92.5 percent pure or nearly so.
International merchants will mark the amount of silver in an item with a stamp of 800, 900, or 925. It is frequently referred to as “coin silver” if it contains between 80 and 90 percent silver. One reason you would find these numbers on silver jewelry is that manufacturers don’t use silver in its pure form because of how soft it is, hence the need for alloys.
The issue with the stamp test is that manufacturers can easily fake it. Some manufacturers of silver lookalikes can easily imprint “.925” upon the metal and deceive unsuspecting buyers. Also, old silver items or items you buy in countries that do not require a stamp might not have one, even if the jewelry is made of authentic silver.
2. The Magnet Test
Utilizing magnets is another amazing way to determine whether the silver you purchased is real or false. You can utilize magnets you already have around the house to verify the purity of the silver. Due to its paramagnetic nature, silver only gives a very slight reaction to magnets.
Use a powerful magnet, such as a neodymium-based rare earth magnet. Check to determine if the silver object you wish to test has a significant magnetic attraction by bringing the magnet close. If it does, it isn’t genuine silver.
You can also use a sliding test with magnets to determine the authenticity of silver bars if you are also testing them at home. The test can be performed by angling the silver bar at a 45-degree angle and gliding the magnet along the bar’s surface, and the magnet should descend gradually. Since silver is paramagnetic (which means that it produces electric eddy currents), when you perform this test, the silver functions as an electromagnet to decelerate the magnet’s gradual descent.
3. The Ice Test
Silver has the highest thermal conductivity of any common metal or alloy, and you can use that as a means of testing if your jewelry is real silver. This test is more effective with flat silver jewelry or on flat items like coins and silver bars.
Place your ice cube directly on the silver and carefully observe the reaction of the ice cube. Instead of gradually melting as it should when placed on something of room temperature, the ice will melt quickly. The reaction would look similar to the ice melting under the influence of heat.
4. The Ring Test
Silver has a bell-like ringing sound when struck, especially when touched with another metal. The greatest illustration of this phenomenon is the US quarter, which was made of 90% silver until 1964. In 1965 the US government began to make the quarter out of copper-nickel alloy.
If you drop these two coins from about six inches, you’ll notice a clear difference in how they sound. The silver coin will sound like the ringing of a high-pitched bell, while the other would have a dull thump. You can also hit the item with another metal object to perform the ring test.
5. The Smell Test
To test if your jewelry is authentic silver, give it a good sniff; sterling silver is odorless. Therefore, it isn’t silver if you perceive the metal’s strong metallic aroma or sulfur. In some instances, even silver-plated jewelry would still give off the smell of the metal underneath the plating.
This test works best for those with keen senses of smell and would work best if you are in a place with no strong odors in the background.
Is Vinegar the Best Way to Test Silver?
As illustrated above, there are various ways to test silver, so should anyone opt for a vinegar test? The good part of the vinegar test is that you can do it easily in the comfort of your home. However, the amount of time it takes to get a good result is too long, and there are times that you need a quick conclusion on the matter.
The vinegar test is a more accurate and conclusive means of testing silver than others, as no other metal reacts to vinegar like silver. Another con of using the vinegar test is that it wears off your silver a little bit each time you do it, reducing its longevity. Also, cleaning the tarnish off your silver jewelry would wear it down more.
Read More: Silver vs Gold Jewelry