So, we're breaking down what causes silver & gold jewellery to tarnish, how to wear & store it to keep it from tarnishing and how to clean it if it gets tarnished.
WHAT IS TARNISH?
When silver & alloyed gold (anything less than 24K) are exposed to the air, they react with sulfur-containing gases causing the metal's surface to darken and discolour which = tarnish.
The sulfur in our air reacts with the silver & copper in sterling silver & in alloyed gold forming compounds (silver sulfide & copper sulfide) on the surface of the metal.
The process of tarnishing is accelerated by the concentration of sulfur in the air as well as the humidity-the more humid the environment, the faster your jewellery will tarnish.
Sulfur is the biggest culprit, but not the only thing that can cause your jewellery to tarnish. Silver and gold will also react with chlorine (ie. in swimming pools & hot tubs), acids (ie. sweat) and other chemicals causing tarnish.
DOES GOLD JEWELLERY TARNISH?
Yes. It's a myth that gold jewellery won't tarnish. Anything less than 24K gold will tarnish, although much slower than silver. Pure, 24K gold will not tarnish but this isn't a suitable material for jewellery as it is far too soft. Alloyed gold (14K, 18K, 22K etc.) usually contains silver and copper, and as we have just learned, silver and copper form sulfides (tarnish) when they are exposed to air. The reason gold tarnishes more slowly than silver is because it contains a lot less silver & copper than sterling silver. The higher the karat gold, the slower it will tarnish (22K gold contains less silver & copper than 14K gold).
This means that gold filled jewellery will also tarnish because the surface is made of 12K or 14K gold.
WHY DO SOME SKIN TYPES CAUSE JEWELLERY TO TARNISH FASTER THAN OTHERS?
My partner wears his sterling silver chain all the time. He sleeps with it on, he showers with it on, he works hard & sweats with it on and it looks fabulous. Nice & shiny. I wear a silver chain out for the day and it starts to tarnish. What's the reason for this frustrating difference?
Every person's skin is different. And every person's sweat is different. Our skin is naturally slightly acidic but some people's skin is more acidic than others. And these acids can cause silver & gold jewellery to tarnish faster.
Also, when we sweat, our bodies release amino acids which contain sulfur. Bingo! We know that sulfur will react with silver & gold to cause tarnish and therefore, when we sweat, our jewellery is more prone to tarnish.
This brings us to our next topic-how to care for your jewellery to prevent tarnish!
HOW TO PREVENT YOUR JEWELLERY FROM TARNISHING
First off, wearing your jewellery often (under the right conditions) is actually a good way to keep it from tarnishing. When your jewellery just sits & is exposed to the elements it will start to tarnish. But when wearing jewellery, you move around and your jewellery brushes against your clothes and surfaces causing a subtle polishing to occur that's great for preventing tarnish. So go ahead and wear your favourite pieces as often as you want!
JEWELLERY CARE RULE OF THUMB:
FIRST OFF, LAST ON
First off, last on is a great, easy to remember, rule of thumb for jewellery care.
Tarnish (and just general accumulation of dirt & 'gunk') can be accelerated by contact with such things as skin creams, body products, perfume, hairspray, salty air and chlorine.
So, finish your beauty routine and THEN put your jewellery on.
This is especially important when wearing pearl jewellery.
We also recommend you remove your jewellery before showering, swimming (especially in treated pools) and doing dishes. This isn't a must, but it will help prevent tarnish.
And at the end of the day, take your jewellery off first and then go about your nightime beauty routine.
It's a great idea to occasionally give your jewellery a quick clean to remove any daily buildup before putting it away. Especially if you are going to store it & not wear it the next day. You can simply wipe your jewellery with a polishing cloth or if there are hard-to-get-to areas or significant buildup you can give it a rinse with mild dish detergent in warm water. Make sure to completely dry your jewellery before storing it away.
This routine will vary depending on the type of jewellery you are wearing and your unique body chemistry. Your solid gold jewellery will likely not need much, or as frequent care, as your silver jewellery. And some people, like my partner, can wear their silver jewellery, rarely clean it & it looks fantastic.
HOW TO PROPERLY STORE YOUR JEWELLERY TO PREVENT TARNISHING
Our jewellery is made to be worn and enjoyed. When not in use please store your jewellery in a dry, airtight container.
As we have learned, jewellery is susceptible to tarnish when it comes into contact with the sulfur-containing gases in the air. So, storing your jewellery in an airtight container will keep it nice & shiny. Here at Mikel Grant Jewellery, we store all of our jewellery in little ziploc bags before shows and because we do that, it never needs polishing.
We recommend that you give your jewellery a quick clean before storing it. A quick wipe with a polishing cloth, or a rinse in warm water & mild dish detergent will get rid of a day's buildup of oils & dirt.
Make sure your jewellery is dry when storing it. Tarnish is accelerated by humidity so your jewellery must be dry before being stored. And if you aren't storing your jewellery in airtight containers, a dry environment is a must for storage (ie. the bathroom isn't a great place to store your jewellery).
Photo Credit: Jen And Brian Photo & Film
HOW TO CLEAN TARNISHED SILVER & GOLD JEWELLERY
Jewellery, and especially silver jewellery, gets tarnished. This is simply a natural, inevitable process and not a flaw in your jewellery. And it's easily remedied.
Our polishing cloths are the safest method for cleaning your jewellery. These cloths contain micro-abrasives that, when rubbed over your tarnished pieces, will shine them up immediately. Our cloths are completely safe on silver, gold & gold-filled pieces as well as pieces with a patina (use a gentle touch with patina'd pieces-these cloths can remove patina if used vigorously). Be careful if your jewellery contains gemstones or pearls. Our polishing cloths are not intended for use on gemstones or pearls. Don't panic if your cloth rubs up against your gems as it will likely be just fine but don't use the cloth to try and clean your gems or pearls. Read on to find out how to clean jewellery with gemstones.
If you don't have a polishing cloth, you can purchase one HERE.
*PRO-TIP: Make sure your jewellery is free of dust or dirt particles before cleaning with a polishing cloth. You may be surprised to learn that dust & dirt particles can be extremely abrasive & may scratch your silver & gold jewellery.
If your jewellery has hard-to-reach places that would be difficult for a polishing cloth to reach you can use mild dish detergent & a soft or extra-soft bristled toothbrush (DO NOT USE medium or hard bristles as this can scratch your jewellery) in warm water. This method is also great for removing daily buildup from your jewellery. Just be sure to completely dry your jewellery before putting it away.
If you've got quite a bit of tarnish you can use the baking soda method. Simply line a flat bottomed glass or ceramic dish with aluminum foil and lay your silver jewellery on top so it is touching the foil. Sprinkle baking soda liberally overtop of the jewellery & then pour hot water (nearly boiling) overtop of the pieces. Let them soak for a few minutes and you should see the tarnish disappear. Rinse your pieces in clean water and dry them thoroughly before storing them again.
*NOTE: the baking soda method is NOT safe for gemstones, pearls or pieces with patina. The hot water may crack your gemstones and damage your pearls and will remove the patina from your pieces.
How about dip polishes and silver cleaners?
We don't recommend dip polishes as many of them contain thiourea, a potentially cancer-causing agent. In addition dip polishes can remove the surface of your jewellery little by little. I have accidentally left silver jewellery in a dip polish and have come back to find it nearly dissolved. Granted, this took a long time but for both of these reasons, we don't recommend this method of polishing.
Silver cleaners often contain ammonia and other chemicals that are not great for us so we prefer to use less the less toxic methods listed above.
HOW TO CLEAN TARNISHED GEMSTONE & PEARL JEWELLERY
Jewellery that features gemstones & pearls requires extra care when cleaning.
Some gemstones like diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, topaz & quartz are very hard & are less susceptible to damage than soft stones like opals & organic materials like pearls.
In general, most gemstones will stand up to cleaning with a soft or preferably an extra-soft toothbrush & mild dish detergent in warm water.
If you aren't sure, the best way to clean a gemstone is to give it a wipe with a moistened lint-free microfibre cloth and leave it at that.
Certain stones, like turquoise, opals & pearls do require extra care. Here's our recommendations for cleaning jewellery containing these gems.
Opals are a soft gemstone (5-6.5 on the Mohs scale), sensitive to heat and certain opals are quite porous. Opals also come in different forms: solid opals, doublet opals and triplet opals. Doublet & triplet opals consist of layers of opals that are glued together so one should never soak these kinds of opals in water as it can separate those layers, destroying your opal.
We recommend cleaning your opals carefully using room temperature water on a soft, lint-free microfibre cloth.
Pearls are extremely soft (2.5 on the Mohs scale), vulnerable to acids (ie. in your sweat), alcohol (ie. in perfume) & ammonia (ie. in cleaners) so one needs to be extra careful with pearls.
The "First off, last on" rule is a must with pearl jewellery.
To clean pearl jewellery use only a damp, soft, lint-free microfibre cloth to wipe down your pearls.
Turquoise is also a soft gemstone (5-6 on the Mohs scale) and can be a very porous material & very susceptible to cleaning agents. Soaps, detergents & cleaners can penetrate the material & permanently discolour it.
So, take extra care when cleaning your turquoise jewellery. Wipe with a damp, soft lint-free microfibre cloth & dry immediately.
We hope you've found this article helpful! Feel free to reach out to us with any questions or suggestions for future articles, we'd love to hear from you: email@example.com
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