How to Care for Your Vintage Jewellery Part 3: Prevent and Clean Tarnish

I love silver jewellery but I don’t like cleaning tarnish off of it. Tarnish is caused by silver coming in contact with presence of Hydrogen Sulfide. Discoloured jewellery can look anywhere from yellow to black in appearance. Things like wool, rubber bands, fossil fuels, a some latex paints or rubber gloves are common materials that cause tarnishing. Handling silver jewelry with oily hands can also cause your baubles to discolour. Climate can speed up the process. I’ve also noticed that I leave my silver jewelry hanging out in the open air in the summer, it will turn black. So how to you treat tarnish?

Store and clean silver carefully.

We’ve already talked about storing jewelry, and the same steps can help prevent tarnish. If you store it in a zip lock bag, wrap it in an anti-tarnish tissue or cloth, which can be bought from jeweller’s supply stores. And make sure that all items are clean and dry before you tuck them into their sleeping bags.

Cleaning silver is a pain. If you don’t do it right, you can damage the finish. And getting into the nooks and crannies is a pain. If you can live with it, I’d say leave the tarnish alone. Some people actually prefer a nice patina on vintage pieces because it shows off the antiquity. If you can’t live with it, first try my gently washing the piece in a mild, phosphate-free detergent. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to get into those hard to reach places. If wash your silver jewelry this way frequently enough (four times a year), you shouldn’t have to resort to harsher cleaning methods.

The above method is good for silver pieces set with stones or other, non-silver materials. If a pieces is pure silver, another quick trick is to take an aluminum pie plate and fill it up about halfway with hot water. Add about 4 tablespoons of salt and a bit of phosphate-free dish soap. Add the tarnished jewelry and let soak for an hour or so.

With both methods, wipe clean with a soft towel and then lay out on a micro-fibre cloth overnight. If you still have spots of tarnish, I’d advise taking the piece into a jeweler for a professional clean.