Here at Artbeads, we know tarnish never sleeps! Exposure to air and moisture create tarnish and it darkens the bright, white shine of silver. We do what we can to keep silver products from getting tarnished—store in sealed plastic bags with carbon paper strips to absorb moisture—yet the tarnish still settles on anything it can.
Different types of silver items require different handling. For example, a silver-plated tray cannot withstand weekly polishing with an abrasive cleanser because the plating will eventually wear off. Similarly, a highly detailed design that has been oxidized (blackened) to enhance the pattern should never be chemically cleaned or it would lose the detail. A delicate chain shouldn’t be pulled through a polishing cloth because it might stretch or break fine links. For these reasons we carry several tarnish removal products. Some require more elbow grease than others, but we will explain when to use these different types of cleaning techniques, including an old home remedy to remove tarnish.
It’s important to note that for very soiled silver, you must first carefully wash it with mild soap and water and dry thoroughly. You run the risk of scratching silver if you don’t remove any dirt first.
Polishing Cloths and Pads
The two-part polishing cloth will be familiar to most. The inner part is treated with jeweler’s rouge and will bring out the luster of your silver while removing any tarnish and dirt. The outer part is a flannel material that buffs away any residue and really makes a shine. These are never washed and can be used well after the inner cloth turns completely black. If it ever stops removing tarnish it’s time to purchase another one.
Euro-tool makes 2×2-inch polishing pads that are ideal for reaching tight spots and to avoid removing oxidation. These traditional Native American pieces would have been spoiled if the darkened patina was removed from the recesses. Here we were able to polish the high spots to a mirror shine and still maintain all the detail. These pads are disposable once they’re blackened and come in a package of twenty.
Microfiber has become as common as denim and nearly as useful! Our Artbeads microfiber cloth is perfect for any piece of jewelry and will not cause damage. Soft stones such as opals, malachite and pearls set in silver should only be cleaned with an un-treated cloth like this. These cloths are machine washable and last a long time. We keep finding other uses for them like cleaning electronic screens, wiping fog from windshields, and keeping eye glasses free of smudges. While we wouldn’t choose this to clean a very tarnished piece, it’s perfect for a quick wipe off when you notice it’s become a bit dull. Natural pearls should also be wiped with a soft cloth after wearing and before storing in a soft pouch, and the microfiber cloth is just right for the task.
It may be time to bring out the “big guns”— Precious Metal Liquid Jewelry Cleaner. If you need to clean silver chain, elaborate filigree, wire work, delicate earrings, or other items that could be bent or damaged by rubbing with a cloth, this is what you should use. Be aware that if you were to spray it on an antique piece you could reduce its value by removing patina of age. Follow the directions on the bottle carefully, being certain to rinse the cleaned items and dry thoroughly.
You may have seen silver cleaned with an old method that involves aluminum foil and baking soda. It can effectively remove tarnish, provided the items are in direct contact with the foil. First, line a glass pan with foil. Lay the item to be cleaned inside, fully submerge it in very hot water and then sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda over the piece. Keep in mind that your results will vary, and this method is not recommended. However, it’s a fun science experiment, doesn’t cost much to try and will continue to fascinate people!
For sparkling silver, maintenance and preventative measures will save you a lot of work. Keep your silver free of skin oils and dirt, and keep it sealed from humidity and air. If you store items that are difficult to clean carefully you won’t have to clean them as often!