Silver is one of the most affordable jewelry and precious metals out there, and you likely own at least one silver piece. Some families have entire sets of silverware which are beautiful but need regular upkeep. Overall, silver is a metal that’s more common than you’d think, and it’s important to know why and how it tarnishes (turns black).
Today we’ll focus on why silver turns black, how to clean a silver piece that’s turned black, and how to prevent all of this from happening in the first place. Please keep in mind that you can’t 100% prevent silver from ever tarnishing. But you can slow down the process and we’ll tell you how. First, let’s see why it happens.
Why does silver turn black ?
Silver turns black when it comes in prolonged contact with hydrogen sulfide. This is a substance that naturally occurs in the air and does not harm humans, but triggers tarnishing and oxidation on silver pieces. The black layer can be removed from the silver, but the oxidation process can not be reversed. This is a natural process that occurs to virtually every bit of silver anyone has ever seen.
Silver jewelry and silverware may also turn black or lose its shine when constantly exposed to the oils on your skin, sweat, or personal care products like lotion or perfume or creams.
This is why silver pieces need regular upkeep, even if you’re not actively using them. The more they are left out in the open – direct air contact – the faster they will tarnish. High humidity hastens this process even more.
Can sterling silver turn black ?
Yes, sterling silver can turn black, just like any piece of silver. Sterling silver is actually high grade silver, meaning it’s got a large amount of pure silver in it – 92.5% – which can and does react to the air around it.
So if your 925 silver ring has started to turn black, a quick clean will bring it back to its original shine. We’ll cover how to clean silver in a few moments.
Read also: What Is Peridot ?
Will tarnished silver stain my skin ?
Tarnished silver does not stain the skin. Tarnished silver means only the outermost layer has oxidized and turned black, but this process does not transfer any color to your skin, nor should it trigger any reactions on your skin. Silver, like gold, is a hypoallergenic metal.
The only time a silver ring will color your skin black or green is when it’s been mixed with large amount of nickel, like in costume jewelry. Or in jewelry pieces that claim to have a silver finish, but only in terms of color not in terms of metal. For example a $2 ring that looks silver but is actually just coated in a silvery metal, likely nickel.
How to clean silver that’s turned black
You can clean silver that has turned black in a variety of ways, and most of the time the products are already in your home. Of course you can buy silver cleaning products, but you can get great results with regular household items as well. Here are three of the most common methods.
Baking soda and aluminum foil
Baking soda, hot (almost boiling) water, a bowl, and aluminum foil. Line the bowl with the aluminum foil, pour in your baking soda (about 1 cup per gallon), and your hot water.
Gently add your silver pieces, one at a time. If you’re planning to clean a large amount of silver you will want to do this in batches, and use fresh baking soda and water. Let the silver sit in the mixture for a few minutes, you should see some results within the first minute.
Remove form the hot mixture when you’re satisfied with the result, and brush with a very soft toothbrush if there are any stubborn spots (like in deep nooks).
Soft toothbrush and toothpaste
A soft toothbrush and some toothpaste will easily get the job done, especially if you’re not dealing with heavy tarnishing. The toothpaste works best if it’s a paste, not a gel.
Wet the silver, and put some toothpaste onto the wet toothbrush. Gently but diligently scrub away at the silver for about half a minute. Make sure all of it is coated on toothpaste. Let it sit like that for 3-4 minutes so the toothpaste can lift as much as it can.
Rinse the silver in warm water and pat dry. Let the piece air dry if it needs to.
Baking soda and good ol’ vinegar
Baking soda and vinegar is the classing combination that works amazing for removing stains, grease, odors, and in this case tarnish. But, beware: it might be a little strong. And do not combine baking soda and vinegar directly, it will foam and sputter.
Mix equal parts hot water, baking soda, and vinegar. Let the silver pieces sit in the mixture for a minute, then inspect them. This is a bit harsh for silver that has just a bit of tarnishing, but for heavily tarnished pieces it will get a lot done.
Always rinse with warm water thoroughly. Scrub with a soft brush or rub with a soft cloth if there are some stubborn parts.
Tips on preventing silver from turning black
Silver will always turn black, no mater what you do. It’s the natural reaction to the air and moisture around it. But you can make sure it does so at a much slower rate. Here’s what to watch out for.
Keep silver away from other metals
Keep silver with silver, or gold if you really have no other choice. Metals that aren’t precious may make the tarnishing process go faster.
Keep silver in an airtight, dry container
Because silver reacts to oxygen and humidity, it’s best to keep the silverware and silver jewelry in a separate case or container. Make sure it can close fully and allow no air to escape. Also make sure to store the container in an dry part of the house.
Most of the time you can achieve this by keeping the silver in a small pouch that has its drawstring always shut. Or a case with textile padding on the inside and a good closing mechanism. No need to vacuum seal it.
Regularly polish your silverware
Silverware and silver jewelry need regular upkeep, more than any other metal. This is fine, and usually isn’t awful if you stick to schedule. Be sure to check on your silver pieces at least twice a year, and give them a good rub down to avoid heavy tarnish from setting in.
Always take off silver jewelry when entering water
If you wear a lot of silver jewelry keep in mind that the water can make it turn black much faster. The chlorine and lime in water don’t help at all, so be sure to remove your jewelry beforehand. This is also true for seawater.
Or, if you don’t want to remove all of your jewelry all the time, be sure to clean it much more often, like once a week.
Keep silver away from lotions, perfume, creams
Silver will react to some lotions, creams, and perfumes. Regularly exposing it to the body care products you use may damage it over time. SO for this reason it’s best to take off your jewelry when applying anything of the sort. When you put the silver jewelry on, it should be after you’re done with all the creams and perfumes.
Or, if you really like the look of old, tarnished silver restrict yourself to only cleaning the silver once a year. This ways some of the black buildup will still be present in tiny details on rings, lockets, or silverware. There are solutions you can use to make silver look more tarnished, but it’s easier to simply let it tarnish on its own over time, if that’s the look you’re going for.
And if you’re just looking to spot-clean, then the toothbrush and toothpaste method is best to localized cleaning.
I’m the main author for jewelrymaterialguide.com. I started this site after we did tons of research before our wedding and noticed that there is information about rings, jewelry, and so on that is really hard to find on the internet.