Silver Tarnish: In very simple language, silver tarnish is the discoloration that occurs on silver jewelry or even other articles made from sterling silver. Your favourite silver ring or your expensive sterling silver tea set could all be tarnished. In this report we will more specifically deal with tarnishing of silver jewelry, though the basic concepts would remain the same for all silver articles.
What Is Silver Tarnish? Silver jewelry when new looks bright and gorgeous. Over a period of time the same silver jewelry starts to show changes in color and turns from a yellowish tint to deep yellow and even black. This is called the tarnishing of silver and is a natural process. The notion that silver tarnish only occurs with silver jewelry made from low purity silver is not correct.
What Causes Silver To Tarnish? The presence of Hydrogen Sulfide in any material that silver comes into contact with, is one of the prime reasons for silver tarnish. Sulfur containing materials generally cause silver to tarnish and Hydrogen Sulfide is just one of these. Materials like wool, rubber bands, fuels derived from fossils, a few types of paints and rubber (latex) gloves are some of the common materials that cause tarnishing of silver. Certain foods like eggs and onions also hasten the silver tarnish process. You can therefore realize that, touching silver jewelry with oily hands or after a meal could also stain your silver jewelry with tarnish. The extent and speed with which your silver jewelry tarnishes is also related to the climate and in general, high humidity would result in silver tarnishing much faster.
Cleaning Silver Tarnish: It is best and easiest to clean tarnished silver in the first stages. Tarnish on silver will start with a mild color change to yellowish spots or patches and this is easily cleaned by washing the jewelry with a detergent that does not contain any phospate based chemicals. If your silver jewelry is washed often in this way, you will rarely need any harsher treatments for silver tarnish. When you wash your silver jewelry be careful to avoid getting the jewelry scratched or dented due to being rubbed or hit against the sink or water tap.
In more severe cases of silver tarnish, the tarnish changes to a darkish brown and sometimes to a black color. Silver polishes are available to remove tarnish stains from silver jewelry. 3M makes a few different types of silver tarnish removers and these are less abrasive than many other products. Silver polishes are of two major categories, one type of silver tarnish polish does only the tarnish removal and the other type removes the tarnish and also provides protection from tarnish. Read the instructions on the container before making a purchase, some silver tarnish removers have a high degree of abrasiveness and are more suited for silver cutlery polishing rather than for silver jewelry.
When selecting a silver polish keep a few points in mind. (a) Rely on well known brands and do not be taken up by low prices or big claims by small name merchandise. A well known brand will provide clear information regarding the way to use the polish and also the suitability of the polish for various uses. (b) Do not use polish that is old and dried up, as the abrasiveness of such polishes will be very high and would destroy the silver jewelry instead of helping remove the tarnish. (c) Silver polishes that are less abrasive are better than more abrasive silver polishes even if, the more abrasive polish provides silver tarnish protection. In general, polishes that are meant to be washed off are less abrasive as compared to those that need to be applied and left.
Do not use toothpaste to polish tarnished silver jewelry. The baking soda or other ingredients in toothpaste could prove to be too abrasive for your silver jewelry with tarnish.
Removing silver tarnish with chemical dips provide a quick way to dissolve the tarnish on silver. If your silver jewelry is tarnished with a heavy black tarnish, polishes and pastes will not be effective in removing the tarnish. This is where chemical dips can prove useful. When using chemical dips to remove silver tarnish ensure that the room is well ventilated and that the liquid is far away from your eyes. Ideally chemical dips should be used only by professional restorers, using too much of the liquid can destroy your silver jewelry and cause it to have pits due to corrosion. Tables, ivory wear, and even stainless steel can be damaged with these chemical dips. Most of these dips advise the user to wear suitable gloves when working with the dip, ensure that you follow the recommended procedures.
To summarize this discussion on cleaning tarnished silver, remember to read instructions on the container very carefully and follow all recommended procedures. Improper use could result in damage being caused to your silver jewelry and in certain cases, could be harmful to your health.
Can Silver Tarnish Be Eliminated Or Slowed Down? It would be best to believe that silver tarnish could be slowed down and not eliminated altogether. There is a golden rule for wearing jewelry and it holds true for both silver and gold jewelry. The rule says that '.... your jewelry should be the last thing that you put on before going out. It should also be the first thing to be taken off when you get back home......' Ingredients in cosmetics like powder packs, hair sprays etc can cause your silver jewelry to tarnish easily. Wash your silver jewelry with a phosphate free detergent before storing the jewelry. This practice will protect your silver jewelry from tarnishing and rarely require you to perform any tarnish cleaning processes.
The process of plating silver jewelry with rhodium, gold or even platinum is often done. Besides enhancing the looks of your silver jewelry, the plating is also supposed to form a tarnish resistant coating that delays the onset of silver tarnish. There are few important facts that you should be aware of when using these so called 'tarnish resistant' platings. (a) The plating on silver will wear off with time, the rate at which the plating on silver will wear off depends on many factors, like the climate, the chemical composition of your own sweat, the water and other washing materials like soap, that the jewelry comes into contact with etc. It would be right to say that your silver jewelry will not tarnish as long as, the plating is uniformly present on the jewelry. (b) The wearing off of the plating will not be uniform and it will generally come off in patches. This gives your silver jewelry an awful patchy and crude look. In most cases the end result would be so bad, that you would have surely been better off with simple unplated jewelry that was tarnish prone! There is the possibility of re-plating your ruined silver jewelry but unlike polishing, this is not a home based remedy and the jewelry will have to be taken to a professional jewelry workshop. (c) Silver jewelry plated with other metals cannot be easily polished, the process could hasten the plating to come off. This is an important consideration as every treatment at a professional jeweller would cost you money and add to the total cost of the jewelry. (d) Another important fact that is not disclosed by most jewellers is that, copper is sometimes used as an under base before plating silver jewelry with rhodium. The reasons are a bit technical, silver jewelry is very often made with substandard craftsmanship and quality takes a back seat. Buyers have come to believe that silver jewelry should be 'dirt cheap' and sellers are over eager to please mass markets. This cheap silver jewelry have a high degree of porosity on the surface. The pores are present as tiny pits on the surface and look quite bad. A copper layer is applied to the surface to reduce porosity, (copper fills these pores) the rhodium plating is then processed on the copper layer. When the rhodium plating starts to wear off, you get a rude shock as you notice the copper color below the rhodium! You will need to wait for the copper layer to wear off before you notice the silver under that.
What Are Anti-Tarnish Treatments? Once again you should expect that any anti-tarnish treatment for your silver jewelry will only be temporary and at best, just slow down the tarnishing of silver. The attempt to stop silver from tarnishing by plating it with rhodium, gold or other metals has been explained above. There are also some type of silver polishes where the polish is not supposed to be rinsed off the silver jewelry. The polish forms a protective layer on the surface of your silver jewelry and reduces the rate at which it will tarnish. When using this type of silver polish, ensure that it is not very abrasive as this could result in the silver jewelry being scratched. Companies like 3M also make anti-tarnish strips that need to placed near silver jewelry when it is stored. These strips have a substance (activated charcoal) that helps absorb various pollutants from the air. No chemical fumes are emitted from these anti-tarnish strips and the process of absorbing pollutants is a plus point. These strips have an active life and need to be replaced from time to time, for exact details read the documentation that comes with the product. These strips help reduce the possibility and speed at which your silver jewelry will tarnish. Silica Gel in the form of granules has long been used to reduce the moisture in various containers. The granules are manufactured in factories with small crevices that help absorb moisture from the air. High humidity is one of the main causes of silver tarnish and these silica gel granules help by reducing humidity. This process finds applications in food and medicine containers and is safe for silver jewelry as well. The granules are packed in small packets or bags and packed along with the contents of the container. Read the instructions when you buy silica gel granules in loose form or as bags, the product has a limited life and can be replaced or re-activated in some cases. Since the silica gel granules are man made, they often have a built in indicator that shows when they have been completely used up. In most cases the granules change color to light blue or pink when they have absorbed all the moisture that they can. To summarize this paragraph, anti tarnish processes offer a way to reduce the speed or degree at which your silver jewelry tarnishes. The idea is to have minimum tarnish on silver jewelry that can be cleaned at home without seeking professional help.
Can Tarnished Silver Jewelry Look Good? Silver will tarnish and you will need to use various methods to clean tarnished silver. Removing all the tarnish from your silver jewelry is not a very easy task and might, in some cases involve seeking professional help. We look at silver tarnish from another point of view, as certain jewelry designs look classic and antique when they tarnish. There is another process in jewelry manufacturing that actually seeks to make silver look old and tarnished! You could select high end silver jewelry designs that are antique and old. These type of silver jewelry if made with good craftsmanship and high quality gemstones will look gorgeous when they do tarnish. Moderate polishing is enough in cases where severe tarnish is found and the traces of tarnish that remain will add to the beauty of the design.
Certain basic precautions should be taken with all of your jewelry. However, some gemstones, as outlined in this section, require special care.
Take care to protect your jewelry from impact against hard surfaces and avoid contact with abrasive surfaces. Even a diamond can chip if hit with enough force or at just the right angle. Many stones such as amethyst, emerald, kunzite, opal, pearl, peridot, tanzanite and tourmaline are very delicate and easily abraded. Enamel can also chip or scratch when struck. Gemstones can scratch other gemstones and wear away at precious metals. Therefore, avoid stacking those rings and bracelets that would be vulnerable to such abrasion. Extreme temperatures, perfumes, cosmetics, ultrasonic cleaning and household chemicals can also damage jewelry.
If worn often, pearls should be cleaned and restrung professionally once a year. Between cleanings, wipe pearls gently with a damp cloth.