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December 17, 2009 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

KEEP STERLING SILVER JEWELRY CLEAN AND SHINY

STOP IT IN IT’S TRACKS: The best way to keep sterling silver jewelry shiny is to prevent tarnish in the first place.  Tarnish is caused by sulfur dioxide from the air reacting with silver, and the best way to prevent it is to keep your jewelry out of the air.  Try sealing your items in a zip top bag; there are specially made bags and anti-tarnish strips you can buy, but this is by far the cheapest.

GREEN IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE: Tarnish is natural and totally normal, so when the inevitable happens, clean your sterling silver with baking soda.  There are a couple of ways to do this, but the simplest is just to make a paste with baking soda and water and use a clean toothbrush (not one that has ever had abrasives or chemicals on it as this could damage your jewelry) to gently scrub the tarnish away.  Then rinse your jewelry thoroughly and blot it dry.  I like to do this over a bowl, but if you do it over a sink, be sure to put something in the drain so you don’t lose anything.

YAY CHEMISTRY!: The baking soda acts as a super gentle scrubber, but it also oxidizes the sulfur that causes tarnish, releasing small amounts of hydrogen sulfide gas.  A quicker way to deal with really tarnished sterling is to put jewelry into a bowl with about 2 Tbsp. baking soda, a pinch of salt, and a crumpled up piece of aluminum foil.  After a few minutes, your sterling will look like new.  How does this work?  Again, the baking soda oxidizes, the salt helps transport the tarnish through the water, and the aluminum foil traps the tarnish, while the gas is released into the air.

SMALL PRINT: Of course you have to be gentle if you opt for the toothbrush method.  DON’T leave your jewelry in the mix forever.  DON’T dunk things with silk cord or pearls or water soluble crystals like flourite, as none of these stay the same when you add water.  GOOD RULE OF THUMB: if you are worried about using this on porous stones, don’t.  Just use it on the sterling silver.  Use a little paste for any tight spots and carefully wipe away with a cotton swab or tissue.  DON’T use this method on silver plated items; they are not actually sterling silver and the coating will come off.  DON’T worry too much; I use this method all the time and don’t have any problems.  I have heard people say that this method degrades sterling silver, but the reality is the degradation has already happened from the tarnish.  When you remove the tarnish, you are removing something that USED TO BE sterling, but is now just the dark grey stuff covering up your pretty shiny piece underneath.

BONUS POINTS: For super shine, buff your jewelry with a soft cloth, like microfiber or chamois.  It’s not environmentally friendly, but in a pinch I use a ‘sunshine cloth’, which is a soft cloth embedded with polishers (wash your hands afterwards!).  You can find them online or at most jewelry and bead stores.  They seem to run about $5 and I use mine a lot.  It lasts a long time (I store mine in a plastic bag in between uses).

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