Silver Jewelry Cleaning Tips

Before we discuss the different ways to care for Sterling silver jewelry, a distinction should be made.

Many people misuse the words "cleaning" and "polishing" when it comes to jewelry care.

- Cleaning silver jewelry basically refers to just the removal of body oils, soap residue and dirt from a piece.

- Polishing silver jewelry refers to making a dull or tarnished piece shiny again, but does not necessarily remove scratches and deeper abrasions.

Professional polishing done by a local jeweler is more commonly referred to as "refinishing", where the item is sanded to the point where all scratches are removed and the piece is polished to a high luster. If there is antiquing in the item, it will also need to be reapplied at that time.

Cleaning Jewelry:

There are many different methods floating around on the internet suggesting how to best clean your jewelry. While many of these approaches may work, they may not prove to be effective or convenient.

Toothpaste:

Take for instance, the suggestion to use toothpaste to clean jewelry. Many seem to have heard of this technique.

The only advantage to using toothpaste is that it acts as an abrasive and may facilitate the removal of surface oxidation or discoloration (tarnish).

The disadvantage is that it tends to gum up in all the nooks and crannies of a piece and can be difficult to really remove. Along with that, the abrasive action of toothpaste can actually scratch a highly polished surface.
Basically, don't use it… except on your teeth.

Ultrasonic / Vibrating Electronic Cleaners:

Another method used by some is to submerge your jewelry item in an electronic, vibrating jewelry cleaner, using either a solution that came with the cleaner or using something from under the kitchen sink…
Use these cleaners with care and always follow all instructions. If used improperly, one can damage various stones such as opals, pearls and emeralds just to name a few… never clean these stones in an electronic cleaner.
Generally speaking, diamonds, sapphires and rubies are OK to clean, but, to be safe, most other stones should not be cleaned this way. Also, due to the vibrating nature of the equipment, any loose stones that may have worn prongs may come out in the process.
While these types of cleaners can work, in our opinion, they pose too much of a risk for most users at home.

And finally, many silver items have a blackened background on them. Sometimes this background is called "antiquing" or "oxidation" or, when occurring naturally is called "patina". Sometimes certain pieces are even painted with a black enamel paint to offset the background or recessed areas…

Generally, don't put items with a darkened background in any sort of electronic cleaner as it may remove the "antiqued" effect.
Use caution when cleaning these kinds of pieces by hand with a toothbrush, too.
Aggressive brushing may remove some of the darker background.

Silver Dips and Creams:

Another attempted method people try to clean and/or shine their silver jewelry is to "dip" it in a store bought silver cleaner. These "dips" will successfully remove a slight discoloration or tarnish from silver items, but they will also frequently remove the "antiquing" that was applied to the item. Don't use a dip cleaner if your item has been "antiqued".
Silver creams used for polishing silver flat wear and bowls will also remove antiquing, so we do not recommend them for silver jewelry either.

So What Do I Do…?

As we said earlier, cleaning silver jewelry is meant to primarily remove dirt and grime, but not make a piece necessarily shine more.
We feel the best way to accomplish that is very simple:
Simply use hot water from the tap mixed with a small amount of ammonia or dish soap . Then using a soft toothbrush, gently brush the jewelry after dipping it repeatedly in the water/ammonia mix. Hot water and soap will loosen up the grease and grime. Brushing the piece will get into hard to reach places. Repeat this process until all dirt is removed.
When done, rinse the item with clean water and you are finished.
Honestly, hot water and ammonia breaks up most of the buildup you will get in your jewelry… especially if you don't let the piece go uncared for a long time…

Most importantly, use common sense:
Don't boil water, for instance, just use tolerable hot tap water.
Don't try other cleaners! Don't ever use any other chemicals. Only ammonia, and only a small amount to break up grease.
Did we say don't ever use any other cleaners?!! Many will discolor metals…

What About My Sterling Silver Chains?

Sterling Silver chains that don't have any "antiquing" on them are fine for dipping in store bought dip cleaners like Tarnex. Actually, using a product like Tarnex is the best way to brighten a dull, somewhat oxidized silver chain. Follow instructions on the label.

What about Polishing Cloths?

Polishing cloths can be easily purchased at most jewelry stores and some drug stores. Actually, they work quite well at what they were designed to do which is make your silver ring brighter and shine a bit more.
They will not remove most scratches, though.
And while some info on the web suggests that they can actually scratch a piece more and wear down the metal, realistically that is not the case. A polishing cloth, even if used frequently, will have virtually no effect in terms of significant metal wear.
In fact, if your silver ring has an antiqued background of any sort, using a polishing cloth to brighten up the raised surfaces is one of the best and easiest ways to accomplish that.