How to Clean Silver Jewelry in a Matter of Minutes
Unlike wiping down countertops or vacuuming the floors, cleaning your jewelry, especially those silver pieces that tarnish so easily, likely isn't one of the tasks at the top of your to-do list. Although simple to accomplish, this often-neglected cleaning project can be easy to put off because the silver pieces we wear every day, such as the silver earrings you never take off or a go-to necklace, don't always tarnish quickly. These frequently worn pieces typically only need an occasional polish. It's the pieces of finer silver jewelry that sit in boxes or on trays, growing dark from exposure and lack of use, that might need a more vigorous scrubbing. We'll show you how to clean silver jewelry with simple DIY methods that remove tarnish and restore shine.
How to Clean Silver Jewelry
Silver is a soft, lustrous metal, so gentle cleaning is key. A mix of warm water and mild dishwashing soap, or even baby shampoo, will usually do the trick for cleaning everyday jewelry. This method also works to clean gold jewelry.
- Add a few drops of liquid dish soap to warm water. Mix until bubbles form.
- Soak jewelry in the solution for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Use a soft-bristle brush, such as a toothbrush, to clean any crevices.
- Rinse jewelry in warm water.
- To dry, gently rub jewelry with a silver cloth ($8, Bed Bath & Beyond) or a microfiber towel. Avoid using paper towels, as these can scratch the silver.
Fine silver jewelry with diamonds or other precious gems can often be cleaned with soap and water as well. However, consider speaking to a jeweler before cleaning valuables or have the piece professionally cleaned to be safe.
How to Clean Sterling Silver Jewelry
The silver pieces in your jewelry box are likely made of sterling silver rather than pure silver. Sterling silver typically contains about 7.5% copper, making it stronger than pure 99.9% silver (which is rare) but also more likely to tarnish. (Copper is the primary culprit behind tarnish on sterling silver jewelry.)
To tell if your jewelry is sterling silver versus silver-plated, check the clasp for a marking that says 9.25, 925/1000, Sterling, S/S, or Sterling 9.25. If your necklace or bracelet doesn't have these markings, it's probably silver-plated.
If soap and water don't do the trick, you can try other DIY methods for cleaning silver that utilize common pantry and household staples, including baking soda, lemon juice, olive oil, white vinegar, salt, and toothpaste.
Clean Sterling Silver with Baking Soda
Mix two parts baking soda to one part water to make a paste, then gently rub the mixture onto the jewelry. Let the paste dry completely to remove the tarnish. Rinse and dry with a soft cloth or microfiber towel. You can also follow a similar method using cornstarch.
Mix Lemon and Olive Oil
Mix 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1 tsp. olive oil. Dip a clean cloth in the solution and gently rub the silver until it shines. Rinse and dry.
Combine Vinegar and Baking Soda
Mix 1/2 cup white vinegar and 2 Tbsp. baking soda together, then let your silver jewelry soak in the mixture for two to three hours before rinsing and polishing.
Clean Silver Jewelry with Toothpaste
A small amount of diluted toothpaste and a soft-bristle brush can do wonders for cleaning sterling silver jewelry. Just make sure the toothpaste is not a whitening formula, and don't use this method on anything silver-plated.
How to Clean Silver Rings
Silver maintains its shine best when worn frequently, so everyday all-silver rings tend to maintain a certain level of daily sparkle. But rings that have been set aside for long periods of time (or not stored properly) might require extra care.
If soap and water aren't enough, you can use a clean toothbrush to scrub any detail work that remains tarnished. The DIY methods described above can also work to clean silver rings.
The best method for cleaning silver rings will depend on the other materials in the piece, such as turquoise, pearls, and other gemstones or precious metals. These could be damaged by certain cleaning methods. Vinegar, for example, can harm porous stones, and baking soda can scratch soft metals. Again, if the ring is precious, consult a professional before cleaning.
How to Clean Silver Chains
Silver chains on necklaces and bracelets can tarnish easily from contact with lotions, perfumes, and perspiration, and these delicate pieces often need special care. Luckily, you can use the same method used to clean silver flatware for chains.
The tarnish on silver is often silver sulfide, which is created when sulfur atoms combine with silver. This cleaning method uses aluminum foil to pull the sulfur atoms away from the silver to make the piece sparkle. Note that this strategy is effective, but it can smell unpleasant.
- Line the entire surface of a large bowl or pan with aluminum foil.
- Fill the pan with boiling water.
- Add 1/4 cup baking soda and 2 teaspoons kosher salt to the water and stir. Bubbles will form.
- Place silver jewelry in the solution and mix gently, taking care not to hit the pieces together or against the sides of the pan.
- Let sit for up to 5 minutes.
- Remove and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.
How to Prevent Tarnish on Silvery Jewelry
The key to tarnish-free silver jewelry is prevention. Although you can't completely protect silver from air, heat, or moisture, you can do your best to limit exposure.
First, all silver jewelry should be stored properly in soft, anti-tarnish bags ($14, The Container Store) in a cool, dark place. The lower the humidity, the better. Some people add a piece of chalk, a packet of charcoal, or even silica gel to the bags to help remove moisture. Extra moisture is also why leaving jewelry in the bathroom is not a good idea. Remove rings, earrings, and other silver pieces before showering, swimming, or doing dishes, and be sure to put your jewelry on last, after all your perfumes and lotions have had time to sink in.
Another somewhat surprising way to prevent tarnish is to simply wear your silver. The daily friction of life actually does wonders for making silver shine.