FAQ: How Do I Remove Tarnish from Sterling Silver Jewelry?

I've got tons of sterling silver supplies that I use for my handmade jewelry business, Peggy Li Creations. Every now and then, there is a batch that has "turned" a brown or black -- this is a natural oxidation that occurs with sterling silver. It can be a pain to remove with a polishing cloth, but I just tried the greatest trick to removing tarnish from sterling silver! And it WORKS!

Note: If you have silver items that have oxidized details (black background with raised polished accents), or sayings stamped into your metal, this technique may remove that background contrast. If you just want the raised area cleaned, use a polishing cloth.

All you need are:

* Plastic dish (big enough to dunk your silver pieces. I use a tupperware dish)
* Aluminum foil
* Baking soda
* Hot water


1) Put a piece of the aluminum foil at the bottom of your dish. Place your silver pieces so they are in contact with the foil.

2) Put a few tablespoons of baking soda in the dish.

aluminum foil method of removing tarnish from silver

3) Heat your water to almost boiling (but boiling is not necessary) and pour over just enough to cover the pieces.

4) The mixture of baking soda, hot water, and aluminum foil will cause a bubbling/foaming chemical reaction. Swirl your items in the mixture or let soak for tougher tarnish. I took a video of this process here (look closely and see the silver brighten as the water clears at about :30 seconds in!):

5) Voila! You may even smell a little sulphur "rotten egg" smell as the reaction takes place. Rinse and the silver pieces should be clean and shiny once again! If heavily tarnished, try a few additional applications of soda and hot water, or maybe a fresh piece of foil.


What's happening? It's a basic chemical reaction that binds the aluminum to the sulfur oxides (you might see yellow flakes at the bottom of the dish) that the heat and contact with the aluminum foil accelerate. For all the cool science-y details, click here.

The chem-E in me loves it. Works great on chains. If you want to clean silver jewelry with stones or pearls, definitely keep the stones/pearls out of the water (the heat may change color, take away shine, or crack your gems!).

xoxo,
Peggy
Handmade Jewelry by Peggy Li

36 comments:

Thomas - Ekaweeka said...

Oh my god what an easy alternative to the old cloth method! thank you Peggy :p

plcpeggy said...

It's really cool in that the chemical reaction doesn't remove silver from your piece, which polishing cloths and abrasives do!

Tammy said...

Nice to see you aren't the only one who knows about this. I also use this method and have it posted on my Jewelry Making site at About.com. It works great if your jewelry is not plated, and of course, make sure you rinse off the salt well. It really is amazing how black the foil gets.

Anonymous said...

great! i haven't seen this in the many decades since
my granny cleaned her silver place settings every week :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, it worked great with me and my wife's wedding rings. However, we had a black background to a raised motif, and it took off that black substance. Looks better now anyway :)

Peggy Li said...

Ooh, yes, if you have oxidation detail, it will remove that from your rings. In that case, I would use a polishing cloth (like Sunshine) that is for sterling silver. That way you polish only the raised surface, leaving the oxidized detail behind. Feel free to email me if you have any questions or would like that detail back!
Peggy

Anonymous said...

This is great! My necklace looks new thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you!! I thought my charm bracelet was ruined after washing dishes in bleach water....it looks good as new!!

Tammy Caswell said...

Just did this to all of my earrings! Thank you so much for this tip! Many of my earrings I thought needed to be thrown away because they were so bad but couldn't get myself to do it. One question though. I have a piece that has a saying on it that is etched in and was black. When I cleaned it this way it took the black off. Any way to get the black back? I'm guessing no...

Tammy Caswell said...

Awesome tip! Thank you so much! One question though. I have a piece that had black wording etched into it. Now that I've cleaned it the black is gone. Any way to get that black back? I'm guessing no...

Peggy Li said...

Tammy,
The piece will probably re-age and those letters will darken again over time. In the meantime, you can fake it by running a black sharpie over the letters and quickly wiping away the excess.
best,
Peggy

Anonymous said...

Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly how I clean my silver but brush it with toothpade afterwords to make sure I get all the soda off, and it leaves it nice and shiny!

Linda D. said...

Awesome! Peggy this is an easy fix,
Thanks for the HOT tip!

Catherine Kornhaber said...

If my necklace stays brown/black, does that mean its not sterling and will never come clean?

Catherine Kornhaber said...

If my necklase stays brown does that mean its not sterling and will never come clean?

Peggy Li said...

Hi Catherine - maybe! Sometimes it takes a few applications and a fresh piece of foil to get a heavily tarnished piece clean. If you can get it mostly clean with a polishing cloth (a cloth like Sunshine polishing cloth has micro abrasives in it to help clean) that can help before dunking. Most silver jewelry should have a hallmark, a stamped ".925" to indicate it is sterling. Good luck!

Mommy34567 said...

I have this bracelet that my mom gave me. I have tried everything to clean this. I gave up till I saw your post. My bracelet had never been cleaner. thanks!

Anonymous said...

So if I have diamonds in my wedding rings, I want to use a cloth?! Or is it okay to just put my rings in there?! I just don't want to mess my stones up. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

If it's wedding rings should I not put the diamonds in the mixture?!

Anonymous said...

I have two sterling silver rings that turned to a copper color when I was doing my dishes in water that has an odor to it. This was the first time I did the dishes in this water. I have done dishes many of times in my ex room mates sink and they have never turned at all. Could it be something with my water that caused it to turn my rings that color. We have been told we have bad water and the smell proves it.

Anonymous said...

Is it okay to use this method with jewelry that is no sterling?

Peggy Li said...

It is meant for sterling silver only.

Anonymous said...

I almost just freaked out. My World Championship cheerleading ring was BROWN and BLACK after helping perm someone's hair. i dropped the ring in hot water and scrubbed it with baking powder. Good as new! Thank you!!

Kristin Robinson said...

Hi Peggy! Is this okay to do to a stirling silver engagement ring with diamonds?

Kristin Robinson said...

Hi Peggy! Is this okay to do to a stirling silver engagement ring with diamonds?

Peggy Li said...

Hi Kristin,
I think it would be fine - don't need to use boiling water, just hot should do the trick. You don't want to shock any stones with boiling hot water (could crack or discolor, depending on the stones).

For fine jewelry, it's always best to take it to a professional cleaner. Most jewelry stores will prob clean your ring for free!

best,
peggy

Robynn J said...

Will this method also work for tarnished gold?

Peggy Li said...

Hi Robynn,
no, this is for sterlng silver only. I would try cleaning with some mild soap and an old toothbrush maybe. Or, purchase cleaning material specific for gold.

good luck!
peggy

Rose said...

Hi Peggy, would this method work to remove some intentional oxidation from a bronze piece so more of the shiny coppery color would show? The piece is solid bronze and beautiful - I just wish it were a little brighter. Thanks, Rose

Peggy Li said...

Hi Rose,
No, this won't work for bronze, bronze is made of different metals than silver so the chemical reaction is not the same.

I have heard of using salt, flour and vinegar (or lemon juice or ketchup) to clean copper/bronze. Try http://www.howtocleanstuff.net/how-to-clean-bronze/

good luck!
peggy

Kelly said...

Omg thanks Peggy you saved my jewelry. I was ready to burst out in tears about my bracelets, this method really saved the day!

Anonymous said...

it worked like a dream on my necklace after I had been swimming in hot springs! It turned the color right back after doing it twice

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Will it hurt the fake diamonds I have in the ring

Peggy Li said...

Should not hurt your fake diamonds - use hot, not boiling, water.

good luck!
peggy