Saturday, June 16, 2007

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

13 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!

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