Guide: Cleaning Tarnished Silver Jewellery / Items - 'My Silver has Gone Black'

What is Tarnish?

Tarnished silver item

Tarnish is a thin layer of corrosion that forms as a brown / grey / black film over the silver surface as it undergoes a natural reaction, it can be compared to rust. Tarnish is caused by reactions with chemicals in the air or on the skin, such as trace amounts of hydrogen sulphide.

The normal tarnishing process rate is greatly accelerated by many things including perspiration, sprays, perfumes, pre-electric / aftershave, shaving gels / foam, Shower gels, shampoos (especially anti-dandruff shampoos), cosmetic oils, Swimming pool water, soaps, car fumes, eggs, onions, some fish & shell fish, curry, smoke from burnt raw fuel (coal / oil), vulcanised rubber, foetid air.. Also it can be caused by taking some types of medication.

The tarnish may rub off on to the skin or clothing by relative movement between the jewellery, skin and clothing leaving an unsightly black mark.

Cleaning Silver

The tarnished item, if not too bad, can be cleaned by simply wiping with a soft cloth. If this does not work a silver cleaning solution will be required (available at most supermarkets). It is usually as simple as dipping the item in the solution for a short period of time, rinsing with water then drying the item with a soft cloth. Always read the instructions for the solution you are using.

Tarnished silver item being cleaned

Tarnished silver item part cleaned

If the silver is very badly tarnished and still remains dull/grey after normal cleaning, keep repeating the process clean, dry off and gentle rub with a soft cloth. The second picture below shows the difference when part of the pendant has been gently rubbed with a soft cloth in between cleans.

Badly tarnished silver pendant Badly tarnished silver pendant after multiple cleans, part gently rubbed between cleans Badly tarnished silver pendant after many cleans

Another badly tarnished example..

Badly tarnished silver pendant Badly tarnished silver pendant after many cleans and rubbing with soft cloth

Silver could need cleaning any time from daily to months depending on what conditions the item is stored or worn in.

Do not use abrasive polishes.

Reducing Tarnishing

Using an impregnated jewellery cloth helps reduce the process by coating the item with a tarnish resistant compound.

Storing jewellery in a seal-able plastic bag after cleaning until you want to wear the item.

'Tarnish resistant' items are usually plated with another metal (eg rhodium) which is much slower at 'tarnishing'. These items still tarnish and need to be cleaned with a soft cloth.