How To Clean Sterling Silver

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Sterling silver is a great metal; after all, it’s affordable, easy to work with, and has some value as a precious material. But unlike its other jewelry counterparts such as gold and platinum, it does have the tendency to get dirty and change color over time. Cleaning it isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think from all the articles online. Read on to learn more about how to properly clean sterling silver.

What is Sterling Silver?

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A sterling silver tree bark ring

Most metals available to customers on the market are rarely “pure gold” or “pure silver.” This is because these metals are very soft in their purest form, making them a less durable yet more expensive choice for manufacturers. Jewelry on the market is usually made from alloys, or combinations of different metals. These combinations include the precious metals, such as gold or silver, and other non-precious metals such as copper or nickel to strengthen the structure of the alloy. 

Sterling silver happens to be one of those commercial alloys. It’s 92.5% silver, and the other remaining percentage of 7.5% is usually copper. Given the fact that it’s not pure silver, this alloy does have a tendency to tarnish, or darken over time. This is a natural chemical process that occurs due to the reaction between the metal and exposure to the air, or the oils and sweat from your skin.

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This little antique bulldog pin is heavily oxidized.

 

Cleaning Sterling Silver

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This silver onyx ring was thoroughly cleaned and polished. It makes a huge difference!

Before we go into detail about how to clean sterling silver, it’s important to note that a lot of the household remedies recommended online are actually quite harmful to your jewelry! If you’ve been using toothpaste, lemon juice, bleach, or any other caustic chemical to clean your item, you risk damaging not only the metal but also the stones in your item. Toothpaste is especially popular for removing tarnish, but it actually can leave little scratches on the surface of your jewelry and get stuck behind settings, hardening into a gray gunk that can’t be easily washed off. 

So how can you go about cleaning your sterling silver jewelry properly? Temporary remedies such as polishing cloths off Amazon can work, but they don’t do as thorough of a job as an actual jeweler since you won’t be able to remove deep scratches or dirt.

At a jeweler, the item is polished via an industry-grade polishing wheel. This wheel is powered by a motor, and it runs a roll of abrasive material at high speeds. An experienced polisher runs the item against the wheel, angling it so that the wheel can get at hard to reach places. The abrasive material removes an extremely thin portion of the surface, including any tarnishing and scratches. This reveals the bright, unblemished metal underneath. 

Next, the item is cleaned by an ultrasonic cleaner. This is a tank full of solution that runs soundwaves through the liquid, generating bubbles that knock dirt out of all the crevices in your item. Any remaining residue is quickly blasted off by a steam cleaner, a high pressure nozzle of concentrated steam that also sanitizes the jewelry.

Some pieces of sterling silver are intentionally oxidized to look dark in appearance. In that scenario, the jeweler may either reapply the oxidation by exposing it to certain chemicals, or forego the polishing process entirely. Other items made from sterling silver are rhodium plated, which means that they’re coated in a bright, silvery hypoallergenic metal that is tarnish-resistant. While the plating wears off over time, a jeweler can replate the piece to slow down the tarnishing process. 

Now you know how to clean sterling silver properly! The next time you reach for your tube of toothpaste, just think about the potential damage you’re doing to your beloved item. Get started today by commenting below if you have something to clean; we’ll help you out!

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