What is tarnishing—and how can you protect your jewelry?
If you’re like me, you probably have that one piece of jewelry that is only worn on special occasions. It’s kept hidden and safe in the jewelry box so you always know where it is when you want to wear it. The problem, as anyone who owns jewelry knows, is that sometimes your item can appear a little off.
I’m not referring to dirty jewelry, I’m referring to what’s called tarnishing. Every once in a while you reach into the jewelry box and unexpectedly, your jewelry has a tinge of yellow or looks dull and darkened.
What happened? You haven’t worn that piece of jewelry in months! Why is it tarnished?
Don’t worry, jewelry tarnishing in most cases is unavoidable. There are methods and steps to take to prevent your jewelry from tarnishing, which is often easier than removing tarnishing afterwards. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
What is tarnish on jewelry?
Tarnish is a layer of corrosion that develops on the top surface of some metals.
To get technical and scientific, the main cause of tarnish is pollution in the air. Oxygen and hydrogen sulfide gas in the air cause a chemical reaction to metal. Additionally, some metals are more susceptible to tarnishing than others.
Along with the chemicals in the air, direct chemicals near or on the body can act as a tarnishing agent, as well. The chemicals in hair spray, perfume, body lotion, deodorant, bleach, and other everyday products come in contact with your jewelry and can speed up the tarnishing process.
Additionally, the chemicals in these products will cause your jewelry to get dirty. If this happens, cleaning it can be relatively easy. I encourage you to check out our article Your guide to cleaning jewelry to learn more.
Which types of metals are susceptible to tarnishing?
Copper, brass, silver, and aluminum are most susceptible to tarnishing.
Sterling silver is the metal people most often think of when they hear about jewelry tarnishing. That’s because sterling silver is actually a copper-silver alloy. You will often find a “925” stamp on the back or inside of a piece of sterling silver jewelry because sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals. Sterling silver tarnishes the way it does in part because of the copper alloys in the jewelry.
Tarnish on gold jewelry is not as common, but after years of being in storage or not worn the piece may become dull or dark. Gold jewelry is most often affected by the chemicals in hair spray or perfume, which cause the gold to turn a different color.
Does platinum jewelry also tarnish?
Platinum is hypoallergenic and rarely tarnishes, which makes it a great metal for anyone with allergies or sensitive skin.
How to prevent jewelry from tarnishing
Here are some tried and true tips that will help slow the rate at which your jewelry tarnishes. These tips may not completely prevent your pieces from tarnishing over time, but the sooner after purchasing your jewelry you apply these methods, the longer your pieces will last.
- Store your jewelry in a clean, dry environment. Separate your pieces in small resealable plastic bags or airtight containers to minimize their exposure to air, the main cause of tarnishing. We also suggest that you keep your jewelry far away from the bathroom or any place with humidity or moisture, because both can speed up the tarnishing process.
- The small, white silica gel packets that typically come inside a pocketbook, a shoebox, or in the pocket of a coat when purchased are great to keep and store in your jewelry box. They absorb excess moisture in the air and can help prevent tarnish from developing.
- Surprisingly, chalk also absorbs the airborne substances that cause tarnish, much like the silica gel packets. A small piece of chalk in the corner of your jewelry box could work wonders. Just change out the piece of chalk every few months and you’ll slow the rate of tarnish.
How to remove tarnish from jewelry
Despite the best tips and tricks under the sun, some tarnish is unavoidable. Regularly cleaning your jewelry can at least slow the rate of tarnishing and will make cleaning tarnish easier when it does develop. Here are some practical, inexpensive methods for cleaning your jewelry:
- When in doubt, ask an expert[SO1] . Before
you accidently damage a piece of jewelry, you need to learn how best to
clean it. You can either research online, or ask an expert. Feel free
to contact us online or visit either of our stores in Morristown and New
Providence to speak to a jewelry expert, who can guide you on how to
properly clean and treat your jewelry.
- Polishing cloth – the easiest, most common method used to remove tarnish. A simple, occasional wipe with a polishing cloth removes anything that has settled on the surface of your jewelry and will help prevent tarnish from forming. If you do this routinely, your jewelry will stay in great condition. If you see tarnish beginning to form on your piece but you just toss it back into your jewelry box, the tarnish will continue to build and will be more difficult to remove later on.
- Jewelry cleaner – a liquid solution made specifically for jewelry cleaning. Similar to a beauty treatment, a quick wash in this solution will remove any excess oils or dirt from your jewelry and bring out its brilliance. Jewelry cleaners are made for specific metals, so be careful to only use the appropriate cleaner. Silver cleaner is made with a different solution than gold or precious metal cleaner. We carry a full line of jewelry cleaning products at our New Jersey jewelry store locations ranging from polishing cloths, liquid cleaners, and ultrasonic jewelry cleaning machines.
- Ultrasonic cleaner – a machine that distributes powerful sonic waves through a cleaning solution to clean and polish jewelry. This is what most jewelers use to clean jewelry. You can purchase a similar item for in-home use, but on a much smaller scale.
Avoid DIY methods for cleaning or removing tarnish from jewelry
If you search the Internet for methods on how to remove tarnish from jewelry, you will find all sorts of do-it-yourself and home remedies that people have tried and recommend.
We at Braunschweiger Jewelers recommend that you steer clear of any home remedies. Do not try them! Just because it looks like a brilliant idea on Pinterest doesn’t mean it’ll work! For example, toothpaste or baking soda can scratch the surface of your jewelry and leave behind a residue. Harsh chemicals such as bleach or acetone will dull the surface of many types of metals and can ruin the jewelry.
Jewelry is precious and delicate and should only be cared for gently and with the proper materials. Do yourself a favor and avoid any DIY projects when it comes to cleaning, preventing, or removing tarnish from jewelry.
If all else fails, talk to a jeweler
If you’ve tried all the above methods of removing tarnish and cannot restore your jewelry to its original state, you can bring your jewelry to a professional to be thoroughly cleaned and polished.
Braunschweiger Jewelers offers free cleaning on most jewelry up to a certain degree. A simple cleaning can be done while you wait on one to three items. If you have a large amount of jewelry to be cleaned, you may have to leave it with us for a few days for a thorough cleaning and polish, and there may be a small charge. When in doubt, just ask.
To learn more about cleaning jewelry or tarnishing, feel free to visit either of our New Jersey jewelry store locations in Morristown or New Providence to see for yourself and talk to any of our expert jewelers.
If you’d like to talk to someone directly about keeping your jewelry looking its best, feel free to contact us online anytime by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply fill out our contact form. We’ll answer your questions quickly.