Land of Odds - Jewelry Design Center

About Cleaning Sterling Silver Jewelry

(And Sterling Silver Jewelry With Gemstones And Marcasites, Too!)
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We at Land of Odds get many questions about how to clean silver jewelry, liquid silver jewelry, marcasite jewelry, and jewelry with gemstones.

We're silversmiths, and we have a shop where we sell sterling silver jewelry, as well as beads and jewelry findings.

Nothing is perfect, but based on our experiences, here are some good tips:

(1) Sterling Silver tarnishes from the interaction of silver and sulfides in the air.   First the tarnish will take on a golden hue, and eventually, it will turn the piece black.  This is a natural process.

Higher sulfide levels are associated with humidity and/or air pollution. Remember, the more humid the climate, the faster sterling will tarnish. On a summer day in Miami, Florida, all you have to do is walk out the door and the sterling starts turning black very quickly.

(2) Sterling silver will polish up by rubbing or buffing it with a soft cotton cloth.

A chemically treated cloth, like a Sunshine Cloth, makes the job a lot easier and faster.

(3) Sterling silver dips are fast and easy. However, be careful!

First, many dips will take the color and polish off many gemstones.

Second, when using a dip, if you leave the piece in too long, or don't rinse it well enough with fresh water, white residues will be left on the piece when it dries. The residue is difficult to rub or pick off.

When using a silver dip, dip the piece quickly in and out of the dip. Then immediately rinse it in clean water. When the piece dries, buff it with a soft cotton cloth or a Sunshine Cloth. The buffing brings out more of the shine, helps take off any residue left on the piece, and with a Sunshine Cloth, leaves a little bit of a protective anti-tarnish coating on the piece to keep it shiny longer.

When using a dip, it is better to do an in-and-out dip, then rinse and dry, then another quick in-and-out-dip, then rinse and dry, than to leave the piece in the solution for a long time.

Any dip, however is a last resort.  The piece would have to be very difficult to buff up with a soft cloth.

(4) Tarnish Shield, or similar lacquer shield, will keep the piece of jewelry shiny until the tarnish wears off.  We rarely use this ourselves.  We primarily use this when we make a lot of jewelry that has to be on display for a long time, such as when we're selling our pieces at an arts and crafts fair.

LOTS of cautions here.  

Pieces that have been lacquered don't age well, until all the lacquer has worn off. In spots where the lacquer has loosened from the sterling, but not worn off, the silver will tarnish, but you won't be able to buff it.

If you use a dip to clean a piece that has a tarnish shield, often the dip will get under parts of the lacquer, leaving a residue, wherever the lacquer is beginning to wear off.

If the piece is a chain, or a filigree, the lacquer will form a film within the openings and cracks.  This obviously makes the piece ugly.


Cleaning Liquid Silver Jewelry

Liquid silver jewelry is very difficult to clean. You can use a soft cotton cloth or a Sunshine Cloth. Avoid dips. They leave residue deposits between each bead, and make the necklace stiff.

A good alternative is to take dry baking soda (or baking powder), and rub it on the liquid silver beads.

Then pat and brush the dry powder off.

Gemstone Jewelry

When cleaning gemstone beads or cabochons, immerse them in warm, soapy water, and scrub gently with a soft brush. Then rinse them and lay them on a soft towel to dry.

Ultrasonic cleaners only work with hard crystalline stones, like amethyst; for most gemstones, however, we'd suggest avoiding ultrasonic cleaners.

The big trick is cleaning sterling silver jewelry that includes gemstones within the piece.

Sunshine cloths are OK. The chemicals in the Sunshine Cloth won't hurt the stones.

Silver dips should be avoided, however, except with crystalline stones like amethyst. Stones like black onyx, malachite, lapis and the like do not survive long when cleaned with dips. A lot of their shine comes from an oily polish which is dissolved by the dips.

[NOTE: Sometimes you can restore that oily polished look on gemstones by rubbing them with black shoe wax.]

Sunshine cloths are great for sterling silver,
and don't harm gemstones

Caring for your sterling or bronze marcasite jewelry

Your concern is to prevent dissolving the glue holding the marcasites in place.  

First, use a soft cotton cloth or Sunshine Cloth to buff up your jewelry.  

Never use a silver dip.  The dip will dissolve the glue.  

Finally, take off your marcasite jewelry before you wash your hands in soapy water.  Never wash dishes with your marcasite jewelry still on.  Dish detergent dissolves the glue.

[If you need to replace your marcasites, use an epoxy glue, like E6000 (our favorite).  Never use superglue!  This same advice holds true for rhinestones!]

You might consider, in the future, looking for jewelry and jewelry findings and beads made from Argentium Silver.

**Argentium Wire, Ear Wires, Jump Rings, Head Pins, Eye Pins

Major new innovation in sterling silver --
Tarnish-Resistant finished products using Argentium.
Containing more germanium than traditional sterling silver alloys, Argentium silver is virtually tarnish-free. Customers will appreciate the value and convenience of beautifully sparkling jewelry that requires far less polishing than sterling silver. Ideal for all types of jewelry items.


Keeping Your Flatware Shining

Wash each piece and be sure it's thoroughly dry before storing.  Dampness, air and sunlight are silver's worst enemies.  Store flatware in an airtight drawer or chest, or in preventive bags.

Remember to rotate flatware, not using the same pieces for each meal.  This way, patina, the silver's finish, develops evenly.

Keep larger pieces like trays, candlesticks and serving dishes, in flannel cases or wrap them in acid-free tissue paper first, then in a plastic bag that closes.  You want to keep them away from the air and sunlight. Never wrap silver in plastic food wrap, foil, newspaper or bind flatware with rubber bands.  These can damage the silver's finish.

Frequent use actually prevents silver from tarnishing.

Use baking soda (or baking powder), a toothbrush and some warm water to scrub tarnish off silver flatware.  

Never use a cleaner with ammonia or sulfer in it.

If you have any other questions about cleaning sterling silver, please email us or call.

We'd be happy to answer your questions.

Warren Feld or James Jones

Land of Odds