How to Clean Silver Jewelry So It Shines

Then, store it the right way to prevent tarnish.

Jeweller hand cleaning and polishing vintage jewelry red ruby and silver braclet
Photo: Piman Khrutmuang/Adobe Stock

If you have silver rings, bracelets, and necklaces you don't wear often, you might notice a layer of discoloration the next time you go to put them on. Over time, as silver is exposed to air, a chemical reaction occurs that gives silver a black tarnish. Luckily, your rings and bracelets aren't destroyed—you just need to learn how to clean silver jewelry at home to remove this tarnish and make these pieces shine. Cleaning silver jewelry doesn't take long, and there are some methods that call for supplies you already have on hand. To keep your silver jewelry sparkling long-term, invest in a specialized cleaning cloth and learn how to store silver jewelry the right way to prevent tarnish in the first place. Follow these steps to make your silver accessories stand out.

What's the Difference Between Pure Silver, Sterling Silver, and Silver-Plated Jewelry?

The composition of your silver jewelry will determine the best way to clean it and how easily it will develop tarnish. Pure silver, as it sounds, is made up of 100 percent silver, while sterling silver is an alloy, comprised of a mix of silver and another metal, such as copper. To determine if a piece of jewelry is sterling silver, look for a small marking on the inside of rings or bangles that reads "925," which indicates that the piece is 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent another metal. A silver-plated piece has a thin layer of silver over a base of another metal, such as copper or nickel. While all silver will tarnish over time, pure silver jewelry tends to tarnish more slowly.

How to Clean Silver Jewelry

  1. In a small bowl, stir a couple drops of mild dish soap into warm water to create suds. Let your silver jewelry sit in the solution for about five minutes.
  2. Use a soft toothbrush to gentle scrub away tarnish from any crevices in the jewelry.
  3. Rinse each piece in a bowl of clean, warm water. (If rinsing over the sink, use a drain catcher to prevent dropping any jewelry down the drain).
  4. Dry each piece of jewelry with a soft cloth. Don't use a paper towel, which can scratch the soft surface of silver jewelry.

How to Use a Silver Polishing Cloth

Silver polishing cloths (such as this one from Target) are soft cloths designed to clean silver jewelry without scratching the surface. The cloths are typically infused with chemical cleaners, so they can be used dry, without the need for additional products or polishing creams, making them a mess-free (although not chemical-free) way to clean silver jewelry.

  1. Buff silver jewelry with the silver polishing cloth, following the directions on the packaging. Most will instruct you to scrub back and forth, rather than in a circular motion.
  2. As you scrub, the black tarnish will come off onto the cloth. Work in small sections, moving to a clean area of the cloth as needed.

How to Use Silver Polishing Cream

You can use a jar of silver polishing cream—the kind you would use to clean silver dishes and serveware—to clean silver jewelry as well. This method works best for pieces with a larger surface area, such as a locket or pendant, rather than chains or delicate pieces.

  1. Rinse each piece of jewelry under warm water, then apply a thin layer of polishing cream onto one surface using a soft cloth or the sponge provided in the jar, following the instructions on the packaging. Dampen the sponge before applying the cream.
  2. Working in small sections, rub the cream onto the surface until the tarnish disappears.
  3. Repeat with other surfaces of the jewelry.
  4. Rinse the jewelry thoroughly with warm water, then dry with a clean, soft cloth. Wash your hands with soap and water, and avoid letting the cream sit on your hands.

How to Clean Sterling Silver Jewelry

If you're certain that the jewelry you are cleaning is sterling silver (as opposed to pure silver or silver plate), baking soda is a mildly abrasive substance that will help clear away tarnish. Be careful, as baking soda can scratch other forms of silver.

  1. Combine baking soda and water to form a paste, then use a soft cloth to apply the mixture onto sterling silver jewelry.
  2. Let it dry completely, then remove the baking soda, along, along with any discoloration.
  3. Alternatively, you can soak sterling silver in a bowl of distilled white vinegar with a couple tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in it. Let the jewelry soak for about three hours.
  4. Remove the jewelry, rinse thoroughly, and then polish each piece.

How to Store Silver Jewelry

To delay tarnish, store silver jewelry in a jewelry box lined with velvet, which will help absorb moisture in the air. For special pieces, a velvet pouch will limit the amount of air exposure the jewelry gets, again helping to prevent tarnish.

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