sterling silver chains boiling in pan for cleaning

My Best Advice for Cleaning Sterling Silver, Some Facts About the Alloy & Why I Don’t Plate

Occasionally I am asked about jewelry care and cleaning tips for sterling. A few customers sometimes ask if my silver will tarnish. So I will start off by explaining that all sterling silver does tarnish over time. The quality mark for the alloy is .925 because it is 925 per thousandth pure silver and is alloyed with some copper for strength. The specific alloy used can vary a bit and can occasionally contain nickel, however my sterling jewelry is all nickel free. The quality mark for fine silver is .999, which will not tarnish, but it is much softer. .999 is wonderful for hand weaving chains or enameling projects while it lacks the durability to be a good fit for most casting or fabrication applications.

Plated items do not tarnish but I consider the drawbacks to be much greater. Sterling silver is often rhodium plated to prevent tarnishing. While this may initially seem like an appealing option this solution is impermanent and even the heaviest plating is still remarkably thin.   According to Google a human hair typically measures between 50 and 120 micros. Please note one micron is equal to .0001 of a millimeter. Plating thickness will vary based on the metal used and several other factors. Rhodium plating frequently ranges in thickness from .05 to .2 microns. Silver and Gold plates will be heavier and the range of thickness can vary drastically. However at the absolute thickest a full 7 microns is still many times thinner than one strand of human hair. Naturally, over time platings can wear off or sometimes even crack to reveal a foundation of copper and or nickel applied in layers as part of the process. For these reasons I do not plate any of my jewelry.

polishing a sterling silver crane pendant with a polishing cloth

Now on to polishing, it is important to note that I recommend different cleaning techniques for chain and pendants. Pendants and earrings are typically easy to clean. A polishing cloth can work wonders. Some leave little residue on your hands while others can be a bit messy. I prefer the messy ones; they are generally impregnated with more polish and get the job done faster. In the next paragraph I will talk about dips but please note, I would never advise using a dip for a pendant or earring! An antiqued item will leave the dip looking splotchy where the patina has been stripped off.

dirty sterling chains with baking soda and salt for cleaning

Chains are notoriously hard to clean. There are many angles on all of those tiny links that cannot be reached with a polishing cloth alone. There are some chemical dips on the market that will strip tarnish off quickly and easily. It is important to note that these chemicals are fairly harsh. Many have warning labels stating that they are known to cause cancer in the state of California. So in the other 49 states it looks like you’re safe then? However, there is another technique that I find works just well as chemical dips although it does seem quite unusual. Tin foil, baking soda, salt and water can clean things right up for you. Simply place a pot of water on your stove and line it with a sheet of tin foil. Fill the pot with water and add two tablespoons of salt and two tablespoons of baking soda. Boil it for a bit, then rinse the chains well and allow them to dry. This solution is strong and will work quickly, use less baking soda and salt for a milder mixture. I run a polishing cloth over them at this time to shine them up a bit. Ideally it is nice to keep up with cleaning your jewelry. A heavily tarnished chain will be much more difficult to clean while one that is just starting to turn can be brightened up to look like new with little effort.



pulling clean chains out of cleaning solution


I hope these tips help you keep all of your jewelry looking bright and beautiful!


Sterling silver chains on a cat shaped spoon rest

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