It’s no secret: I love working with sterling silver! All of my pieces involve silver in some way, shape, or form. My signature ripple design would not be the same or possibly not exist without it! I learned ALL about silver while studying jewelry design at SCAD. However, I understand that my silver knowledge is not something that the average person happens to know, so I wanted to share some facts about this metal and, more importantly, how to properly care for it.
About Sterling Silver
Sterling silver’s alloy makeup is 0.925 parts silver with copper making up the remainder. Against popular belief, there is no nickel used to make true sterling silver. A lot of commercially available sterling silver jewelry is rhodium plated. This gives it that clean, white look, while making it tarnish resistant. However, due to the harsh chemicals and process involved with plating, I don’t generally rhodium plate my pieces. Rhodium also wears off and requires re-plating often which turns into a lot of maintenance that can't be done at home.
Tarnish!? Oh My!
It’s an unfortunate truth, but all sterling silver will tarnish over time. This is due to specific characteristics of this metal like the chemical reaction caused when it interacts with air, moisture, and other environmental elements. Things like salty ocean air, humidity, and smog can cause silver to tarnish even faster.
Kristen's Short List of Cleaning Must Haves: also available here
- Soft Toothbrush - for scrubbing in the nooks and crannies
- Sunshine Polishing Cloth - for buffing and polishing
- Blue Dish Soap - for cutting grease and oils
- Klean Karats - for getting under/behind stones
- Plastic Bags with Anti-Tarnish Tabs - for keeping moisture out
- The Ultimate Tool: Speedbrite Machine - for tarnish removal on a larger scale. This is what I use daily in my studio.
So here’s the secret to prevent tarnishing: store your sterling silver jewelry in airtight Ziplock bags with anti-tarnish strips added. Little pro tip: you can recycle those silica packets from shoe or purse boxes, and use them in your jewelry box to reduce moisture even more.
Also, surprisingly enough, the simple act of wearing your silver jewelry will actually help prevent it from tarnishing! Jewelry loves to be worn, and the natural motion of wearing and rubbing on things will keep it more shiny.
Some non-friendly substances include chemicals often found in cleaners, lotions, sanitizer, make-up, and pool chlorine. The sterling silver will discolor in protest and turn black when exposed to these. Fortunately, that can all be remedied by the following:
Maintaining Your Silver
The first step in maintaining the brilliant shine of your sterling silver jewelry is to actively avoid the things that you know will hurt it. Remove before washing your hands, swimming, exercising, cleaning, or applying any kind of personal body product.
But when you do notice that your silver is inevitably beginning to tarnish, it’s time to clean it. Use a soft toothbrush and warm water with a small amount of dish soap, such as Dawn Original. That helps cut the oils and slick allowing the next step to work properly.
Follow up with a polishing cloth to gently remove oils and restore luster. I include one with all of my orders. The cloth is infused with a polishing compound and will turn black, showing that the compound is activated and that the polishing is working. To maintain the beautiful shine and unique finish of your jewelry, store it in a sealed plastic bag away from heat, humidity, and moisture.
My all-time, favorite polishing cloth is the Sunshine Polishing Cloth that can be purchased on Amazon or ordered on my website as part of my new KB Cleaning Kit! It will turn from yellow to black when used on silver jewelry, but that just means the polishing compound in the cloth has been activated and is working.
It’s important to wash the piece AND your hands really well after polishing because if the black compound is still in the cracks of the piece (even on a microscopic level), it will turn your fingers black, too. However, once the compound is off, the piece will be back to its nice, polished shine. The Sunshine Polishing Cloth lasts for a while and is reusable until the entire thing is mostly black. I've had my current cloth for a year, and it's about time for a new one because I have been using it a TON recently.
General Jewelry Cleaning Steps
- Wash the piece with Dawn dish soap and warm water to cut oils and grease
- Scrub it with a soft toothbrush to get in all the nooks and crannies
- Complete a thorough buff with your cloth
- Wash the piece again with Dawn dish soap and warm water to remove the polishing residue
- Dry with a soft towel or microfiber towel
Cleaning Silver Pieces with Stones
Many of my silver pieces include those gorgeous gemstones y’all know I adore. So for cleaning those, follow the same steps as above but spend extra time getting the grit and grime from underneath the stones using hot (but not boiling) water. Give the piece time to soak in the hot water bath before scrubbing it with the Dawn dish soap and the soft toothbrush. You can repeat these steps as needed and then follow up with the polishing cloth. I also recommend the Klean Karats Kit here as well. This kit can provide additional "cleaning power" in a handy setup. Both work - it purely comes down to personal choice!
Reactions to Silver
While most people’s skin is fine when touching silver, some are not. Those with allergies can experience black or occasionally green marking on their skin where their sterling silver piece sits. That is simply the reaction of the body and the silver with each other. An exfoliating scrub and wash typically removes discoloration from the skin, and a little wash and buff does the same for the jewelry.
Something else I’ve experienced firsthand is how changes in body chemistry, hormones, or medication can cause various reactions with sterling silver. These can happen for a short period of time and then go back to normal or it can be lasting. A big hormonal change is pregnancy, which I experienced firsthand. I had to find a way to still wear and work with silver while pregnant. For rings and cuffs, I would apply a coat of clear nail polish to the interior of the ring or cuff where it would touch my skin. It provided a barrier between my skin and the metal of the piece to avoid a reaction. I had to reapply it to the piece after some time, but it was extremely helpful in lessening the effects of my temporary allergy to silver!
Also, with our current massive use of hand sanitizer, I've seen a lot more discoloration occurring, but that can most times be fixed as well. While this sanitizer + silver reaction may present as an "allergy", most commonly, it's actually a reaction to the micro abrasives found in the sanitizer. Those tiny abrasives get trapped between the skin and piece of jewelry (most often rings) and rub little particles of the silver off. Mix those microscopic particles with sweat/water/alcohol from sanitizer and a coating of black/green makes an appearance. A thorough wash and dry typically remedies this situation - which truly hadn't been an issue until 2020 came around!
The Wonderful World of Silver
Like with all precious metals, sterling silver must be treated kindly and with care so that it can stand the test of time. I’ve done some really fun and cool things with this metal, and I have yet to grow tired of it or uninspired by it! As always, please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about silver or its care.