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Does Sterling Silver Tarnish?

Antique silver bowl with intricate carvings on the side
Image via Flickr by Fæ

As sterling silver gains popularity, more and more people are looking in their cupboards and drawers to find pieces of silver jewelry, plates, bowls, flatware, and cutlery. If you have pieces of silver that have been exposed to moisture or have not been cleaned, you may notice that the silver doesn’t have a pretty, lustrous sheen to it. When you see your silver covered in a dark haze, it’s probably just tarnished, and with a little care and cleaning, you can restore your silver to a beautiful shining piece.

What Is Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver and fine silver differ in slight ways. They have a different chemical makeup, are used in different ways, and need a different care regime. Silver, also known as pure silver or fine silver, is 99.9% pure elemental silver. Sterling silver on the other hand is a metal alloy, which means that the silver is mixed with other metals. In general, sterling silver is made up of about 92.5% pure silver and the other 7.5% is a combination of other metals, often copper or zinc.

Why Does Sterling Silver Varnish?

If you look at your sterling silver ring or tableware and see dark coloration, especially in any of the fine details, the piece is tarnished. All silver (including fine silver and sterling silver) varnishes when exposed to air, moisture, salt, sweat, and perfume. However, because sterling silver has alloy metals mixed with silver, it tends to tarnish faster because the alloy metals tarnish easily.

While you can remove tarnish, if you scrub and clean it excessively, you can wear some of the fine detailing of the silver down, which can affect its value. The best way to deal with tarnishing on sterling silver is through preventive measures.

Does Having Tarnish on My Silver Affect Its Value?

While tarnish does not affect the metal content of the sterling silver piece, if not cleaned properly or if the silver piece sustains damage due to excess cleaning, then the tarnish may affect the value of the piece. Dealers will often give you a lower price if you bring it in covered with tarnish. If you’re selling sterling silver and want to get top dollar for it, bring it to the buyer in the best possible condition with all tarnish removed. Once the buyer sees the luster and shine on the silver, the piece becomes more attractive.

What’s the Best Way to Prevent Sterling Silver From Tarnishing?

As mentioned above, preventing your sterling silver from tarnishing is better for the pieces than constantly cleaning them.

The best ways to prevent sterling silver from varnishing include:

  • Proper storage: Keep silver jewelry in a special box, in a dry environment with anti-tarnish strips that can help to keep your sterling silver tarnish-free.
  • Keep it dry: Moisture is one of the things that will make your sterling silver tarnish quickly. After showering, swimming in the pool, or washing your hands with silver jewelry on, dry it thoroughly. After washing any sterling silver bowls or flatware, don’t leave it to air dry. Dry the pieces off right away and store them in a cool, dry place. Try not to leave sterling silver sitting in a humid bathroom or laundry room. Simply dry the silver off and put it in its proper storage place.
  • Wipe pieces off after using them: Sweat, salt, body lotion, sunscreen, oils in your hand, and perfume can make your silver pieces tarnish. At the end of the day, remove your silver jewelry and take a clean soft cloth and wipe the pieces down. Then, store them properly.
  • If you see tarnish, clean it right away: Keep your sterling silver clean. The longer you go without cleaning the tarnish off, the more widespread it will get and the harder it is to clean. Silver polishing cloths work like a charm when you just need to wipe a bit of tarnish away. If the cloth doesn’t work, you have other options as well.
  • Wear gloves for delicate pieces: The oil in our hands can make sterling silver tarnish. If you have special pieces of heirloom vintage, collectible silver, or ones with intricate details and scrolling, invest in a pair of soft cotton gloves when touching the pieces. If you have old silver coins that have no tarnish on them, you’ll want to handle them with gloves to keep them looking pristine and to help them hold their value.

 How Should I Clean My Sterling Silver?

  • Polishing cloth: Try using a special silver polishing cloth first, especially if the tarnish isn’t too thick and the silver piece lacks a lot of detail, knots, or chains. 
  • Warm water and dish soap: An easy way to clean silver is to take warm water with a bit of mild dishwashing detergent and soak the piece in the mixture. If you have a large bowl or serving plate, try to find a container to hold the piece while it soaks. Take a soft cloth and wipe the tarnish away. Rinse, dry, and store properly.
  • Silver polish paste: For large pieces, you can buy a special silver polish paste that will remove the tarnish without harming the details. Look for products designed for sterling silver and make sure to follow the directions carefully to prevent any damage to the silver you’re polishing. 
  • Professional cleaning: If you have a delicate piece of sterling silver jewelry with lots of details, the piece of silver has extensive tarnishing on it, or the sterling silver is collectible with a high value associated with it, consider bringing the silver to a professional to have it cleaned. Professional jewelers often have specialized machinery and cleaning solutions that can remove the tarnish without damaging the piece.

Contact Las Vegas Jewelry & Coin

If you’d like to know more about silver and the value of your silver pieces, feel free to contact our professional team at Las Vegas Jewelry & Coin Exchange. We’re also happy to help you sell your silver, or we can help you find a special silver piece you find at our Las Vegas store.

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