How to Care for Sterling Silver Jewelry

Handmade Sterling silver necklace

Handmade Sterling Silver Necklace, Siam Butterfly

It’s hard not to be crazy about sterling silver jewelry. Between its luster, its brilliance, and its versatility, it’s easy to see why silver is one of the most popular materials for jewelry.

Still, many of us find ourselves neglecting all the beautiful silver pieces in our jewelry boxes for one simple, annoying reason: tarnish.  When oxygen or sulfur come in contact with silver, they chemically bond to its surface and cause the silver to appear dirty or discolored.  Who wants that?

Fortunately, caring for silver and reducing tarnish is as simple as doing the dishes. All you need is to arm yourself with a few facts about the metal and a few tips and tricks for care and cleaning. With this ultimate guide, you’ll leave ready to start wearing your fabulous silver again with all its shine!

A few things about sterling silver

Knowing a few industry terms will help you understand the physical attributes of your jewelry and how to care for it. The purity of the metal, for instance, determines how malleable the silver is and how quickly it will tarnish:  .950 sterling silver will bend more easily and tarnish more quickly than .925 sterling silver because of its increased purity, so extra caution should be used to take care of .950 silver jewelry.

“Oxidized” is another term used to describe silver. For some works silversmiths intentionally allow parts of the jewelry to darken and oxidize, typically small details, to make them stand out more. This detailing can be lost, though, with excessive cleaning and polishing. So be sure to identify any purposefully oxidized silver bracelets, earrings, rings or necklaces you have and set them aside for separate cleaning.

Oxidized Sterling Silver Jewelry

Preventative care

Wear: You can avoid tarnish by wearing your jewelry often. The oils in your skin will “clean” the silver and keep it looking shiny.

Avoid exposure: Contact with household chemicals, perspiration, rubber, chlorinated water, or any substances which contain sulfur (e.g., mayonnaise, eggs, mustard, onions, latex, wool), will cause corrosion and tarnish — so it’s a good idea to remove silver jewelry when doing household chores. Direct sunlight also causes silver to tarnish, so be sure to take off your silver jewelry before you go swimming and sunbathing.

Lotions, cosmetics, hair spray and hair products, and perfumes are also “enemies” of silver and will accelerate tarnishing. There’s a reason generations of women have been getting dressed with jewelry last, as a finishing touch!

Storage: As exposure to air tarnishes it, storing silver in airtight plastic bags with anti-tarnish strips is a great preventative measure. Just make sure you don’t store multiple jewelry pieces in the same bag: silver is a soft metal, so the individual pieces can scratch each other. Link or chain bracelets should be kept unclasped or unhooked to prevent scratching as well. If you can’t use plastic bags, try to make sure that the storage area has low humidity. You can also place a piece of chalk, a packet of activated charcoal, or a container of silica gel in the storage area to minimize tarnish.

Handcrafted sterling silver jewelry


Simply polishing your silver works well when the tarnishing is not too severe. It’s also the best method for cleaning oxidized silver, as you can stay away from the intentionally tarnished areas.

Silver is soft and can become scratched easily. You can use a special silver cloth to polish your items, but a lint-free flannel, microfiber, or other soft nonabrasive cloth will do as well. Do not use paper towels or tissues to polish your jewelry as they contain fibers that can scratch the silver.

When polishing, use long back-and-forth motions that mirror the grain of the silver. Do not rub in circles, as this will magnify any tiny scratches. Also, change to a different section of your cloth frequently to avoid placing tarnish back on the silver. You can use a Q-tip to get into small, detailed areas.

Be careful with silver-plated items, as excessive polishing can remove the plating (depending on the thickness) and leave pieces worse than when they started.

Professional care

If your pieces are heavily tarnished and you don’t have the time to clean them, take them to a professional silver cleaner. Very old, fragile, or valuable pieces should also be cleaned by a professional.

Handcrafted sterling silver jewelry


What about commercial silver cleaners?

Commercial silver polishes and dips are easy to find and use, but have several serious drawbacks. For one, the vapors from silver polish can cause damage and even be fatal if inhaled in an unventilated room. The powerful solvents in commercial silver cleaners may also require special hazardous waste disposal to avoid contaminating groundwater or causing other environmental harm.

As if these health and environmental concerns weren’t enough, commercial silver cleaners can also actually harm your silver by removing the anti-tarnish coating and valuable patina. Even though cleaners might give a temporary shine, the pieces will tarnish much more quickly and have to be cleaned more frequently once you have broken down the surface.

Homemade silver cleaner

For cases when the polishing cloth isn’t enough to remove tarnish, you can make your own economically- and environmentally-friendly silver cleaner using ingredients from your kitchen.

It should be noted, however, that silver cleaners are not for all types of silver jewelry. You should not, for instance, ever immerse jewelry adorned with pearls or opaque gemstones (e.g. turquoise, opal, carnelian, onyx), as this could seriously damage these softer stones. (Give these pieces a very brief rinse if they become too dirty.)

Even for jewelry with clear gemstones (e.g. blue topaz, amethyst, garnet), take special care when using a silver cleaner: the chemicals could lodge under the gemstone settings or loosen any glue. And remember, do not use silver cleaners on your oxidized jewelry — stick to the polishing cloth instead.

After using any cleaner, be sure to thoroughly rinse your silver with running water or a clean, damp cloth. This is especially important for detailed or etched items, since polish can stick in small crevices and harden. After, dry the pieces with a microfiber cloth to prevent white water spot stains from forming.

Handcrafted sterling silver jewelry

Soap and water: Warm water and a mild, ammonia- and phosphate-free dishwashing soap should be your first line of defense if the polishing cloth fails to remove tarnish. Soap and water should also be used to clean your pieces before using any of the methods listed below.

Baking soda and water: You might have heard that a non-whitening, non-gel toothpaste can be a good substitute for commercial silver cleaners, but nowadays these basic toothpastes are hard to find or distinguish from the toothpastes that will discolor your silver. Instead, make a paste of baking soda and water and use a clean cloth to apply a pea-sized amount to the silver and polish. For etched, stamped or detailed items, thin the paste with more water and use a clean, soft-bristled toothbrush to get the cracks and crevices. Run the silver piece or pieces under running warm water, and dry with a clean cloth.

Olive oil and lemon juice: Mix 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1 tsp. olive oil in a bowl large enough to hold the cleaning solution and a small microfiber cloth. Dip the cloth in the solution and wring it out so that it doesn’t drip, then polish the silver, rinse, and dry.

White vinegar and baking soda: Use this gentle cleaner to remove heavy tarnish that’s preventing you from polishing your silver. Soak the tarnished piece in a solution of 1/2 cup white vinegar and 2 tbsp. baking soda (be prepared for the fizzing!) for two to three hours, then rinse and dry.

Baking soda, salt, aluminum foil, and boiling water: You can take advantage of a simple chemical reaction to clean your silver: all you’ll need is some baking soda, salt, and aluminum foil. Line a glass roasting pan or the kitchen sink with aluminum foil, dull side facing down. Place the silver pieces on top of the aluminum foil. Then pour boiling water over the pieces until they are covered and add 2 tbsp. each of baking soda and salt. Stir the solution to allow the baking soda to dissolve — you don’t want any granules scratching the metal.

The reaction causes the tarnish to transfer to the foil, and in about 5-10 minutes you’ll see the tarnish “magically” disappear from the jewelry. (Be prepared for the smell of rotten eggs, though, as the sulfide tarnish comes off the silver.) Using salad tongs or nitrile gloves (not rubber gloves, which contain sulfur), remove the silver jewelry from the hot water or drain into a colander. Rinse the jewelry with water, then dry and buff with a soft cloth. Voila! Your silver should be sparkling clean and ready to keep you looking fabulous.

Combination: If your pieces have very stubborn tarnish, you can use these treatments in succession to get them looking shiny again.

Handcrafted sterling silver jewelry

A fresh start for your jewelry

Well-cared-for silver jewelry can give you many years of pleasure and enjoyment and even become family heirlooms. And, of course, silver is valuable. So don’t wait until tarnish has become so bad that you forget about your silver treasures or even get rid of them. Give your jewelry a fresh start today!

Discover more silver here

Do you have a tried-and-true method for making your silver sparkle, or a story of silver cleaning gone horribly wrong? Tell us about it in the comments!


  •' Isabel Fernandes says:

    I have a lot of silver jewelry that needs cleaning real bad…..I’m going to try it…then will post the results.

    •' barbara says:

      I couldn’t believe the schmuch that floated to the top of the water immediately. They are soaking now but I see it working. thank you.

  •' isabellsmith says:

    When it comes of the sterling silver jewelery you need to take good care of the same in order to avoid the blackness and tarnish of the same. All of the above posts are very reliable and gives all the beneficial aspects of getting rid of all deteriorating things that can happen to the silver jewelery.

  •' Vivian Lois says:

    I have amazing silver ear rings and I do not wear them any more because they have tarnish coverage! I thought that I should buy some special silver cleaner but this article showed me how to clean them myself! Thanks a lot! Deptford Carpet Cleaners Ltd.

  •' Sisilia says:

    Baking soda, salt, aluminum foil, and boiling water -> is the best cleaning method (my personal opinion). Your silver pieces will be look very clean like new!

  •' Catherine Lombardi says:

    I have a counted cross-stitch piece that calls for the addition of sterling silver hearts, I have a piece I stitched years ago and the sterling on that piece is tarnished. What I need to know is how to protect these little hearts without having to remove them. Several people I have spoken with suggest clear nail polish, is that the key?

    •' Kasey says:

      I would not suggest clear nail polish at all. I was told the same thing as well as reading it in a comment. I put it on a sterling silver ring to avoid tarnish and it made the ring look awful!!! It was as if it accelerated the tarnishing processes, I was so upset because I loved that ring. I tried to remove the tarnish after that but it would not come off, it was like the polish had slowly destroyed the silver. If you follow what the article says regarding cleaning and storing in a very small zip lock baggy with a anti-tarnish strip in it your silver will stay looking new for a long long time.

    •' Donna Phillips says:

      I imagine that your cross stitch piece is displayed or worn. I would suggest that you polish the silver pieces with a silver polishing cloth on a regular basis especially if you don’t want to remove them to clean. I would protect the fabric first with a cloth or acid free paper as the polishing cloth and your fingers will get the black tarnish on them. The nice part about the cloths are they are dry and they have contain an anti tarnish product that will protect the silver and delay tarnishing.
      If your piece is stored instead of displayed you can use the same methods as you would to store silver.

  • The best way to clean your silver pieces is with commercial sterling silver cleaner. The cleaner is specially formulated to clean, shine and protect your silver pieces to maintain their brilliance. If you aren’t able to find commercial cleaner, toothpaste or baking soda can be used to shine the silver and remove any tarnish.

  •' Iris says:

    I hate it when my silver gets tarnished! Or any other metal jewelry gets that filthy layer. I’ve been converted to argentium silver jewelry for that reason alone. No tarnish and made from recycled silver 😉

  • I have amazing silver earrings and i do not wear them anymore because they have tarnish coverage ! Jewelery should always be removed before swimming and washing dishes. Sterling silver is not difficult to take care of if these few simple precautions are followed. Great article indeed!

  • Ohh really liked your tips..I have lots of silver jewellery, thanks to you i will wear them again.

  • White vinegar and baking soda – that’s my favorite recipe for cleaning the jewelry. We all have baking soda and vinegar in our pantry. It helps a lot! Thank you for sharing! I will definitely try your other recipes! Greets!

  •' Izzy says:

    Don’t discard old jewellery that you think is beyond restoration or repair. Polishing up an old, unworn piece of jewellery will make you feel like you’ve got a new item – for free! If you’re not getting results with either professional or home made silver cleaner, take it to a jewellery store where you can ask for the assistance of a jewellery restoration professional.

  •' Natalie says:

    How do I store jewerly that is made with sterling silver AND (cultured freshwater) pearls?? Is it okay to store in a velvet pouch with an anti-tarnish strip or will this dry out the pearls? Help!

  •' Juliette says:

    Thanks for the great advice.
    I’m having trouble with my jewellery becoming tarnished overnight very quickly. I always take it off and leave it on my bedside table. I bought a China bowl and have been putting it in that since the first few times, but it’s happened again. It’s so badly tarnished that it’s unwearable after just one night. The tricks above haven’t worked, and toothpaste just made it lose its shine. It only happens sometimes and I can’t work out what’s causing it. Could leaving it next to other jewellery that isn’t silver do it?
    Any advice would be very much appreciated.
    Kind regards,

  • Thank you so much for sharing several ways to clean Silver Jewelry. Keep posting.

  •' Bali Yoyo says:

    Thank you for your great article. We can also add information that the simple way to clean the silver jewelry is using warm water mix with cleaning soap for china ware, then brush with teeth brush softy and dry it with soft cloth. Hope this helpful..thank you.

  •' Vuyo says:

    white vinegar and baking soda works :)

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