We here at The Little Jewellers have been selling sterling silver jewellery for well over 10 years. With this it has given us a lot of experience in handling jewellery and customer questions. We love it when our customers come to us and ask us for advice which we give out freely and willingly.
Although over the years one question has always been prevalent. Why is my silver jewellery turning different colours? To some it turns brownish yellow and to others black. They follow up with the question that if we are selling genuine silver why is it changing colours?
Do not worry as through this blog post we will explain to you what causes the change in colour. We will get into a bit of secondary school chemistry, don’t worry there is no exam, and explain in simple terms what is causing the change in colour.
What causes Silver to Tarnish
We should start by explaining that pure silver by itself is softer than other metals and that is why it is used in jewellery making. It can be easily moulded to any form or design. Although, to make it stronger and more durable to stand the test of time several other metals are added to it.
Sterling silver is made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals. Whereas Copper is the most predominant metal in the other metals.
When the other metals mixed with silver react to moisture and sulphur in the air it causes tarnishing in silver. Silver tarnishing takes place faster in climates that have high humidity and high air pollution levels.
In your home, beauty products like perfume, deodorant, and hairsprays can all contribute to silver tarnishing. The metals react to these beauty products.
The silver tarnishing will look like a thin layer of corrosion on the metals looking like a dull grey or black coating. Ironically when silver tarnishing occurs it protects the inner metal layers as it only reacts with he outer layers.
The chemical name for silver tarnishing is silver sulphide. Silver sulphide is from the sterling silver reacting with sulphuric compounds in the atmosphere.
The change in colour of the silver jewellery happens in a few weeks or a few months depending on the environment they are placed in.
Here is where you can skip the chemistry part. Tarnishing is caused by hydrogen sulphide (H2S) which reacts with the copper to cause the silver discolouring. This process is called sulphuration. Sadly, hydrogen sulphide is found in everyday items.
Sulphuration is caused by:
- Different skin acidity (or PH) – caused by types of foods eaten and medication
- Type of water where you live
- Contact with certain cosmetic products like hair spray, perfume, deodorant etc
- Where the silver jewellery is stored
Steps to prevent tarnishing
Here are some tips, on how to keep your sterling silver jewellery from tarnishing:
- Safely store your jewellery in dry places avoiding damp places like bathrooms and kitchens
- Wear your jewellery last. Jewellery should be worn when you have already used make-up, perfume, and other beauty products
- Remove your jewellery when you wash clothes with harsh detergents, go swimming and any other water-based activity
- Remove your sterling silver if you are sweating a lot.
- Store the items in jewellery boxes and airtight containers
- Wash dirty silver sterling with warm soapy water and a cloth. Rinse with clean water and then pat dry it.
- Wear the jewellery as often as possible.
Treating tarnishing in silver
Now that we have learnt what tarnishing is and how to prevent it, let’s take the next step would be to restore tarnished silver. Luckily in some cases can be done at home while in other cases you would require help from professionals
When the tarnishing is extreme, and you have tried local methods and it hasn’t worked then it’s time to go to a professional. We at the Little Jewellers are well known in treating tarnished silver. We do it quickly and efficiently.
If your silver has been mildly tarnished, then using a washing detergent is your best bet. Submerge the silver jewellery in warm water that has washing detergent and rub it gently in your fingers. Afterwards you rinse the jewellery thoroughly in clean water and pat dry it.
Aluminium foil and baking soda
This is used when the tarnishing is a lot. To do this, line a bowl with aluminium foil and place the jewellery in the centre of the bowl. Pour boiling water in the bowl and then add baking soda a spoon full at a time until you see the tarnish lift of the jewellery. Upon completion rinse thoroughly and then pat it dry.
By using a soft cloth that has toothpaste, gently rub the silver jewellery. The next step would be to rinse with clean water and then wipe it dry with a soft cloth.
As you can see tarnishing isn’t a big problem that many of you think it is. It is natural for sterling silver to change colour after some time. To keep your silver looking bright and shiny you can follow the tips written over here.