Prevent Tarnishing: What is it and why does it happen

Tarnishing is an unfortunate process that everyone will encounter when working with metals. It effects copper, brass, silver, aluminium, and magnesium to name a few. As part of a natural chemical reaction it can't be avoided, but there are ways to help prevent the process or to revitalise your metals if they become affected. Keep reading and we'll try to help you keep your jewellery sparkling no matter what!

What is tarnishing, and why does it happen?

Tarnishing is completely natural, and a part of the chemical makeup of these metals, so don't worry, you're not doing anything wrong! As your metals react to chemicals such as oxygen and sulphur the metals undergo a process known as oxidisation. Silver is especially reactive to the sulphur and this reaction is what causes the dreaded Tarnish. It will affect your silver in varying degrees, starting with a dullness or a slight golden colour, eventually resulting in a black coating on the metal.

Sulphur is found naturally in the air, but can also be transferred by direct contact, as it's produced by our bodies to fight bacteria. Depending on the environment your silver is stored, it will become tarnished at varying speeds, so be careful where you choose to keep your jewellery, and how often you handle it. If the air in the room could be subjected to chemicals or gases, such as a hair salon or near a natural spring, silver will react much faster than if it is kept sealed away, untouched in a cabinet in an unused room. There are many chemicals you may not have even thought about that your silver could react with: Something as simple as eggs contain sulphur, and hairspray or perfume could make your bedroom sideboard a bad choice, your own body can also produce varying degrees of sulphur, and wearing jewellery whilst doing the washing means that bleach will tarnish your jewellery very fast. Over time, these seemingly tiny things will eventually add up and tarnish your favourite silver items!

Does Tarnishing Damage my Silver?

Ironically, people can often cause more damage trying to remove tarnishing than the tarnish causes itself! Tarnish is simply a layer of silver sulphur that sits on top of your silver, coating the outer layer, and not affecting the underlying metal at all.

In the past, it has often been blamed for damage caused to silver, "It wasn't damaged until I removed the tarnish" where in truth, it was likely just hiding any bumps or scrapes it may have encountered whilst covered!

Excessive polishing of silver to remove tarnishing can also be a cause of wear, as you are effectively removing a thin layer of silver slowly from your piece each time. It can be much safer to rely on a chemical reaction process to remove the tarnish over a long period of time. 

How Do I Remove Tarnish From my Jewellery?

There are various methods you can use to remove tarnishing from your jewellery, some more effective than others, depending on your piece, what it is made of, if it contains stones, and how large it is. 

Silver Cleaning Cloth

This  super soft non-scratch cloth is impregnated using micro-abrasive technology so no additional cleaning compound is needed.  Just buff the piece of jewellery until oxidation is removed - for persistent areas, simply breathe on the jewellery as if you were trying to mist a mirror, then continue to rub with the cleaning cloth and you'll see results faster.  This cloth is great for small or large pieces and you can cut the cloth into any size you like. A small cloth is easy and small enough to take on holiday and has the bonus of last for a very long time. Unfortunately, it has the downside of not being as effective on chains and filigree as it can be difficult to work the cloth into the smaller nooks and crannies of more delicate detail.

Silver Dip

A liquid dip that dissolves oxidation on silver jewellery, supplied in a tub with a fitted basket. Simply add the items to the basket and lower into the  Silver Sparkle Dip . Gently agitate the basket once submerged, ensuring you don't spill any. You can then lift the basket to check on the dip's effectiveness. When you are happy with the results, likely around the 2-minute mark, remove the items and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Dry your metal items thoroughly and buff further with cleaning cloth if a high shine is needed. This dip is not advised for pieces with soft stones as it could discolour them or the acid could attack the stone and ruin it, so be especially careful with stones such as opals, corals, pearls, and turquoise. Not suitable for plated jewellery. Suitable for smaller pieces, as the size of your piece is restricted by the size of the tub you buy. 

Ultrasonic Cleaner

Cleaning everyday dirt and body oils from your jewellery especially in intricate designs will help with keeping your jewellery in tip-top condition - regular cleaning with an ultrasonic cleaner will help keep build-up from forming in hard to reach places. The ultrasonic cleaner is the ultimate solution to build-up of dirt and grime. With a timer between 5 and 30 minutes, you'll be amazed by how well this little machine works to leave jewellery sparkling! Also working on watch straps, coins, shaver heads, and even dentures, you'll be trying to ultrasonic clean everything in the house. 

Failing these methods, you can always call us, and we'll do our best to assist you with our experienced team's extensive knowledge of jewellery care and tarnish removal.

How Can I Stop Tarnishing?

Although tarnishing can't be stopped entirely, there are methods you can employ to prevent tarnishing and delay its effect on your silver. Most of these products rely on protection from the elements, creating a barrier to stop any contaminating air, sulphides, and oxides from reaching your precious metals.

Anti-Tarnish Bags

Sold in a pack of 10, these handy bags are made with a silver guard which neutralises corrosive gases - mainly sulphur, which is responsible for oxidising your silver. They can be used on all metals including plated, precious and semi-precious metals. They last for 18 - 22 months even if they are opened multiple times, and are safe to use with jewellery containing gemstones. The bags are 8x5cm, which is a handy size to contain multiple items if needed. These bags are ideal if you have jewellery that you wear only occasionally or is particularly awkward to clean, as they'll ensure they are ready to wear when you need them.

Anti-Tarnish Papers

These special anti-tarnish papers are impregnated with 3M Tarnish Sheild Technology that absorbs sulphides and other pollutants than could otherwise tarnish your jewellery. Simply leave them nearby, and they will stop tarnish from developing on your jewellery, as it will be attracted to the paper instead. Each strip is 17.5 x 5cm and can be cut down to size. If you keep your jewellery in a jewellery box or a specific display case you can cut the strips down to size to fit. Please keep in mind, the anti-tarnish papers will work best when with your jewellery in an airtight box or bag. Each strip will protect once cubic foot of space for 6 months so they are very economical. Completely safe and non-toxic they do not emit any fumes or leave any residue. Sold in packs of 5 or 20.

Midas Finish Seal Lacquer

This is a water based acrylic lacquer specifically designed for finishing and sealing metals. A clear, non-yellowing liquid that can be applied in various ways depending on the piece you want to coat. It can be used neat or diluted depending on the level of protection you want. A thin layer could be painted on with a small paintbrush or even applied by dipping your jewellery into a diluted solution. As the Midas finish Seal Lacquer forms a seal over the piece it will protect any patina you have created on the surface, preventing any further oxidisation to a clean surface or change to existing designs.

If you're dipping your jewellery, please remember to protect your work surface, and ensure you have an area set up to hang them to dry, shaking off any excess to avoid dripping. The drying process only takes 10 minutes, but can be further sped up with a hairdryer. We do recommend practising on a smaller item first.

You can also apply a few further coats for protection against scratching and wearing of plating. As this is a lacquer it will form a hard coating that will help protect against fine scratches. Coating rings, bracelets and necklaces can give some protection from the fine scratches normally accumulated through everyday wear. As this lacquer is worn you must re-apply as necessary to ensure constant protection.

This lacquer also prevents your jewellery from reacting with your skin, and vice versa - forming a shield to protect you from any allergic reactions with metals, and stopping the metal reacting with you, which will stop any green or black marks on your skin from certain metals.

Renaissance Wax

Renaissance wax provides great protection from oxidisation and has been in use since the 1950's by the British Museum and research laboratories specifically for the conservation and preservation of precious and priceless items. It is PH-neutral and will not damage even sensitive materials, so can be used on metal and stones alike and will not discolour at all. The wax film is completely clear and remains that way, so it will not change the finish of the piece you're coating. If you apply a thin coat of wax and then buff it up, you can leave a fantastic shine on your items.

It can be used to protect tools from rusting and even give a moisture resistant finish to any object. Renaissance Wax is so versatile, it can even be used on paper, photos and various other items and will not darken or stain - we were intrigued by this claim so tried it ourselves, we tried it on untreated wood, paper with pencil and pen and some opals which are renowned for absorbing water and changing colour and we were pleasantly surprised there was no lasting visual change to any of the items we tested! The paper appeared darker when the wax was applied but within minutes it was back to its original colour, we then dripped water over the paper and it beaded and run off... amazing! Over time this wax will wear, so it is recommended that you re-apply as necessary. 

We can help

Please do contact us if you need any further information on any of our products, or any support on anything jewellery related. We're passionate about jewellery making ourselves, so we're always happy to hear from someone interested in learning more! Either get in touch via our FacebookTwitteremail or give us a call on 01872 573 888