• How to clean tarnished jewelry
  • Rachael Byers

How to clean tarnished jewelry

Have you ever reached into your jewelry box only to find pieces covered in a black film? I recently had a customer come to me concerned that her beautiful labradorite trillion stud earrings were ruined. They had become nearly black. Yes, black. Once gold, now not so much. 

Tragic, but all hope is not lost. These earrings are simply tarnished. If you have pieces of jewelry that look like this I'll show you my trick for restoring them to their beautiful gold or silver luster.

Let's talk about why this happens. With gold vermeil jewelry (sterling silver with gold plate) its the silver that's causing the reaction. Sterling silver isn't 100% silver, its 92.5% silver and 7.5% alloys. The other alloys, primarily copper, is responsible for the tarnishing reaction. Tarnish can be described as a chemical reaction that happens when silver is exposed to oxygen and sulfur. Tarnish will accelerate when exposed to water, in high humidity areas, and with people who have a high Ph in their skin. Skin lotions, sunscreen, perfume, hairspray can all also accelerate tarnishing. 

So how do you remove tarnish? With silver pieces, you can use a treated silver polishing cloth. Please do NOT use a treated cloth on gold plated items. For gold vermeil (plated pieces) my favorite product is Tarn-X. Its a liquid silver polish that works wonders on appropriate jewelry (more on that below). 

To use this product take a glass bowl and pour a very small amount of Tarn-X. Place the tarnished items in the bowl and swish it gently to make sure all surfaces are covered. I usually leave my pieces in the polish for about 30 seconds.

When you remove the piece, rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry. I also wash my hands thoroughly after contact. 

Your gold pieces are gold again and you can put them back into daily rotation. 

The best method for dealing with tarnish is to prevent it and then tackle it early. I recommend storing all jewelry, individually, in air tight plastic bags. This prevents the oxygen from reacting to the silver. Second, always clean your jewelry after each wear. A simple, microfiber cloth is great for this. Third, minimize contact with chemicals (perfume, lotions, sunscreen) and water. 

While the Tarn-X method is my favorite, it's not appropriate for all types of jewelry. You should avoid contact with soft stones like lapis, turquoise, and pearls. Brass jewelry should not be exposed to he Tarn-X method either. To ensure your jewelry is silver based, look for the "925" stamp on the piece. And please, keep children and pets away from Tarn-X or any jewelry cleaner or chemical as it is toxic if ingested. 

  • Rachael Byers

Comments on this post (1)

  • Jul 02, 2016

    What about using tarn X on plated or filled gold over brass?

    — Devin Hallett

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