If you own silver jewelry such as earrings, bracelets and necklaces, it's important to keep them clean and tarnish-free so they'll look their best. Because silver is such a soft metal, it's typically combined with other types of metals, such as copper, to give it added strength and durability. This mixture of metals contributes to silver jewelry's tendency to tarnish easily, but it polishes to a sparkling shine when you care for it properly.
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Cleaning Fine Silver
Fine, or pure, silver is soft and malleable and susceptible to scratches, so it's typically combined with other metals to make jewelry. If you have a pure silver piece, however, clean it gently to avoid denting or scratching the metal. To clean the silver on a regular basis, fill a bowl with warm water and add a few drops of a mild dish washing soap. Stir the mixture until bubbles form, and then place the silver pieces into the bowl. Allow the jewelry to sit in the soapy solution for a few minutes, and then pat it dry with a clean, soft cloth. Never use a brush or any other abrasive item to clean fine silver items.
Cleaning Sterling Silver
Always wear latex or plastic gloves when cleaning sterling silver -- the oils from your fingers can cause more tarnishing. You can clean sterling silver jewelry the same way you do fine silver pieces, with a soap and water solution. If the pieces have a lot of grime buildup, such as on rings or earring posts, clean them using a jewelry cleaner "dip" designed for use on sterling silver. You place the items into a small basket and submerge them in the cleaner for the length of time recommended by the manufacturer. After the jewelry dries, store it separately in felt bags that prevent tarnish, or wrap it in individual pieces of felt. Keep the pieces in a cool, dry, dark place, because air and light exposure can cause sterling silver to tarnish.
Cleaning Silver Jewelry with Gemstones
If your fine or sterling silver pieces include gemstones, be sure to clean them with the particular type of stone in mind. For instance, while almost all stones, including diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, are safe in a mild soapy solution, pearls are not. If your silver jewelry has pearls, clean the metal portion with a cloth dipped in the soap and water mixture, and wipe the pearls down with either a clean, dry cloth or a cloth moistened with a bit of water. Don't clean any silver jewelry with gemstones in a commercial cleaning dip, as the chemicals may be too harsh.
Dealing with Tarnished Silver
Although fine silver isn't prone to tarnishing, sterling silver is. You can probably remove most or all of the tarnish with the soap and water solution, but it may not be enough for heavier tarnish. To combat heavy tarnishing, create a paste by mixing 3 parts baking soda with 1 part warm water. Get the sterling silver pieces wet, and gently rub the paste into them using a soft cloth. After you've reached all of the nooks and crannies, rinse the paste off with warm water and buff the jewelry dry with a soft cloth.