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The blackening of sterling silver

We will be talking here of sterling silver, or 925 quality. By the way, you should know that the 925 stamp on your piece of jewel does not guarantee its percentage. This stamp can be bought from a lot of different stores now and it is no longer a quality guarantee. If you own bad quality jewels, with a percentage lower than 925, the oxidization phenomenon will appear faster.

My sterling silver jewel blackens

Like all metals, sterling silver oxidizes over time. It forms a natural black patina. This is a natural phenomenon that creates a black layer of silver sulfur on the surface of the metal. This phenomenon can be accelerated according to the type of skin of the individual, or by different personal activities. The skin and the sweat are factors that can provoke a quick oxidization. It can also be provoked by chemical products such as chlorine, perfumes…

The oxidation of sterling silver has nothing to do with its quality. All metals react to external factor. However, it is true that the quality of the metal can play an important role on the fastness of oxidation. As soon as metal is in contact with the air, it will start blackening. Nonetheless, a sterling silver jewel is not meant to be kept forever in a protective pouch. The blackening can also occur faster if you do not wear your jewel. Wearing your jewel will act as a natural polisher, against your skin or your clothes. You just have to be careful what kind of products will be in contact with your jewel.

When your jewelry oxidizes, sterling silver oxidation can add a special touch to your jewels. It gives them an antique or vintage look. But for some pieces, they will look better shiny than blackened

Sterling silver earrings, before and after the cleaning of natural oxidation
Sterling silver earrings, before and after the cleaning of natural oxidation

My skin turns black while wearing my sterling silver jewel

Only 2 to 3 % of people would own the chemical characteristics inducing the blackening when the metal comes in contact with their skin. The skin can become green, black or grey.

This percentage is quite low if you think of the number of people having this problem. Actually, for all the other cases, this phenomenon is linked to what you eat, the environment or the use of chemical products. This explains why this phenomenon is not constant.

Sterling silver is composed of 92.5% of silver and 7.5% of another metal, more often copper like in our jewels. However, in some cases, germanium or another type of metal can also be used. This is the reason why some sterling silver jewels will color your skin, and others not.

My sterling silver jewel does not oxidize

Ask yourself the right questions. Your jewel can be plated. This means your jewel will be covered with a thin layer that will protect the jewel and will prevent oxidation. If it is not the case, your jewel will probably not be made of sterling silver. The phenomenon starts as soon as the metal is in contact with the air.

Cleaning sterling silver jewels

Advices about cleaning jewels

On internet, you will find several types of recipes to clean your sterling silver jewels. But you have to be careful, the result can be catastrophic. You must avoid abrasive methods that can create scratches or damage the metal.

You also have to be careful when your sterling silver jewel has a precious or semi-precious stone.

Some colors can be altered when the stone are heated, others can suffer from being in contact with some liquids or others can just break.

When you will want to clean your jewels, you have to make sure of the quality of the metal. If your jewel is plated, it can suffer from the cleaning, even if you just have to energically scrub it with a soft cloth.

Be aware of jewelry which was oxidized on purpose to give an antique look. A thorough cleaning could alter the vintage and unique style of your jewels.

On this page, I will give you gentle methods that I learned while studying. But in the end, you are the one who will choose the best one according to the quality of your jewelry.

Going to a jeweler's to have your jewels cleaned

The safest solution is to ask your jeweler's. In most cases, he will clean your jewel with a special cloth to get rid of oxidation.

However, if your jewel really needs a good scrub, this work will be made with the right products and machines.
the entire process consists of sanding to get rid of scratches, polishing and make it shine again.

Cleaning your jewels with a special cloth

It is the quickest solution. But be careful if your jewel is plated, if you scrub too hard, you can ruin the plated layer.

These special clothes can be called cleaning cloth, polishing cloth… 

you just have to scrub your cloth on the jewel to make it shine. It is a quick and efficient method that all the jewelers are using.

The smoother your piece of jewelry, the easier it will be to scrub and make it shine. It can be hard if your jewel has some difficult areas such as holes.

Your jeweler's choice:

Cleaning solution for your sterling silver jewelry

It is a chemical product especially made for cleaning sterling silver jewelry. You will have numerous options. Like "natural" products, you will have to carefully read the instructions before starting using these liquids.

Prior to cleaning, you will have to be careful with the quality of the metal as well as the presence of stones. You will find special solutions for sterling silver jewelry only, or for jewelry with stones, fresh water pearls and sterling silver jewels…

Cleaning your jewels with washing powder.

Cleaning with washing powder is the cheapest method. This is the method I generally use.

You will have to put your blackened no stone jewelry in a pan with washing powder and water. Wait for the water to boil and then turn off the gas.

With a toothbrush, gently brush your jewel. For your bezel set jewelry, use the same process but without putting your jewelry in the pan.

Once the pan away from the stove, gently put your jewelry in the pan for a few seconds. Take them out and brush gently.

Once you are satisfied with the result, rinse your jewelry with clear water.

Dry your jewel with a clean cotton cloth.

Be warned about the quality of your jewel. Some silversmiths just stick their stones to avoid the bezel setting work. The stones can unstick due to the heat.

Silver jewelry cleaning with detergent and brush tooth
Clean silver jewelry by boiling lye
Clean your silver jewelry with detergent and a toothbrush

How to get rid of the oxidization of a sterling silver jewel with bicarbonate

In a bowl, place a sheet of aluminum, then your jewel, and on top of it, two spoons of bicarbonate. Boil some water and pour it in the bowl. Do not breathe the vapors. Hot water combined with bicarbonate will create a small chemical reaction.

When you will see that the aluminum sheet starts to blacken, this will mean that part of the oxidation has gone from your jewel.

If you want to get rid of more oxidation, repeat the process until you are satisfied with the result.

Dry your jewel with a clean cotton cloth.

For this method using heat, please refer to the same risks than in previous explanations.

Your jeweler's choice:

How to prevent my sterling silver jewelry from oxidizing

Taking care of your sterling silver jewelry is really easy and all the cheap recipes are good methods. Now let's see some other methods.

Applying nail polish to prevent the blackening process

Applying nail polish is sometimes used to prevent the contact of metal with air. These lacquers give a plasticized effect to your jewels and do not last long. You will have to repeat this process often, like for your nails. The nail polish must be applied on a clean surface.

When it starts falling off, the result will not be visually aesthetic.

Plating your jewels to prevent oxidization

You will also be offered to silver plate your jewel to avoid blackening. A thin layer will cover your jewel.

The color will be greyer than the natural color of sterling silver.

The process can be expensive. Please, do not forget that the thin layer will disappear in the long run. The phenomenon will be faster if it is made on a ring or a bracelet which will be more in contact with different surfaces.

In the long run, the result will not be very beautiful because the jewel will not lose the layer evenly on the surface of the jewel. You will have to repeat the process regularly. Be careful when buying plated jewelry. You will be told sometimes that buying plated jewelry is buying quality, which is not true.

Taking care of your sterling silver jewelry

Avoiding the oxidation of your jewels by stocking them is a good option too.

Where to keep your jewels

Avoid extreme temperatures and humidity. Avoid cold or hot air. The ambient temperature is the ideal situation. Avoid exposing your jewelry to the light of the sun.

Humidity accelerates sterling silver oxidation. However, humidity is necessary for some stones such as opals or cameos. In order to protect your opals and avoid them to crack, put them in water from time to time.

How to stock your sterling silver jewelry

The jewelry displayer is definitely not the best option. Prefer a drawer or a jewelry box.

In order to minimize the contact with air and light provoking oxidation, stock your sterling silver jewelry in a pouch.

Stock each piece individually to avoid scratches.

You can insert some silica bags like the ones you will find in shoe boxes to absorb humidity.

Your jeweler's choice

Some extra advices

Take your jewelry off when you go to bed. This will avoid oxidation due to the contact of the skin. It will also prevent your jewel to be broken during your sleep.

Take off your jewelry when practicing sports (for the sweat), going to the shower in order to avoid contact with chlorine which will oxidize your jewels

The sand on the beach will make scratches on your jewels.

Perfumes, cosmetics, creams can oxidize you jewelry quite fast. These are chemical products like the products you use to wash the dishes, the floor, your car…

Avoid hot places like when you are cooking for example.

Your jeweler's choice: