How To Clean Silver Jewelry the Natural Way

Posted on July 19, 2010 by Courtney

I wear silver jewelry almost exclusively, but it’s a real downer when the oil from my skin tarnishes the metal, leaving it dull and dirty-looking. Recently I realized I hadn’t been wearing a few pieces I own that I really like, and it was just because the tarnish made them less shiny and pretty than they used to be. I knew I could go out and buy some expensive, toxic silver polish to restore my jewelry to its original shininess, but after a little research, I discovered a natural way to get the job done that doesn’t involve toxic chemicals.

So I did a little experiment using a silver necklace my parents brought back from a trip to Alaska a few years ago. I hadn’t worn the necklace in years because it had turned so dull, but after just 15 minutes or so, it’s just like new again! Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: Wash the jewelry. You just want to remove any dust and extra oil so they don’t interfere with the reaction that’s about to take place. I used a dollop of Seventh Generation dish soap. Rinse the soap off, but don’t bother drying it.

Step 2: Get a skillet or a small pot and line it with aluminum foil.

Step 3: Fill the skillet or pot with water. Make sure to use enough water to fully submerge the item you’re cleaning.

Step 4. Stir in some baking soda. For just one necklace, a couple teaspoons did the trick. If you’re cleaning something larger, like a serving spoon, you’d use about half a cup or so. Don’t worry about precise measurements; this is jewelry cleaning, not brain surgery.

Step 5: Bring the water just to a boil. Remove it from heat as soon as the water starts boiling.

Step 6: Drop the jewelry into the water. Make sure it’s touching the aluminum foil. Leave it there for a few minutes, occasionally moving it around with tongs for increased contact with the foil. Depending on how tarnished the piece is, you may start seeing the water turn a lovely shade of light yellowish-brown.

Step 7: Remove the jewelry from the water and dry it with a soft, clean cloth. Dig around in any crevices in the jewelry with the cloth — some of the tarnish will continue to come off. Continue to buff the piece until all the tarnish is gone.

Voila! Your jewelry should be clean and shiny again, just like it was when you first had it. For severely tarnished pieces, you may have to repeat the process once more to restore maximum shininess.

For those interested in the science behind this process, here’s what’s happening: What we think of as tarnish is actually a sulfur buildup on your silver. The hot water and baking soda loosen the buildup and help transfer it to the aluminum foil. Sulfur is more chemically attracted to aluminum than it is to silver, so you’re merely transferring the sulfur to another place, leaving your silver clean and shiny. Cool, huh?

Does anyone have any other recipes for homemade jewelry cleaners? How do you clean your shiny things?

12 Comments +

  1. How cool! I’m going to try this on some pieces for sure.

    July 19th, 2010 at 8:43 am
    Comment by The Modern Gal
  2. Definitely better than the chemicals my wife uses. I’ll recommend this method to anyone.

    Thanks

    Robert

    July 19th, 2010 at 9:38 am
    Comment by Robert
  3. Courtney, this looks like such a great method!

    I always assumed the tarnish was silver oxide, and that removing the tarnish would also remove some of the silver, but from what I gleaned from your article, it’s sulfur instead. Is that correct?

    July 19th, 2010 at 5:13 pm
    Comment by Valerie
  4. Valerie, that’s right! I thought the same thing — that removing the tarnish would somehow damage the jewelry — but that’s not the case. It’s just a sulfur buildup. I actually cleaned several pieces in addition to the necklace in the post, and they all turned out good as new!

    July 19th, 2010 at 5:38 pm
    Comment by Courtney
  5. Baking soda to the rescue again! It really is magical stuff, isn’t it?

    August 2nd, 2010 at 9:50 pm
    Comment by stefanie
  6. Can I do that with a silver ring with diamonds???

    August 8th, 2010 at 4:27 pm
    Comment by Jany
  7. Easier, cheaper — baking soda diluted with water to make a paste then scrub with a toothbrush. Costs a cent or two to do it and is purely non-toxic, fast and easy. It won’t hurt any stones either, however, if you are cleaning opals, no matter what you use, soak them in glycerin mixed with 2/3 part water overnight afterward to keep them from drying out and shattering.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

    August 26th, 2010 at 11:38 pm
    Comment by Sal
  8. Is this way or method Save for the long time jewelry..??

    October 5th, 2010 at 8:07 am
    Comment by Edelsteine Kaufen
  9. I have a WAY easier solution for you – toothpaste. Just rub the jewelery with toothpaste and rinse with water.

    January 12th, 2011 at 5:18 pm
    Comment by Amy
  10. Wow! I just used this on my “marriage” ring and the tarnish literally disappeared the second I dropped the ring into the water. It was truly amazing! I had to go into my jewelry box and find some old earrings and necklaces for my husband to clean so he can see how well it works. Thanks for posting!

    August 15th, 2011 at 10:24 pm
    Comment by Stephanie
  11. Thanks lots and lots Courtney (& Jany) & all the nice people here.
    This has helped me greatly.
    BTW I think toothpaste is probably abrasive to silver so I think not as good an idea as the soda.

    March 22nd, 2012 at 8:37 am
    Comment by Philp
  12. Good to see awesome tips and tricks like this on The Greenists. This is how fancy restaurants de-tarnished their real silverware for years! You can recycle the used aluminum foil, too.

    You’re making a little battery when you do this. the aluminum is oxidizing as it gets slightly corroded by the baking soda. The handshake reaction is reduction of tarnish (silver sulfide) to silver.

    fred
    (method chemist)

    June 28th, 2012 at 1:56 pm
    Comment by fred holzhauer

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Tip of the Day

If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It

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According to Real Simple, if every American made an effort to launder less — cutting out just one load of laundry a week per household — we’d save enough water to fill seven million swimming pools each year.

So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.


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