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Why does Silver Tarnish?

Silver is the most popular type of metal used for jewelry in the world today. Jewelers love it, customers love it, there’s a great abundance of it, and it’s inexpensive. It seems like such a win-win situation, doesn’t it?

But there’s one huge down-fall…

It tarnishes!

It turns black. It leaves dark black, blue, purple stains on your fingers, wrists and neck. It even leaves stains on your clothes. Everywhere that silver touches, silver leaves its mark. And not in a pretty way. It’s gross and ugly.

The funny thing is, it doesn’t stop people from buying it or wearing it. People know that silver does this, and they don’t care. It’s still highly popular.

Why is silver so popular?

I would surmise that there are 3 main reasons why silver is so sought after; 1) It’s cheap (very cheap). 2) It’s very malleable. Jewelers and artists have no problems molding and shaping silver into wonderful works of art. 3) It’s white. People have always been attracted to white metals, now more than ever. If you go into any jewelry store, over half the cases will be full of white metals like: silver, platinum, titanium, tungsten, steel or white gold. There’s no denying it, white metals are HOT!

Silver jewelry has been around forever. But forever doesn’t help the fact that silver is very soft. Silver is actually too soft to wear as jewelry. That’s why most of the silver you find on the market today is called “sterling silver“. Sterling silver is more durable than pure silver because of one main reason… It’s mixed with other alloys. Sterling silver contains 92.5% silver, and the other 7.5% is copper. Copper makes the silver stronger and more durable so it can be crafted and styled into beautiful jewelry pieces.

Sterling Silver Stamp

That’s why you’ll normally find a karat stamp inside the rings or jewelry that says “.925” That means 92.5% silver, which is what the government says silver needs to be, to be sold in the USA as “silver“.

No matter what, pure or mixed, nothing stops silver from tarnishing. When silver is exposed to the air and atmosphere, it causes a chemical reaction that creates something called silver sulfate. That’s what that lovely little black mark is on your finger. A sulfate stain.

What can you do about silver tarnishing?

There really isn’t much you can do about silver tarnishing. It’s just the nature of silver. Silver’s a metal that reacts to chemicals. Whether it be chemicals in the air, or chemicals touching it…

Silver reacts:

That’s why most sterling silver sold today is plated with a thin layer of metal protection. This process is called “flashing“, and they use either silver or rhodium to coat the outside of the rings or jewelry to make them look whiter, brighter, and to keep the tarnishing down to a minimum. So until that plating wears off, your silver will actually hold up pretty well.

Bad reactions with silver

Here’s a list of things that silver has a bad reaction with: wool, rubber bands, latex gloves, oils from your hands and fingers, ammonia, chlorinated water, carpet padding, air pollution, perfumes, hair sprays, and believe it or not, some foods can even make silver tarnish. Foods like: onions, mayonnaise, salad dressing, eggs and salty foods (put down those chips).

In fact, just the humidity alone can cause silver to corrode.

It’s a never-ending battle.

The good thing is, it’s easy to buff and clean silver. It doesn’t take much to polish up a ring with a polishing cloth, silver jewelry cleaner, or a jeweler’s buffing wheel. Just a couple of minutes and your silver jewelry will look new again.

The best way to store your silver jewelry is in individually sealed poly bags or zip lock bags. Store it with those cute little silica gel packs and it’ll help remove any moisture from the air. It won’t keep your jewelry from tarnishing, but it will delay the process.

Or just pick up these anti-tarnish bags.

Cleaning your silver jewelry with warm water and drying it with a soft cloth after you wear it, will remove any oily residue and slow the process down as well.

Some people also advise storing your jewelry with chalk just because it absorbs the toxins in the bag. Keeping your jewelry in tupperware or rubbermaid bins works great also (especially if you can seal them airtight).

But what’s the best medicine for your silver jewelry tarnishing?

The best medicine for preventing silver from tarnishing, believe it or not…

Is to wear it.

It’s true. Just normal wear and tear and friction of daily life will sometimes be enough to keep your rings outer surface bright and white. And if it starts to tarnish, whatever you do… don’t use toothpaste to clean it with. The chemicals in toothpaste are too harsh for silver and it’ll do more damage than good.

How to clean silver?

I’d recommend using a good silver polish or a soft polishing cloth made for silver, or the best thing to do, is to take it in to a jewelry store twice a year and have them buff and clean your jewelry.

Silver makes great jewelry, and it makes it cheaper than any other white metal out there. Silver’s popularity with handcrafted goods have been passed down from generation to generation. Great american indian tribes have dabbled in silver for centuries. Tribes like the Navajo, Domingo, Zuni, Hopi and Pueblo indians have been incorporating silver with wonderful gemstones like: turquoise (also known as the “sky stone“), tigers eye, onyx, lapis, malachite, amber and coral into their folklore, culture and into our admiration, hearts and souls for countless years. Silver is just inspiring.

Art and silver:

Just go to any art show or exhibit today and you’re sure to see their great influences. Trays and trays of wonderful silver pieces line jewelry cases, jewelry stores and fingers galore. And the best part of it all… prices start at just a couple bucks. You gotta love that.

And if you’re looking for a great gift to buy, check out these great items.

And just remember, wear your silver often, keep it dry and clean, and polish it a couple times a year.

That way, your sterling silver jewelry will last you a lifetime, and for only a couple of bucks, that’s a great investment you can’t deny.

Cheers! :)

Recommended Jewelry Supplies:

Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner Jewelry Steam Cleaner Complete Jewelry Cleaner Kit Diamond Dazzle Stick
Gold Silver Jewelry Polishing Cloths Jewelry Making Supplies Kit Gold Acid Test Kit Watch Tool Repair Kit
Ring Adjusters EMT Emergency Ring Cutter 10x Jewelers Loupe Jewelers Microscope

Recommended Jewelry Supplies:

Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner Jewelry Steam Cleaner
Complete Jewelry Cleaner Kit Diamond Dazzle Stick
Gold Silver Jewelry Polishing Cloths Jewelry Making Supplies Kit
Gold Acid Test Kit Watch Tool Repair Kit
Ring Adjusters EMT Emergency Ring Cutter
10x Jewelers Loupe Jewelers Microscope


  1. Laura daynos // August 29, 2015 at 1:22 am // Reply

    This page is so helpfull…thanks

  2. I’ve had silver rings before, my current one has a rose gold band on it. I forgot to take it off when I went swimming twice and 1/2 of it has turned black. I just got it two weeks ago and my polishing cloth isn’t doing anything to help, none of the black is being removed.

  3. ErinBrooke // July 31, 2016 at 6:25 pm // Reply

    Great article, and yes, I love that you mentioned WEARING your silver is the best way to keep it tarnish free.

  4. Best description I’ve encountered.

  5. I took my earings back to the jewelers where I purcheased from as I have only had them 3 months and one has tarnished, first time I cleaned it with the polishing cloth and put it in the other ear, it happened again and on both occasions has caused both my ears to become sore, the manager said I shouldn’t wear them in shower ect, and advised to wear on special occasions??, I pointed out that the other earings I had in were silver and went through the exact same as they are fine and have never tarnished or been polished i said I don’t understand why only one has tarnished and not the other and I can only wear silver or gold jewelry as I get the same reaction from cheap jewelry and she said that the silver was solid silver and it wasn’t the jewelry?? To take it home and put in boiling soapy water and clean with a toothbrush, isnt that defeating the object using soapy water? I’m a bit confused her saying this as she said I shouldn’t wash with them in??.

    • Hi Sally, there are a lot of things that could be happening… The rhodium layer on the outside could be really thin, or uneven, so one has worn off faster than the other. Your skin could be reacting more to one earring, or the mixture in the metals more than the other. Or maybe one ear is just more sensitive and reacts to the metal and eats away at the plating. Either way, I’d see if they can exchange them for a new pair. Often earrings like this come with a lifetime guarantee (depending on where you bought it). Contact the manufacturer and see if they’ll exchange them too. You never know. I would lean more towards perfumes or lotions or hairspray that’s causing the rhodium to wear through, but it could just be the earrings and the way they were made (cheaply). :) -Richard

  6. One of my favorite sterling rings has recently started turning black. So I would polish it all up, it would look great! Then, the next day, turn black again! Talking with one of my friends, Lori Mc, she reminded me to just go on line and research the problem! It is the sulfur in a anti chigger product I have been using! And the salt I have been eating on chips!!!! I have been bad let’s face it! I will polish it again tomorrow, and put it away until the chiggers are gone!!! But, I love that ring, and my friend Lori!!!

  7. I purchased a 925 silver ring about 20 years ago and I wear it everyday and it has never tarnished. I paid $11.00 for it. I turned black once from some product I got on it from using a perm for my hair. All I did was let it set up for about a couple of weeks and it turned back. It looks better than ever. So the key is to wear it and it will not tarnish. I buy jewelry from China all the time for $2 or $3 and if I don’t wear it will tarnish some but I just use a cheap bottle of jewelry cleaner and dip it in there and it is just like new.

  8. What would cause a white film (chalky) on silver and it wont clean off easily.

  9. I have all silver jewellery and wear it day and night….I never take them off…..ever.
    I have never had my silver turn black….I use a polishing cloth maybe once a year just to keep it shiny. Obviously my skin and silver love each other

    • It probably has a thick plating over it that keeps it from tarnishing. Some silver jewelry is made better then others (like Tiffany), and will last much longer. :) -Richard

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