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How To Clean Sterling and Silver Jewelry

I have my particular preferences for cleaning sterling silver and silver plated jewelry. My preferences have been formed from years of experimenting and sometimes RUINING jewelry by cleaning with harsh chemicals.

First, let’s talk about sterling silver. Since the early part of the 20th century, US sterling jewelry is required to be stamped so. You will normally see either “Sterling” or “925” on the back of a piece. Sterling jewelry is at least 925/1000 percent pure silver, thus the .925 mark on sterling. You may see marks on silver from “800, 850, 900” to “950 and 970”. Anything above 925 is considered sterling silver. There is an excellent online site dedicated to silver marks, Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks and Makers’ Marks:

Sometimes I’ll come across a silver piece of jewelry with some tarnish on it. I know it has some silver content because it is tarnished but I don’t know how much silver is there.

Regardless, how do I remove tarnish?

1. Well, the first way to PREVENT tarnish is to WEAR your jewelry. The slight rubbing that silver jewelry gets when being worn prevents tarnish from forming.

2. I’ve seen sterling stored in soft felt-chamois type fabric storage bags. I’m not sure where to buy these but they prevent exposure to air and prevent tarnish. I’d check with the silver flatware replacement sites online for these bags. Also, there are anti-tarnish pads that can be purchased where jewelry supplies are sold. I’ve not used them but you put them where you store your jewelry and they are supposed to prevent tarnish.

3. NEVER, EVER dip jewelry in dip cleaners. Dipping jewelry in a dip cleaner WILL remove the tarnish but it also changes the patina of the piece. The silver will turn a white silver color….too bright for vintage jewelry. There are some pieces of silver jewelry, such as Native American jewelry, that have blackened details. If you dip your silver, these details will go away and you’ve just messed with the original patina. Also, some natural stones are porous and can be ruined by dip cleaners, especially pearls, opals, turquoise.

4. If a piece of sterling or silver has many details, I will start with the Wright’s paste cleaner. I dampen a sponge or rag and clean the jewelry with the paste mix. Once cleaned, I rinse and dry thoroughly. The paste cleaner is good for getting into crevices with a Q-tip. Cleaning with a paste cleaner gives the jewelry a soft glow and protects the silver from tarnish in the future. The silver will tarnish again but at least it retards the process.

5. My favorite method is to clean with MAAS Metal cleaner. It is a small silver tube that can be purchased at Walmart, on eBay, in hardware stores. It can be used to clean about any kind of metal. The advantage of Maas is that it will remove tarnish but can also slightly buff vintage jewelry. Buffing removes some of the tiny scratches that occur when jewelry is worn. To clean with MAAS, I put a pea-sized drop on a clean cloth and start rubbing the jewelry. It takes some elbow grease but you should soon see black tarnish coming off onto the cloth. It’s amazing what comes off jewelry that appears to be fairly clean. Once I’m satisfied with the cleaning, I polish with a clean cloth. In my opinion, MAAS is a miracle worker which restores the beauty to silver.

I do not worry about removing plate from silver plated jewelry. I’ve used paste cleaners for years and have not had problems.