How to Clean Sterling Silver Necklaces

silver necklace heart

The beauty of sterling silver necklaces can fade over time as tarnish builds up, first turning your jewelry yellow and then black. Tarnish occurs when the copper that is mixed in with silver reacts with the oxygen in the air.

Silver Polishing Cloths

The best way to remove tarnish from silver jewelry is by gentle polishing with a soft cloth. Harsh abrasive polishes can dull the look of silver jewelry over time. If your silver jewelry has precious stones, you have to be extra careful when cleaning to not damage them. Top jewelry experts recommend using silver polishing cloths or cleaning formulas purchased from jewelry retailers. If you need to quickly polish up jewelry before wearing, there are a few tricks you can try at home.

Jewelry retailers usually sell polishing cloths specially made for sterling silver jewelry, with one side for removing tarnish and another for polishing. The tarnish-removing side of the cloth contains a compound that gently polishes away tarnish, and the other side has special fibers that bring back a shiny luster. According to experts at the Jewelry Information Center, you should only use polishing cloths or felt to clean silver jewelry, as paper towels can cause scratches.

Professional Jewelry Cleaning Formulas

If you don't want to clean your silver with a homemade silver cleaner, you can purchase professional silver polishing formulas from jewelry retailers.

  • Dip Cleaners: These solutions are meant for soaking silver jewelry and then rinsing. Dip cleaners, like the silver dip from Connoisseurs, are generally not recommended for jewelry with stones.
  • Polishes: Many jewelry retailers sell liquid or paste polishing formulas for sterling silver jewelry. Always buy a silver jewelry cleaner, not a general silver polish made for other silver items like teapots or cutlery. Some silver polishes also contain a compound that protects against tarnish.
  • Jewelry Wipes: These disposable cloths are like other cleaning wipes but are specially formulated for jewelry. Some wipes will clean gold, sterling silver and silver-plated jewelry. Wipes are great for a quick polish before wearing jewelry out.
  • Hagerty Jewelry Care Products: One of the leading brand names in jewelry care is Hagerty. They have an entire line of silver care products, including dips, polishes, sprays and wipes.

Sonic Cleaners

Some jewelry retailers and home appliance stores sell jewelry cleaning machines that promise to gently clean your fine jewelry using water, mild cleaners and sonic waves. These machines are the same ones that jewelry retailers use to clean their products. You can also use these machines to clean other metal items like eyeglasses, electric razor heads, metal watch bands and dentures. Usually, sonic jewelry cleaning machines have a well that is filled with clean water or cleaning solution and a central tray in which you place jewelry. The tray then moves within the cleaning solution, creating bubbles that remove dirt and tarnish. If you want to clean your sterling silver necklaces and other fine jewelry at home, you might consider buying a sonic jewelry cleaning machine. They cost anywhere from $30 to $200, although many models in the $40 to $70 range are highly rated.

Cleaning With Toothpaste

Some cleaning experts recommend cleaning silver with foil and salt, but this can sometimes damage stones. Professional cleaners and polishing cloths are a great way to clean silver jewelry at home, but you can also use a soft toothbrush.

  1. Rub toothpaste on the necklace, about one teaspoon for a long necklace. Make sure to get the paste into the links of the chain.
  2. Add warm water and work the paste into a lather.
  3. Brush with a soft toothbrush, working the toothpaste into the links of the chain or all the surfaces of the pendant.
  4. Rinse with warm water. Make sure to remove all the paste. You can brush with the soft toothbrush to get all of the paste off.
  5. Completely dry the necklace by laying it on a paper towel or other absorbent surface.
  6. Rub with a soft cloth to bring back shine.

Silver-Plated Necklaces

Many necklaces sold as silver aren't solid sterling silver, but they are instead another metal like brass or copper plated with a thin layer of silver. You should always take care when cleaning plated jewelry, as vigorous scrubbing can peel off plating. To clean silver-plated jewelry, use a mild detergent like dish soap diluted with water to first remove any dirt. Then clean with a mild jewelry cleaning formula or rub gently with a silver polishing cloth.

Prevent Tarnish

No matter what method you use for cleaning your sterling silver necklaces, you should also try to prevent tarnish by storing jewelry properly. The jewelry experts at the Jewelry Information Center recommend storing jewelry in a tarnish-reducing bag or soft felt to reduce tarnish on silver necklaces, rings, bracelets and pendants. Keeping jewelry away from other jewelry items in its own container will also reduce scratches and wear.

How to Clean Sterling Silver Necklaces