How to Clean Your Sterling Silver Jewelry

Sterling silver is one of those classic jewelry metals that almost everyone has in their jewelry box. But keeping your silver jewelry sparkling, shiny, and looking like new takes a little bit of work, and sometimes properly caring for silver jewelry can fall by the wayside. To extend the life of your favorite silver pieces, you need to be conscious as to how you store them, clean them, and wear them. So here are some of my top tips to care for and clean silver jewelry and prevent it from tarnishing.

Before you do anything else, you need to try to do whatever you can to prevent wear and tear on your jewelry. And when it comes to sterling silver jewelry, one of the best ways to prevent it from tarnishing is to wear it often. When you wear your jewelry, your natural body oils will help prevent it from tarnishing and help maintain its shine.

However, before you put on any jewelry, do so after you have applied any moisturizers, make-up, perfume, or even hair products since these all contain chemicals that can lead your sterling silver jewelry to tarnish. Additionally, you will want to take it off before you go to bed as well so you don’t accidentally get it tangled in your hair, clothes, or bedding.

Another way to help maintain the shine of your silver jewelry is to avoid exposing it to water, such as when washing the dishes, taking a shower, or swimming. Most water contains various amounts of chlorine, especially water in swimming pools and hot tubs.  Chlorine will not only tarnish silver jewelry very quickly, but over time, it can damage it by causing pits to appear on the surface of the metal.  

When it comes to storing your sterling silver jewelry, light and temperature are very important. You want to store your silver pieces in a cool, dark place, like a flannel or cloth-lined jewelry box.  Leaving silver out in the open, like on the top of your dresser, exposes it to sunlight, moisture, and heat, which all accelerate tarnishing. I also recommend that you store your jewelry so that each piece is separate, or at the very least, spaced out, so that your jewelry is not touching. This will prevent the pieces from scratching each other and prevent them from becoming tangled.

You may think that you should only clean your jewelry once it begins to tarnish, but there is a difference between cleaning your jewelry and polishing your jewelry. Cleaning your jewelry removes dirt that has accumulated on the pieces from wearing it.  Polishing your jewelry removes a micro-layer of metal to remove the tarnish, and polishing it too often can lead to damage, especially on jewelry that is highly detailed like engraved pieces.

cleaning sterling silver jewelry

When you wear your jewelry, dirt and oils can get caught in the crevices, such as in the links of a chain, underneath rings, and even on the back of earrings. To help maintain its original shine and prevent deep tarnishing, you should clean your jewelry with a quick soak in some warm water with a little drop or two of gentle dish soap about once every two weeks. By mildly cleaning your silver jewelry this way, you will also help keep your pieces from tarnishing. And here’s how you do it:

  • Add some warm water (not hot water) and a drop or two of mild dish detergent (Dawn dish soap works well) into a bowl. Swirl it together so the soap and water mix.

  • Put your jewelry in and let it soak for about 5-10 minutes.

  • Take an old soft toothbrush (you don’t want anything too abrasive) and lightly brush the jewelry. Get into the crevices in any chains, and especially the back of rings, earrings, and bracelets, to loosen any dirt or oils.

  • Rinse well, and dry with a soft cloth. Let air dry for about 10-15 minutes.

  • If you still notice any tarnished spots, gently rub them with a sterling silver polishing cloth (my favorite is a Sunshine Polishing Cloth.) But one word of caution, do not use a polishing cloth on plated or vermeil metal jewelry as it can remove the plating.

polishing sterling silver

Sterling silver jewelry set with certain gemstones and pearls should not be soaked in this soap and water bath because it could damage the stone.  Soft gemstones such as emeralds, pearls, turquoise, lapis lazuli, malachite, mother-of-pearl, abalone, and opals can be cleaned with a soft damp cloth to remove any dirt and oils and then dried immediately. Protect the stones by covering them with a clean piece of cloth and clean the rest of the metal with a soft toothbrush dipped in the soap and water mixture. Then rinse the metal and dry using a soft cloth. You can use a polishing cloth on these pieces to remove tarnish, but avoid touching the stones.

Taking a few preventative steps in how you care for and clean your sterling silver jewelry will make all the difference in how long it will last, and make it look like new every time you wear it.