Does Sterling Silver Tarnish or Rust Over Time?

Sterling silver jewelry is a beautiful, popular choice for many people looking to add to their jewelry collection or give a great gift. One of the reasons why sterling silver jewelry is so popular is because of its brilliant shine. But does that shine fade over time? Does sterling silver tarnish or does sterling silver rust? 

We’re here to help answer those questions by providing some important information about sterling silver, what it is, and how to best care for it, so you can make an informed purchasing decision when looking for your next piece of jewelry.

What is Tarnish?

Tarnish is a thin layer of corrosion or discoloration created when the silver reacts with sulphur compounds found in air, moisture, chemicals, and other elements. Tarnished silver may appear to have a dark gray or black coating and lose its shine. 

While pure silver is actually resistant to tarnish, it’s too soft for creating jewelry. When comparing sterling silver vs. silver, much of the difference has to do with the metal’s durability. Sterling silver is a combination of silver and other metals (known as an alloy), which is strong enough to be formed into jewelry. Yet, silver alloys are more prone to tarnish, particularly in humid environments or those with more air pollution.  

Tarnish vs. Rust

Tarnish only affects the first layer of the metal and is actually known to help protect the deeper layers of your jewelry. In comparison, rust affects more layers of the metal and is typically a reddish color. Rust occurs when iron is exposed to moisture. 

Luckily, sterling silver does not rust. Silver jewelry must be compounded with iron, in order for it to rust over time. Sterling silver is typically made with other metals like copper. 

Why Does Sterling Silver Jewelry Tarnish?

Tarnishing occurs when your sterling silver jewelry is exposed to things like moisture, sunlight, sweat, and other elements. Sterling silver can tarnish faster with more frequent use. But it isn’t the actual silver in your sterling silver necklaces, rings, and bracelets that’s tarnishing–it’s the alloy metals that jewelers combine with sterling silver that contributes to tarnish. Silpada’s high-quality sterling silver jewelry contains 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% alloy metal, which is typically called .925 sterling silver. 

The combination of metals may also cause sterling silver to turn your finger green, but proper care can help alleviate tarnish and discoloration. 

Sterling silver huggie earrings on blue background.

How Long Does it Take For Sterling Silver Jewelry to Tarnish?

Several factors play a part in answering this question, including the quality of jewelry, how it’s cared for, and the type of jewelry. It can take anywhere between 2 months and 3 years for sterling silver rings, necklaces, and bracelets to tarnish depending on various factors.

The first factor is the quality of jewelry. As we just mentioned, .925 sterling silver jewelry contains 92.5% silver, which means it will be less likely to tarnish, or will tarnish more slowly than a piece of jewelry that contains more alloy metal and less silver. 

Another factor in how long it takes for sterling silver to tarnish is how well you take care of your jewelry. A few quick ways for how to make your jewelry shine include the following, which we’ll address in the next sections:

  • Avoid moisture (including sweat)
  • Avoid harsh chemicals 
  • Clean jewelry regularly

How to Keep Sterling Silver From Tarnishing

Now, for the most important part: how to keep silver from tarnishing! Although sterling silver jewelry is bound to tarnish to some degree, you can take care to minimize it. 

Here are some tips on how to keep sterling silver jewelry from tarnishing as quickly:

1. Keep Jewelry Dry

We mentioned before that tarnish occurs when a metal reacts with elements like moisture, so the best thing you can do to keep your sterling silver from tarnishing is to keep it dry. Remember to take your jewelry off before showering or bathing, before swimming, and before working out and getting sweaty. 

2. Store Your Silver Jewelry in a Cool, Dry Spot

Another thing you can do to keep your jewelry bright and shiny is to store it properly. You should store all your sterling silver jewelry in a cool, dry place away from moisture. Even though storing your jewelry in the bathroom next to where you get ready in the morning seems convenient, the excess moisture in the bathroom can cause tarnishing more quickly. Instead, store it in a jewelry box in the closet. 

Additionally, store sterling silver jewelry in a jewelry bag or a jewelry box lined with velvet or another soft material, and Silpada’s anti-tarnish strips. These soft liners and the strips help absorb any excess moisture before it tarnishes your jewelry and reduces the risk of scratches and damage. 

3. Avoid Harsh Chemicals

Always avoid harsh chemicals, as these can react with the metal in your sterling silver jewelry and make it tarnish. This includes chemicals often found in:

  • Lotions
  • Self-tanners
  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Body washes
  • Hand soaps
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Dish soaps
  • Perfumes
  • Pools
  • Hot tubs

4. Clean and Polish Sterling Silver

Before storing, wipe jewelry off completely. Silpada’s specially treated Signature Polishing Cloth is perfect for this, in addition to other jewelry cleaning supplies that make care simple.

For especially tarnished pieces made of just sterling silver, commercially available silver polishes, such as Wright’s Silver Cream, can be effective. This type of cleaner is not recommended for oxidized sterling silver pieces, however, as it may remove the oxidation. Remember to keep jewelry polishes away from gemstones that are in your jewelry. 

How to Clean Tarnish Off Your Sterling Silver Jewelry

Polishing cloth, a spray bottle, and a jewelry cleaning machine in three teal bubbles.

Even if you take care of your jewelry properly, some tarnish is inevitable. With that said, there are many ways to clean your jewelry. In fact, you can even clean tarnished silver with toothpaste in a pinch.

Here are our favorite ways to clean sterling silver jewelry:

Use a Polishing Cloth

The quickest way to clean your sterling silver jewelry is to use a silver cleaning cloth, also known as a polishing cloth. Using a polishing cloth is a great way to wipe off any dirt or chemicals that collect on your jewelry throughout the day, which in turn, limits tarnishing. 

Use a DIY Solution

You can make a gentle jewelry cleaner with some ingredients that you likely already have at home! Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Dish soap and water Use an ammonia- and phosphate-free dish soap and water to clean your jewelry. Make sure you thoroughly rinse off any soap when you’re done cleaning. You should also make sure to dry your jewelry completely to reduce the risk of excess moisture that can cause tarnishing. 
  • Toothpaste and waterYes, you can clean tarnished silver with toothpaste, although you have to be very careful about which toothpaste you choose. It shouldn’t be a gel-based toothpaste. You can also use baking soda and water to create a paste for the same effect. 

Use a Jewelry Cleaning Machine

If you’re researching how to clean sterling silver jewelry, you’ll find that the most common type of jewelry cleaning machine is an ultrasonic cleaner, which uses ultrasonic waves to gently clean sterling silver jewelry. They work with water or a cleaning solution, and some have an automatic shutoff for a quick, easy, and safe way to clean jewelry. 

These machines are a safe bet for cleaning sterling silver jewelry at home because they don’t use any harsh chemicals. 

Find High-Quality Sterling Silver Jewelry from Silpada

Sterling silver jewelry is a beautiful, brilliant, and affordable option and we love that it pairs with any outfit. At Silpada, we specialize in building collections of fine sterling silver jewelry and offer a variety of styles from simple stud earrings to gemstone-laced bracelets. Whether you’re looking to add to your jewelry collection or give the gift of sterling silver, Silpada’s high-quality jewelry is sure to brighten up any wardrobe and make everyone smile.

One thought on “Does Sterling Silver Tarnish or Rust Over Time?”

  1. Silver jewellery are very trendy and looks very unique and stylish at the same time if paired wisely. Your article is very helpful to maintain our jewellery new and beautiful for long time.

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