Care and maintenance: Silver jewelry

Many factors contribute to tarnishing but the most common are exposure to air, humidity, and chemicals found in food, household cleaning products, and personal care products (including lotions, cosmetics, and perfumes). Living a normal life on the planet Earth means that our silver jewelry is going to get tarnished. Most of us consider tarnish natural only up to a point and beyond that we want to do something about it.

The silver ear cuff on the right doesn't look too awful—unless you compare it with the one on the left, which has just been cleaned.

There are several ways to slow the tarnishing process and several others to remove tarnish altogether. Some are more time-consuming than others but none are difficult, and many are quite inexpensive.


Jewelers recommend storing silver jewelry in a cool, dry place in individually sealed small Ziploc bags.

This practice minimizes tarnish and also helps prevent scratching. It is about as much trouble as most of us are willing to go to, but for the truly determined there are also anti-tarnish strips, cloths, bags, and even jewelry boxes.

Where we wear our jewelry also makes a difference. Most jewelry (not just silver) will last longer and look better if kept out of the pool, the shower, the ocean, the gym, etc. Taking jewelry off to swim or exercise, and putting it on again after the application of makeup and hairspray, are easy and sensible practices.


Despite our best prevention efforts, tarnishing happens. To clean plain silver jewelry (without precious stones), refer to this table to see what might work best for you:

Which describes you best? Recommended cleaning method
  • No spare time
  • Perfectionist but not very patient
  • Motto: “Better living through chemistry”
Chemical dip cleanser
  • Like working with your hands
  • Patient and unhurried
Jeweler’s polishing cloth
  • DIY enthusiast
  • Thrifty
  • Eco-conscious
Gentle dish soap and water on a microfiber cloth or sponge


Plain old toothpaste on a soft toothbrush (or make a paste of baking soda and water and apply that with a toothbrush)


The complexity of silver jewelry is also a factor in choosing the best cleaning method. Here’s another handy table:

Which describes your jewelry? Recommended cleaning method
  • Very simple, flat sections and accessible surfaces
Any of the methods described here will work.
  • Complex intricate designs with many areas that are hard to reach
Chemical dip cleanser, or toothpaste on a soft toothbrush or Q-tip (rinse the jewelry thoroughly with warm water).
  • Matte finish or textured silver
Toothpaste on a toothbrush is recommended, as chemical cleansers and treated cloths may remove the finish.
  • Some or all of the piece is made of oxidized (darkened) silver
Oxidized sections require no special maintenance. If the finish begins to look dull, wipe gently with a jeweler’s polishing cloth (which you can also use to clean the rest of the piece). Do not use chemical cleansers as these will remove the oxidation.
  • Silver in combination with pearls or other gemstones
Never use chemical cleansers as these can damage the gemstones. Try any of the other treatments, being careful to avoid the gemstones while cleaning.


Chemical cleansers provide the fastest but also the harshest treatment, so if your jewelry has special finishes or textures it’s a good idea to try the dish soap or toothpaste/baking soda treatments first.

“Toothpaste,” by the way, means the most basic version of any standard brand. Avoid exotic variations that offer special whitening and other enhancements, since these all contain extra chemicals not helpful for our purposes here. Make sure the toothbrush has soft bristles.

Unless your jewelry came with special instructions that recommend cleaning with a scouring pad (and some pieces do), avoid cleaning materials that can scratch the silver.

All the cleaning products mentioned above can be purchased in your neighborhood shops or online. In our stores we rely on Hagerty for chemical dip cleansers and other useful jewelry care products.

If you haven’t cleaned your silver jewelry for awhile, or maybe ever, you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes.