Silver Cleaning Jewelry at Home is Easier Than You Think
Have you ever wondered if silver jewelry cleaning at home is something you can do? I did my second sterling silver jewelry cleaning today and this post is about how I did it and what I discovered doing it. In this part 2, I used aluminum, baking soda and water. If you have sterling silver jewelry that has gone completely black, like mine had, let me warn you that this will take some time to clean. I just want to tell you what I did, what I noticed and what to warn you about.
Cleaning your silver jewelry at home does save you money, for sure. But I would still recommend that if you have some delicate pieces, some really pricey jewelry, or even if it's just sentimental pieces that have deep personal value, you may still want to consider having a jewelry cleaner take care of your silver jewelry by a professional.
Moving on….I had three pieces that I decided to clean today. There is a set of horse earrings that my dad gave me when I was 14…he knew my passion was horses! Dad passed away over 6 years ago and wearing these earrings make me think of him. But, though I've worn the earrings, I have not cleaned them nor do I have a special box to store them in to slow down the oxidation. Boy were these black! We are talking about decades of tarnish here. Truthfully, I can't remember them ever being cleaned. I mean ever.The ring was also a gift my dad had given me, also silver, and I kept meaning to have the band repaired. Pulling them out today I thought I'd clean them and see at least how much time it would take to do so.
For the record, never let your silver get this black. It takes much longer to clean. You can tell by the picture at the top. I've let the silver earrings and ring tarnish for a long time. To my recollection, I don't think I've ever had these pieces cleaned as I said.
Simple Supplies to Have on Hand When You are Ready to Clean Your Silver Jewelry
I started out with ordinary baking soda, aluminum foil and measuring spoons. I grabbed a small pot and added a tablespoon of baking soda and about 4 cups of water. I let it get to a rolling boil.
I added a small chunk of aluminum foil to the pot and then dropped the earrings and the ring on the surface of the foil. I didn't really think about the placement too much, but Ithen noticed that I had to keep watching to make sure that the jewelry didn't slide off the foil. When I do this the next time, I will make sure to either put in a large enough piece of foil on the bottom and sort of line the pot with it, or, I will just pinch the foil into a 'cup' form and leave the jewelry in that. This will stop the jewelry pieces from floating off the foil during its boil.
Because I didn't know exactly how the silver would react with the solution, I kept the jewelry in the boil for about 10 to 15 seconds before checking. Initially I noticed that some of the tarnish had come off, but that it was still very dark. So back to the pot my jewelry went.
My at home silver cleaning foil and soda solution at a beginning boil
This time I kept it in for about 60 seconds and even more black came off. I think baking soda is actually safe enough, ( I drink a lot of it for heart burn and I'm still kicking) but I wanted to be cautious. After all, even though I struggled with chemistry, some things still stick in my head. Backing soda can cause etching combined with the right elements. This is why I tested with pieces that I thought would not be damaged during this process.
For the most part, the process seemed to actually be safe enough although, while the solution cleaned my silver jewelry of most of its tarnish, the aluminum and soda did throw off a bit of an odor during the boil.
In this next picture at the right, you can really see the difference now in what a few minutes make! A lot of tarnish has already come off. There are still stubborn spots of tarnish on the rings and around the horse shoes that still need to be removed yet. But what a comparison, right?
My concern was pitting in the silver from the soda but so far, I see none.
Silver Cleaning Jewelry at Home; Here's Why This Process Works
I'm the curious sort and I like to know the 'why' of everything. When trying to do my silver jewelry cleaning at home. I went looking into a few college edu sites with backgrounds in chemistry so that I could understand more. This is what I found.
There are a couple of reasons for silver tarnish. The wearer might have oils on their skin, or certain prescription drugs might have an effect on the chemical balance of their skin causing jewelry to blacken. But the main reason is oxidation. When silver jewelry becomes black, it's is because silver sulfide (which is black) coats the surface of the jewelry. Removing the sulfide restores the sterling silver to it's former color.
Apparently there are two ways to do the jewelry cleaning process. One is to remove the sulfide from the surface of the jewelry by scrubbing the tarnish off. The second is to reverse the oxidation by turning the black coating of silver sulfide back into silver. When I read this, my first thought was Rumpelstilskin turning straw into gold 🙂
When doing your silver jewelry cleaning at home by normal methods of scrubbing, you remove the black oxidation from your silver jewelry. You are essentially scrubbing it off. This means that when you do so, the abrasive action will remove some of your silver as well. How much will depend on what cleaners you use and how hard you rub. This is why in my Silver Jewelry Cleaning part 1, I wasn't so sure about using baking soda, corn meal or whatever to scrub the jewelry. No matter how innocuous it sounded, I didn't trust it. Besides, they cannot get into all the tiny crevices to get them clean. And who sells a brush that tiny?
The baking soda, combined with the metal of the aluminum foil however, creates a chemical reaction when added to water. It actually converts the sulfide back into silver thus not removing any of the metal from your jewelry. Aluminum happens to be one of the metals that sulfide 'likes' even more than silver This means that sulfide will be more attracted to it than to the silver during the cleaning process. Simply put, the silver sulfide becomes aluminum oxide because the transfer of the sulfides from one metal to the other during the cleaning process leaving the silver clean. So don't reuse the aluminum! 🙂
This magical transfer happens when the jewelry is in contact with the aluminum. The baking soda acts like a magnet between the silver sulfide on the jewelry and is transferred to the aluminum during the boiling process because heat makes the chemical reaction work faster. Because there is a small electrical current between the sulfide on the jewelry and the aluminum, there must be constant contact between the two. This is why I had to keep an eye on the jewelry and make sure it stayed in place.
Now, you not only know what to do, but why it works. Isn't chemistry magic!?
Go clean some more silver 🙂
NOTE; Logically it seems to make sense that this process might be unsafe for softer materials like pearls, etc. I'd be wary of trying this on precious stones and the like. Likewise, I'd do due diligence and ask some hard questions of a jewelry to find out what process they use, what chemicals they use. And I'd even ask what possible damage might occur using their processes on pieces that are valuable, are family heirlooms or have great sentimental value before any cleaning takes place.