Sterling silver, bronze, brass, and copper will naturally develop a patina over time. This is normal and is not an indicator of “bad metal”. It’s a natural and inevitable process called “tarnish” or oxidation which occurs when metal and oxygen interact.
Some people like the antique look of a little tarnish but if your jewelry has darkened and dulled, too much for your liking, no worries, it is just a surface level discoloration and can be removed easily with a few easy home remedies below:
Polishing Cloth- Most people keep their jewelry looking shiny and new by giving it a polish every once and a while with a polishing cloth. Polishing cloths are available at most bead stores or can be found online. They are a soft cloth impregnated with a jewelry specific polishing compound. After using one on your jewelry you may want to give your piece a rinse with water and pat dry to clean off any residue the polishing compound may have deposited. Also, take note that when the cloth has turned black the polishing compound has been used up.
Steel Wool- My favorite method is to use a bit of fine grade like 00 grade steel wool which you can get at any hardware store. Just rub a piece of it over the surface of your metal and it’ll take off the tarnish that has developed. Since steel wool essentially puts tiny scratches into your metal, so small you’ll barely be able to see them, so avoid brushing it over stones.
Baking Soda- Using a soft bristle brush, like a toothbrush, brush over the surface of your metal with some baking soda and water. This is a good tactic for cleaning out small details in your jewelry but is not recommended if there are recessed areas in your jewelry that have been intentionally darkened as the brush may take off the patina.
Lemon- If you don’t have time to run out to the store or wait for a polishing cloth to arrive in the mail rubbing a couple slices of lemon onto the surface of your jewelry will clean it up. This a way to use something that might already be in your house! This method will take a bit more elbow grease than most but the acidity of the lemon is what takes the tarnish off.
Hot Soapy Water- A great method for super delicate jewelry or fine jewelry is to soak in in a bath of hot, soapy water for about 20-30 minutes. This is a great method to use on gold jewelry, a wedding set, etc.
What to Avoid
-Avoid wearing jewelry where chemicals are present, such as a pool or hot tub.
-Take care to put lotion on before putting your jewelry on.
-Avoid storing your jewelry in the bathroom because the moisture will quicken the tarnishing process.
-Coastal climates can turn your copper and brass green if you leave it sitting out exposed to the air for too long. If you live in a marine climate you may want to store your jewelry in a box or a bag and you may have to polish more often.
-Also, know that if you enter a hot spring with a high sulphur content it can turn your jewelry black!
*If any of these situations arise, remember, any unwanted reactions can be removed with the cleaning methods explained above.
It is recommended that whenever you are not wearing your jewelry to store it in a box or a cloth or plastic bag to help slow down the natural process of oxidation. However, if you are anything like me and like to display your jewelry out in the open your jewelry will start to oxidize or darken just by interacting with the air. However, the oils on your hands will naturally polish your jewelry, you may have noticed that the rings you wear every day stay super shiny. So the best thing you can do to keep your jewelry polished is to wear it!