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Clorox and Sterling

At a recent gem show, I overheard a vendor telling a customer she
could “oxidize” silver jewelry with Clorox instead of LOS, so I
experimented by applying some bleach with a swab to a piece of
sterling scrap, and yep, it turned the silver quite black. None of
the subtle colors I can get with a dilute LOS solution but it
definitely yields a velvety black color. My question is whether,
apart from the coloration, the bleach harms the silver or alters the
strength of the solder joints in any way? Good ventilation is
obviously important, but is there anything else I should beware of?

And by the way, we have sulfur-reducing bacteria in our well water
and apart from tasting like “beach water,” it really makes my
jewelry tarnish fast. One more reason to save pennies for that
water treatment system!

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience.

Walk in Beauty,
Susannah Ravenswing
Jewels of the Spirit
Germanton, NC

... My question is whether, apart from the coloration, the bleach
harms the silver or alters the strength of the solder joints in any
way? 

Hello Susannah,

First thing I’d suggest it to have a look in the Orchid archives
because we had a good discussion about this a few months or so ago
and a lot of good info turned up in the course of that.

In one or two of those threads you’ll see that I was, for a while, an
active proponent of bleach as an “oxidizing” agent on regular
sterling silver but ended up changing my mind for two reasons:

  • I found it quite difficult to get consistent results.

  • I ran some tests on the reported tendency of bleach to embrittle
    silver and came up with enough circumstantial evidence to satisfy me
    that it wasn’t worth taking the risk. To make a long story short
    silver pieces that had been bleach soaked and heated seemed decidedly
    less malleable than I would normally expect from sterling and
    noticeably more likely to stress fracture during forging and drawing.
    Hardly scientific proof but enough to convince me that I should look
    for other ways to patina my work.

This whole bleach and metals thing is a bit voodoo if you ask me but
in the end it just seemed like something I didn’t really need to mess
with. As ever your mileage may vary.

Cheers,
Trevor F.
in The City of Light
www.touchmetal.com

Hi Trevor and Susannah,

I have seen some test results on bleach and gold alloys. It appears
the bleach eats away at the copper on the grain edges, making it
easier to break. S/S being so much copper would be vulnerable.
Perhaps that takes away a little of the voodoo factor :wink:

Daniel Ballard
www.pmwest.us
800-999-7528

It makes me sad that there are people in the jewelry business that
don’t know about the evils of chlorine. Chlorine bleach can DESTROY a
piece of silver or gold jewelry in a matter of hours, reacting with
the alloy metals, pitting, discoloring, and crystalizing the metal.
We have had customers that decided to clean their rings in bleach
overnight, and those rings broke in pieces the next morning when the
went to put them on! Chlorinated pools & Hot Tubs are all the rage in
our area, and at the middle & end of summer, we always have a rush of
customers with sheared off prongs and jagged breaks in their shanks,
which, when repaired, just break again somewhere else. Just say no to
the use of chlorine products for your jewelry!

Lee Cornelius
Vegas Jewelers

I have seen some test results on bleach and gold alloys. It appears
the bleach eats away at the copper on the grain edges, making it
easier to break. S/S being so much copper would be vulnerable.
Perhaps that takes away a little of the voodoo factor ;) 

Hello Daniel,

Interesting I suppose if it’s a matter of the copper
being attacked then that might explain why the karat golds are often
reported as being particularly vulnerable whereas sterling, for
instance, seems less so. More copper = more vulnerable to damage ???

In any case, less voodoo indeed. Thank you for this.

Cheers,
Trevor F.
in The City of Light
www.touchmetal.com

It makes me sad that there are people in the jewelry business that
don’t know about the evils of chlorine.

I couldn’t agree more! At a seminar at Swest in Dallas, a store
owner was complaining about his silver turning black in his cases.
He was blaming the polishing compounds. After careful questioning, I
found out that he was using bleached cotton in the cases (Christmas
decoration). Storage in boxes with cheap bleached cotton will also
discolor silver. It’s the chlorine in the bleach.

I often wonder if the cheap cotton filled gift box isn’t one thing
that has given silver jewelry the bad rap of being hard to keep
tarnish free after it’s taken home.

I often wonder if the cheap cotton filled gift box isn't one thing
that has given silver jewelry the bad rap of being hard to keep
tarnish free after it's taken home. 

This is a very interesting point that has really set me to thinking.
Perhaps reps from the various companies who supply to the trade,
i.e. Rio Grande, might comment on the nature of the cotton fills in
their gift boxes and how they might affect the tarnishing of the
silver. I would really appreciate getting the straight story on this
so I could make informed decisions regarding my future packaging
options. Thanks in advance.

Allan Mason
silvermason.com

I have had experience with gift boxes, that the glue that held them
together had some type of sulfur base.It cause the silver rings to
turn black before they reached the customer.

I often wonder if the cheap cotton filled gift box isn't one thing
that has given silver jewelry the bad rap of being hard to keep
tarnish free after it's taken home

Hello,

No bleach is used in the manufacturing of the poly-fill insert in
the paper boxes. The insert will not cause tarnishing but it will
also not prevent tarnishing. Gift boxes, whether paper or metal,
should not be used for storing jewelry because they do not adequately
protect the jewelry from the tarnishing gases in the air. Having an
anti-tarnish tab in the box with the jewelry will remove the
tarnishing gases and protect the jewelry from tarnishing.

Hope this helps.
Denise Cabrera-Wright
Rio Grande
Product Manager
Display and Packaging
Denise.wright@tbg.riogrande.com

    Having an anti-tarnish tab in the box with the jewelry will
remove the tarnishing gases and protect the jewelry from
tarnishing. 

Or you could just switch to Argentium and stop worrying about
tarnishing - and firescale.

Sojourner