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Difficulties cleanning tarnished silver


#1

Hello

I have a couple of questions. I have some sterling silver chain that
has tarnished, but in spots only. I realize this happens with
sterling, however it does not come clean. Does anyone know why? Also
what are some great cleaning products or techniques for sterling? I
bought a ultra sonic cleaner that seems ok, but not wonderful. I
even tried to compare very tarnished sterling chain with some that
was not after I cleaned it, I even used a polish cloth afterwards. It
still does not look great. Does this mean it is not good sterling? Or
if at all. I can’t imagine my vendor is lying I have been buying from
them for a couple of years now. I am a self taught designer but
really need an education on sterling and gold filled and the care.
Does anyone have any suggestions?

Thank you,
Mimi


#2

I’d get a tumbler. That’s how I polish all my customer’s tarnished
stuff. (Not herringbone chain. I have a special circular file for
those…)


#3

All sterling I need to clean goes in the my vibratory tumbler. I use
a vibratory tumbler with stainless steel shot for an hour or maybe
longer. Then, I use the 3M radial disks. They remove every last trace
of tarnish.

Good luck.
Mary


#4

Ultra sonics are not for cleaning tarnish off silver and can make it
worse.

Use the ultra sonic to clean off buffing compound or lotion and crap
that accumulates on stones. It is important to clean off greases and
unwanted material before soldering.

Skip the tumbler, too, because that is not what they do best.

To remove tarnish… get tarnex or eleanor to dip; get polish
clothes designed to remove tarnish like rio grande’s pro pads; use a
speed brite ionic cleaner, which is kind of removes tarnish; stick it
in the pickle; buff it off (wrap around a large cork to support); dip
in hot water mixed with aluminum foil and baking soda…

Tarnish happens with sterling, and it will need to be cleaned
eventually.

Melissa S.


#5

Traditional copper-alloyed sterling is always going to tarnish,
unless you have “depletion-guilded” it, to make the outer surface
fine silver, fine silver-plated it, or you are working with Argentium
sterling. There are some great chemical dips that do a fast job of
removing tarnish. One I have is made by Eurotool, called ShineBrite,
but there are others I’ve found at hardware stores that will work
good, too. They are usually a clear liquid, and by just dipping the
tarnished silver into it, it removes all tarnish. Rinse VERY well
with water, and dry with a soft cloth. Pretty fast and easy.

Jay Whaley


#6
To remove tarnish... get tarnex or eleanor to dip; get polish
clothes designed to remove tarnish like rio grande's pro pads; use
a speed brite ionic cleaner, which is kind of removes tarnish;
stick it in the pickle; buff it off (wrap around a large cork to
support); dip in hot water mixed with aluminum foil and baking
soda... 

This is fine for total removal, true enough, but one wants a dark
background (in the crevices) on most pieces often including chains,
and a tumbler, either rotary or vibratory will accomplish a nice,
even removal and feathering of the correct amount of tarnish from a
piece. The aluminum foil trick, (lay a sheet of aluminum foil in the
bottom of a heavy Pyrex baking dish, place the jewelry on the foil,
and gently pour hot (not boiling) water into the dish to cover,)
works well for complete removal. Don’t use with heat sensitive
stones.

For the OP’s particular question: Why does tarnish form in only
certain places? I have no clue. My goal would be toward removal; The
time has long past for prevention in this case anyway.


#7
Traditional copper-alloyed sterling is always going to tarnish,
unless you have "depletion-guilded" it, to make the outer surface
fine silver, fine silver-plated it, or you are working with
Argentium sterling. 

There are no tarnish free sterling silver alloys. Even depletion
gilding, silver plating and Argentium will eventually tarnish. All
high silver alloys and even fine silver tarnish, the speed that they
tarnish at is variable but all will tarnish. Some alloys seem to be
tarnish free but when your work gets out into the world someone will
find the right environment to tarnish it. I have even had to clean
gold rings from customers who somehow managed to tarnish them.
Silver tarnish is a silver sulfur reaction and in some alloys copper
sulfur reactions increase the tarnish reaction rate. Sulfur compounds
are in the air from burning fossil fuels and other sources, this
causes tarnish. A rule of thumb on silver alloys is if you can color
it with liver of sulfur it will tarnish. To create truly tarnish free
silver you would need to reduce the silver content to something in
the range of 40%-60%.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#8

Baking Soda is not what you use in the Tarnish removal with aluminum
foil. It is Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda! Big difference! And it
is not necessary to use a large Pyrex dish. You can use a tea cup or
better yet, an aluminum tray.


#9

my experience to removing tarnish is quite simple, just wash it with
a hair brush using a dishwashing soap.


#10

Please read my article on chemical dips and their destructive
qualities: http://www.hermansilver.com/tarnx.htm

Jeff Herman


#11

Norman and OP,

Tarnish can be caused by sulfur excreted from our skin reacting with
the copper alloy in silver, so finger prints show up as tarnish on
metal surfaces periodically. I like to use a polish cloth
periodically on my chains for a couple of reasons… one it removes
the traces of finger prints. Two, I choose clothes impregnated with
rouge, and it helps create a nice little barrier (although very fine
and temporary) from air. I find it important to use those same
clothes after using a dip because it will prevent rapid tarnishing
after dipping and reinvigorate the shine.

Tarnish can be cause by expose to air. Because of the copper content
in sterling it reacts with hydrogen sulfide gas. Cooking or burning
stuff in close proximity to sterling can make it worse.

It can be caused by fine particles in makeup and lotion abrading the
surface of jewelry and reacting with copper alloy- this actually is a
tarnish usually seen on the skin of the wearer.

All these examples can be seen in technical from many
metals suppliers; in books such as Tim McCreight’s Complete
Metalsmith and Oppi Untracht’s gigantic book about jewelry; and at
the ganoksin database of articles and orchid archive.

Norman, not all of the methods I mentioned in earlier post totally
remove the tarnish, if you intend to keep it. It depends on how you
use them. You do not have to dip in tarnex because it can be painted
on with a brush, tooth pick, or cloth. Also resists can be used to
control the areas cleaned. When I clean jewelry, it depends on
different factors, but I usually have time constraints and the
specific material I am working with. Pearls can not be dipped, so
pieces with pearls go in the ionic cleaner or use pro pads. Also, if
it involves repair including soldering, it would be impractical to
expect the finish to stay intact. So it is important not only to know
how tarnish is caused, but also how to reapply desired patinas.

Melissa S.


#12

During summer months I sometimes sell at a local jewelry market
located at the corner of a very busy intersection. Once this summer I
was assigned a booth space just a sidewalk away from the traffic and
was astonished to find many pieces of my silver were noticably
tarnished by day’s end! I suspect the sulphur compounds from the
close proximity of the traffic. It was a little unsettling to realize
I was breathing stuff that would tarnish silver so quickly.

Landen Gailey
gaiajewelry.org


#13

Jeff,

Thanks for posting this article. I was taught never to use the
tarnish removing dips because of the harshness of the chemicals but I
could not remember the details. Thanks for the refresher.

Mary A


#14
Baking Soda is not what you use in the Tarnish removal with
aluminum foil. It is Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda! Big
difference! And it is not necessary to use a large Pyrex dish. You
can use a tea cup or better yet, an aluminum tray. 

A few years ago this subject came up here and I was positive that
you needed sodium carbonate (washing soda) not sodium bicarbonate
(baking soda). Enough was said by people I normally trust for me to
try baking soda and you know what, either one will work. The Sodium
carbonate is a little more active but they both will dissolve
tarnish when the work is touching aluminum.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#15
Tarnish can be caused by sulfur excreted from our skin reacting
with the copper alloy in silver. 

You are right about the sulfur but it is not the copper but the
silver itself that tarnishes. The resulting compound is silver
sulfide, yes the copper can also create sulfides which make the
tarnish worse but the idea that it is the copper that is responsible
for tarnish is not correct. Silver and all high silver alloys
tarnish when exposed to sulfur compounds.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#16

To clean tarnish from silver especially for silver chain use
bicarbanate of soda and water, make a paste with it and just rub it
onto the item to be cleaned with a damp soft cloth, or with chains
just roll them gently in the palm of your hand with the bicarb paste
and then rinse in fresh water.

Clive Ridley


#17
The Sodium carbonate is a little more active but they both will
dissolve tarnish when the work is touching aluminum. 

Very true. Silver can be cleaned even without any chemicals, as long
as it touches aluminum in a water bath, but it will take very long
time.

The process works because aluminum gives away electrons more readily
than silver. When two metals are in contact ( there is an electrical
current flows between the two ), the process of oxygen transfer takes
place. The by-product of the process is hydrogen sulfide, some of it
will escape and some of it will tarnish silver again. So it is kind
of chemical merry-go-round. Sodium carbonate are there to engage
hydrogen sulfide to prevent it from re-tarnishing silver. Baking
soda does the same thing, just a bit slower.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#18

Alice

We’re all learning as we go along. I’ve had lots of problems with
Viking chain with 24ga fine silver wire as well. Mine seems to turn
"yellowish" after wear. I kept one necklace for myself to see how it
lived and have tried many solutions. None solves it well. First, I
tried ultra sound and while it cleans it, there is still no silver
shine. Then I’ve tried dipping it in silver dip and momentarily it
looks brighter, but that too is short lived, and it’s a nasty
chemical. I’ve never tried the Clean Cut Media but now that you
mention it, I will. But that media leaves pieces clean of the patina
black or tarnish (except for deep recess places), but matt and
unpolished. So the second process would be needed to brighten. I too
thought putting it in Stainless Steel Shot would be destructive, and
although I never leave it in long, it does help quite a bit to
restore some brightness. BUT, you have to be ready to pick out some
of the shot from the Viking weave, not always easy. Experiment. What
I now resort to is Sunshine Clothes (Rio Grande) and they do the best
overall job. I use clean ones, even though you can use them until
very black before tossing them out. I buy them in quantity and always
keep unused ones on hand. There is a small covering of polishing
compound left on the chain and I think it helps extend the life.
Also, I always keep everything in plastic bags in a drawer, and after
all the cleaning never leave out in the air and that extends the
life. If you wear something yourself, clean it afterward with the
sunshine cloth, pulling it along the chain, and I have found it
extends the brightness and the yellowing doesn’t seem quite so
prominent. Much like pearls should be treated, wiped after use and
kept clean.

I’ve sold a number of necklaces and bracelets woven with the fine
silver wire and have had no complaints. However, my granddaughter
asked me one time how to clean her bracelet so she noticed the
change. After I weave a chain, I always put it through the ultra
sound to clean off the oils from my hands making it, but I finish
with the sunshine cloth.

If you learn anything more, I’d enjoy knowing what you discover. I am
going to try your idea of the Clean Cut Media so that will be my next
experiment. I have a failed chain and I’ll use that because I don’t
care what happens to it. :slight_smile: I don’t do any soldering of chain links,
such as loop in loop, all my work is turned wire work so I can’t
speak of fine silver except as woven material.

Best regards,
Ruth Mary


#19
... First, I tried ultra sound and while it cleans it, there is
still no silver shine. 

Ultrasonic cleaners work by generating microscopic cavitation bubbles
that expand and collapse at (literally) supersonic speeds where the
liquid cleaner contacts the surface. This, with professional or
commercial quality cleaners, can be a quite aggressive scrubbing
action. With soft metals like silver, many ultrasonic cleaners are
capable of actually attacking the surface finish, leaving it duller
than it was before. The problem is most dramatically shown with soft
cast items, where the ultrasonic energy tends to concentrate at
defects, such as surface porosity, and these sometimes come out of
the ultrasonic showing streaks of matte white, just like the finish
you see after heating and pickling, even if the item looked fully
polished when it went into the cleaner. Drawn wire or chain made from
it won’t likely show that dramatic surface damage, but you should not
expect an ultrasonic cleaner to actually brighten the metal’s finish.
It scrubs the surface, and with the right cleaning agent, will very
effectively remove dirt, and sometimes tarnish (though it’s not as
good at that). But that scrubbing can actually dull the finish more
than brighten it. Usually not that much, but still, understand the
potential exists.

...I too thought putting it in Stainless Steel Shot would be
destructive, and although I never leave it in long, it does help
quite a bit to restore some brightness. BUT, you have to be ready
to pick out some of the shot from the Viking weave, not always
easy. 

Steel shot (stainless or standard) is a GREAT way to give silver a
nice bright burnished surface. It not only shines, but burnishes and
compacts the surface, which increases resistance to future
tarnishing. There are limits as to just how bright it can get, when
compared to a buffed polish, but it’s still good, and with the right
shot, can often get into details that a buff cannot reach. If you
have designs which trap the shot, so you have to spend time picking
it out again, remember that shot is available in a number of shapes
and sizes. The common mixed shot of multiple shapes and sizes is not
always the best choice. If you pick shapes that are just a tad too
big to get trapped in your design, you will give up a little of the
burnishing down into the deepest details, but you’ll then also have
solved the problem of shot getting trapped in the pieces.

Also, when it does get trapped, you sometimes can easily remove a
fair amount of it with the ultrasonic cleaner. The vibrations tend to
dislodge stuck shot. Not all of it, and you don’t want to leave it in
long enough to risk the surface scuffing I mentioned before, but it
still can be useful.

Also, I always keep everything in plastic bags in a drawer, and
after all the cleaning never leave out in the air and that extends
the life. 

If you’re storing in plastic bags, do yourself an added favor and
get some of the 3M tarnish preventing paper. This looks like black
construction paper, and is available in sheets, strips, and precut
little tabs. It works very well in enclosed spaces, to eliminate the
sulphur compounds in the air that cause the tarnishing. Put one of
the tabs into the plastic bag along with your silver, and it will
remain clean while it stays in that plastic bag.

After I weave a chain, I always put it through the ultra sound to
clean off the oils from my hands making it, but I finish with the
sunshine cloth. 

No doubt some cleaning is good, but keep in mind that aggressive
action of the ultrasonic and what it can do to silver. In addition to
visible dulling, at the microscopic level, it not only can get the
surface almost chemically clean, but the scrubbing can also tend to
open pores. The result of the two is that the surface, though clean,
may actually be more actively exposed to potentially tarnishing
effects of the atmosphere. Think of it a bit like cleaning your
hands. Soap and water get it clean. Really rough scrubbing with soap
and water leave your skin a bit raw and tender. Then you need hand
lotion… In the case of silver, too aggressive cleaning especially
with an ultrasonic can leave a surface that will tarnish again more
quickly than it might have done without the cleaning, even if you go
over it with the sunshene cloth (because the cloth, though it buffs,
cannot reach all the recessed details.) Cleaning silver with an
ultrasonic is a bit of a “some is good, but more is not always
better” situation.

And the sunshine cloth not only leaves a bit of the polishing agent
on the surface, it leaves a film of chemicals in the cloth that are
specifally designed to actively retard tarnsihing. A number of other
silver polishing agents, such as Haggarty’s silver cream, etc, are
also designed to do the same. That’s why the “clean” from these
agents lasts so much longer than that from the silver dips like
Tarnex (which, like the ultrasonic, don’t polish, but do actively
attack the surface).

Peter Rowe


#20
First, I tried ultra sound 

Ultra sound…medical procedure
Ultrasonic…jewelry cleaning

Richard Hart G.G.
Denver, Co