Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Silver Oxide/Sulphide (was silver tarnishing)


After reading the posts from the much admired Orchidians, John
Burgess and Peter W. Rowe on Silver Tarnishing, I thought I would
post my questions.

I recently started making fine silver chains. I put them in the
tumbler with mixed shot to finish them and I am truly amazed at how
bright and shiny and beautiful they are when finished. After awhile
of wear they appear a little dingy, so I’ve been using an
ammonia-based dip to clean them and they do come out looking much
better, but not exactly like new. When I make a new chain, I compare
it to mine, and the difference is obvious. A friend of mine visited
recently with a chain on that I had made her that looked very grey,
so I dipped it for her, and it only came out looking slightly better.
I ususally only use a quick dip in the solution, so I figured I
would leave it in a little longer. It came out the same. I know
people have different body chemistries that effect metal differently.
Maybe that’s the problem? Anyway, I was hoping that something would
bring the chains back to that like new appearance. I don’t know if
it’s the silver oxides that I’m dealing with - on my friend’s chain
it’s more pronounced. It’s very grayish, not like the typical
sterling tarnishing that I’m used to that comes out easy with the
silver dip. Is silver oxide harder to remove than silver sulphide?
Not sure if I have the definitions exactly correct, but I figure that
I’m dealing with silver oxide with my fine silver chains and silver
sulphide with sterling. Well whatever it is that’s making my chains
dull, I’d like to find a way to get them looking like new again - or
as close to it as possible.

I was considering investing in a Speed Brite. Will a Speed Brite
bring back the chains to that like new appearance? Will anything? I
gravitate more towards the Speed Brite than an ultrasonic because I
use many sensitive stones.

Sorry for being so long-winded. Thanks in advance for your help.


 I recently started making fine silver chains.  I put them in the
tumbler with mixed shot to finish them and I am truly amazed at
how bright and shiny and beautiful they are when finished.  After
awhile of wear they appear a little dingy 

Ammonia removes grease and dirt. Won’t do a thing for tarnish. For
tarnish, you need something like the dips based on Thiourea, such as
Tarnex, or similar. These reduce the silver sulphides back to fine
silver. But by themsevles, they will not totally restore the bright
finish, since when the silver formed the sulphide, and when it then
was reduced back, the precise order of the highly polished surface
gets disturbed, and you’ve lost some or all of the high polish.
Depending on how bad the tarnish was, you’ll end up with white but a
little less bright, on down to matte white, sometimes a dingy matte
white at that. To really restore that original bright finish means
you also need to fix all the little scratches and dings that have
formed a patina on the silver, and the best way to do that would be
to just toss the chain back in your tumbler for a short while. Other
methods, if the links are accessable to buffing media, might be
something like a rouge cloth or similar polishing cloth. These are
easily available, and cheap enough to give or sell to customers for
their own use, but they only get the outside accessable areas of a
chain link, not down between the wires.

You’re speed brite will help a lot, as it’s pretty good at removing
the tarnish, same as the Tarnex and similar dip solutions will, as
well as helping to clean dirt. Ultrasonics are good at dirt removal,
but may not do much for tarnish. In fact, with silver, an ultrasonic
is often too powerful, actually causing some etch like marking which
leaves matte white surface markings on the previously polished
surface. Lower power ultrasonics probably don’t do that so much,
especially with drawn wire, but they still need some caution.

But the speed brite still can only affect the chemistry of the
surface. It’s not actually an electro stripping setup (which removes
metal), so while it can remove the tarnish, it may not restore the
really bright finish, or even the polished look. Again, for this you
generally need mechanical action, such as your tumbler again.
Restoring the finish with the tumbler won’t take very long in the
barrel in most cases. With steel shot in a rotary tumbler, most
likely even just ten minutes will make a very big difference. Try

Peter Rowe

I recently started making fine silver chains...  After awhile of
wear they appear a little dingy, 

Hi Anastasia, Tarnish is not the only thing that will impair a
bright, glistening look on silver. Abrasions, tiny scratches and such
will also affect the polished brilliance. Fine silver is much more
soft (and susceptible to scratching) than sterling. The hardness is
why sterling is usually used in functional items more than fine

One plus is that tumbling the chains will work harden the fine
silver to a degree, but still not as much as sterling. Tumbling with
steel shot will not really do anything for scratches and abrasions
except give you burnished scratches and abrasions.

I have a Speed-Brite ionic cleaner that hangs on my ultrasonic as an
accessory. I can either ultrasonically clean, ionically clean, or
both at the same time. That really rocks! I know an either/or
decision is more cost effective, but both is a great solution, too.
Ionic cleaning is certainly worth a shot.

If you determine the lack of like-new brilliance is due to the
abrasion of the polished surface, buffing is probably the best
answer. It will not do much for the inner surfaces of the links.
Polishing chains on a buffer is one of the more challenging, and
potentially dangerous (to you and the chain) polishing tasks, and
could be covered in another thread all by itself. Some jewelry people
adopt a, “Just don’t do it!” attitude, but I’ve done it carefully and
successfully by wrapping the chain tightly around a wooden block.

I hope this is of some help!

All the best,
Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)