Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Weird Air Problem

Greetings all,

I have a question that I know depends on many variables. It’s also a
question that I’m not necessarily expecting an exact answer to, but
I thought I’d ask nonetheless because maybe someone else has run into
this problem.

My studio is in my home, and home is a vintage 3-flat building in
Chicago that was gutted/rehabbed about 3 years ago. My problem is
that I can clean and polish my metal until the cows come home
(primarily fine and sterling silver), but within a matter of a few
days, it gets this yellow/brown-tinged tarnish on it-and I’m a little
baffled because even the fine silver tends to tarnish just as quickly
and just as deeply yellow/brown as the sterling. --This tarnish is
really, really ugly.

I don’t have any chemicals exposed, my liver of sulphur is tightly
sealed and in a cabinet, there aren’t any other sulphur-containing
chemicals out, and nothing is leaking that I am aware of. I do
everything in my power to keep the indoor humidity level to a minimum
during the summer; and during the winter, I don’t have to do much
because the indoor humidity level tends to average about 36%–in
which case, I end up having to use my humidifiers (although I still
don’t over humidify). --This is the case now-low humidity (and in the
past it has gone lower w/out the humidifiers).

I store most of my pieces in a cabinet with another moisture
absorbing product, and those are usually fine, although, I’ve left
some other pieces out because I want to see just how tarnished they
will get over time. No matter the cleaning/polishing mode though,
this ends up happening to everything-even ready-made pieces I’ve
purchased elsewhere.

What is the deal here?! This is really annoying! Any ideas on what
might be happening? I am absolutely baffled. I’m thinking that maybe
it’s something in the building??? --The walls are oozing something?
Heat is radiant heat, and we have natural gas for cooking. Maybe
there’s something in Chicago’s air (ya think???).I’m not sure what
our pollution levels are in the area, but I guess that’s a
possibility. We live about three blocks from the lake, so maybe
that’s a factor too???

Thanks in advance for your thoughts and ideas.

Tamra Gentry

Hi Tamra…

I’m in Milwaukee… A duplex that was built turn of the
century… Whilst I don’t have fine silver stuff… The same
thing…kinda a dirty brown golden effect…

It doesn’t matter if I’ve used Simichrome, my buffer, or
Tarnishield…or any combination thereof…

I think it’s just some kind of Midwest Urban Miasma or
something…? Industrial crud in the air we don’t notice because
we’re used to it…?

Higher sulphur diesel fuel from the buses…? We don’t have coal
burning plants nearby, so…

I dunno…I cook a lot with onions…?

I’ve found that keeping in a ziploc with a piece of aluminum foil
slows it down a bit… And the further away things are packed, the
less the problem…

I do not have this effect with sterling that I wear…a fire-agate
ring… Tripp’s donello mount…so nothing special…It gets wear
and tear, but not that funny brown stuff…

I’ve got some Argentium wire stashed away…I think I’ll cut a
piece and leave it out for things to get at and see what happens…

Sunshine Cloth the best investment I’ve ever made…scrub first with
some dish detergent in warm water, dry, and hit with the Sunshine

Brings it back brandy new, but you hafta work it into crevices…

Gary W. Bourbonais
A.J.P. (GIA)

I am thinking as your building is newly refurbished it could be that
there is some residual fumes from new carpets, paint, laminated
surfaces even chipboard has lots of chemical fumes which continue to
emit for a long time, maybe you could get your air tested, if that is
possible, I am not a chemist or science person but I am sure someone
out there in orchid land could debunk my theory?

I think these fumes are corrosive and that could be your problem. I
hope you find out the problem as I would be a little worried about
breathing in air that does that to silver that quickly. It could be a
combination of all the things you mentioned in your posting.


A couple ideas, coal specifically soft high sulfur coal is mined
throughout Illinois, an older structure was around when a majority
of home and busnesses used coal for heating. Your house may well be
your sulfur source. Sulfur being the prime catalyst of silver
tarnish, giving a yellow green hue.

Also, from Northern Illinois jewelers, sulfur is a major nemesis, as
many factories and power plant are subsidized for using and
hopefully reducing sulfur emissions, well…

There are services that can do scans for indoor pollutants and offer
methods of irradiation or of sealing the found pollutants, also
sulfur is not good for humans as well.

Is it air or do you take blood pressure pills? i do and i have the
"Bad Touch" on all silver

Hi, Natural gas contains sulfur, which will cause the silver to
tarnish. I have even had the PMC, which is.999 fine silver, tarnish.


Tamara -

Could your water contain sulphur?? One of our club members had his
pieces turn black in the tumbler. Turns out, there was sulphur in his
water supply. Even a little bit will cause problems.

You could try cleaning with distilled water and see if that solves
any of your problems.


If I could suggest the first step is to isolate were the problem is
happening. I would suggest taking a piece of wire and while wearing
latex gloves polish the piece to remove tarnish. Then cut the wire
into 4 or 6 pieces.

Put 1 piece outside the house (Not on a windowsill) or if there is
no place rig up a piece of coat hanger to hold it in free air a foot
or better 2 away from the house in free air. Note if you go with the
hanger route use a cleaner on the hanger too so there is no residual
oils from you on it.

Put 1 piece in your cabinet

Put a couple of pieces scattered around the house

Now remove the gloves and handle the last 2 pieces before putting
one down near one of the others in the house and one with the outside

Now after a couple of days examine the pieces. If they are all
tarnished, even the ones in free air, then there is nothing to do
except to move or live with it. (Unless you have a quarter mil to
spend setting up a clean room complete with activated charcoal air

If the outside piece is fine but all the in house ones are tarnished
then it’s something in your house environment. Depending how rich and
how frustrated you are with the problem solutions could range from
living with it to installing an fresh air heat exchanger and changing
the air in your studio multiple times a day to calling in an
environmental inspection company to do air sampling and gas
chromatograph analysis of what they sampled to determine how to
remediate it.

And if all the pieces except the 2 you have handled are fine (Note
the other in house samples may have tarnished a bit due to
environmental contamination from you, but if this is the case the 2
you handled will be much worse than the rest of the in house samples)
then the problem is you, either medication you are taking, Diet or
just your personal chemistry.

Good Luck


I would suggest:

  • storing each item individually in anti tarnish zip bags or

  • wrapping them in Atlantic/Pacific Cloth and then putting them in
    regular zip bags

Atlantic or Pacific Cloth is the stuff silver ware is wrapped in.
They sell it at the Container Store sewn up for silver ware. I’m told
here on Orchid that you can buy it by the yard at fabric stores.

That is a weird problem you’re having. I wonder if it is a
new-construction materials issue. Interesting. Write to ask This Old


Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

An added comment…you are cooking with natural gas…if there is
a pilot light it will be lit all the time and the “fumes” get into
the air. Probably as simple as that.


Is it air or do you take blood pressure pills? i do and i have the
"Bad Touch" on all silver 

Which, blood preasure medicine, there are many types and classes of,
my Dr. is talking of a change for me. I want to know what to say NO


That is a weird problem you're having. I wonder if it is a
new-construction materials issue. Interesting. Write to ask This
Old House! 

We had a similar problem after remodeling the store, new carpet and
new custom-built showcases. Traced it to the release of
formaldehyde, mostly from the glues used in the plywood and
laminates, but it’s also common from display materials (formalin or
formaldehyde in the glues), pads, jewelry boxes and carpet glues, if

It lessens with time and the judicious application of sealer for the
wood. hat REALLY helped was turning the heat up to 90 overnight for
a couple of nights…



Chicago does not suffer from acid rain and has relatively low
concentrations of emissions because the prevailing winds (and there
are plenty of them) come rimarily from the West and NW there, which
is pretty clean air. If you get the occasional backdraft from Gary
and the steel areas, that’s different! But that’s a rarity. A check
of any US emissions map or air quality map shows Chicago to be not
bad at all. I’d look to interior emissions in the building, which are
often MUCH worse than outside air quality. Specifically, fumes form
construction materials and adhesives, including the adhesives used
in jewelry boxes and display pads, combined with elevated case
temperatures from the lighting.

Sealers can be applied to the jewelry to eliminate or minimize tis
problem, see Rio Grande.


Could it be that your water supply is very high in sulfur content? My
daughter ran into that problem when she moved to another house that
smelled vaguely of sulfur. The house was serviced by a well, and the
water supply was loaded with sulfur. She switched to town water,
changed the old water heater, and the sulfur smell disappeared. “And
guess what?” she said; “I don’t have to polish my silver stuff every
two weeks!”


Thank you for all the responses to my post. --A lot of
and a lot of new things to try. I guess it was a little overwhelming
because there are SO MANY things that can possibly be causing this,
and many of them could be totally out of my hands (I don’t think that
I mentioned I’m a little OC, so I like to be able to control these
types of things and have them at MY mercy, instead of the other way
around). :slight_smile:

So, I’ll do some testing and see what happens…I’ll let you know if
we find out anything interesting!


If it turns out to be an interior off gassing problem, this product
has been highly recommended to me:

Lisa Orlando
Albion, CA, US