Yellowing Sterling Silver

I poked around for an answer to this but couldn’t find anything so hopefully someone out there can help!

I’m not sure if my picture is attached but it is a sterling silver ring with a sterling silver tapered tube setting that is very discolored after soldering.

Solder: hard silver solder on the band and medium on the setting.

Flux: My-T-Flux (self-pickling flux for gold and silver) from Rio.

Pickle: Rio Pickle (sodium bisulfate) made with tap water.

I rinsed in running tap water, no baking soda bath.

What is causing the yellowing and how do I prevent it? Our water is pretty hard and smells strongly of chlorine but I didn’t used to have these problems.

On a secondary note though I cleaned a bunch of sterling silver items in a pink liquid jewelry cleaner (can’t remember the name) that I use at work with no problems but at home they also had a yellowish cast. For those I dipped and scrubbed with a baby toothbrush then brass brushed them with a soft brass brush and dawn dish detergent.

Could this have anything to do with my tap water?

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Have you tried to re-polish it? I have jewelry in a store that also includes a restaurant. I have to clean all of the jewelry in my case every two months because of the cooking gases in the air and road dirt that comes in when the doors open. They do a great job of selling my jewelry, but it is a lot of work keeping it clean…Rob

I think you’ll find it is atmospheric. I used to keep polished sterling in an open case while I was working in the shop. If I closed up the case when I finished for the day the silver was fine. I left the case open for a long weekend and several days into the next week. The silver had what appeared to be a light gold wash. I don’t have them problem if the case is closed or the silver is put away in air right bags.

Good luck!



Hi Rob,

Thanks for your reply! You’ve always got good advice so I appreciate your help.

I have not re-polished it since I soldered the setting. I just brass brushed it with dawn.

The shine you see is from tumbling after soldering the band.

I soldered the band with hard solder and cleaned it up as I explained then tumbled it in steel shot with dawn. It came out clean and sparkly.

Then I decided to add the setting so I soldered that on with medium and cleaned it up to how you see it, brass brush and dawn but have yet to tumble it.

I’m just baffled by the yellowing and am hoping to avoid it in the future. A new added layer to the onion is that, for the first time in years, I polished my white gold wedding rings today with tripoli then rouge and put them in the ultrasonic with dawn. They were mirror-polished, bright & clean. I wore them all day working on my other projects and noticed they too look yellow now. They are definitely more yellow than this morning and I think they’re more yellow than white gold sometimes looks, almost as if they were dipped in yellow dye or something if that makes any sense.

The only thing I can think of is maybe it’s the dawn I’m using? I use green apple blossom antibacterial dawn. It’s just what I had around and I don’t recall when this problem started but I’ve been using this bottle of dawn for a long time so I don’t think that’s the problem but maybe?

I’m going to the store tonight so I’ll pick up some plain old blue dawn to see if that makes any difference.

Any new thoughts you have based on the added info are more than welcome. I’m trying to be as thorough and clear so excuse any repetition!

And thanks again!


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Hi Don,

Thanks! You are both so helpful!

The thing with this is it’s not a piece I’ve had sitting, I made it this morning.

I’m trying to figure out how to avoid the situation so I can set the stone and make more of these in the future without having to deal with this hassle.

I just replied to Rob with more details.



perhaps experiment, and replace the water in your pickle, tumbler, and ultrasonic with some grocery store distilled water…and fill two bowls…one to make soapy/ brass brush, and one with clean water to final rinse…

ie: eliminate the tap water eith chlorine from the process…


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You mention a brass brush. Could that be the source of the problem?..Rob

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I don’t think so? I know that sounds uncertain but I’m just guessing that’s not it because I’ve used a brass brush for years to depletion gild silver for reticulation and never had any problems. Also the pieces (in this case the ring) come out of the pickle yellowed and the brass brush doesn’t remove it.

Oh and as far as the yellow tint on my wedding rings goes, I didn’t brass brush them. I only used a baby toothbrush on them to remove rouge with ammonia/dawn then put them in the ultrasonic with dawn. When they were done I rinsed them under running tap water.

I truly hope it’s not the water but I will try your suggestions. Thanks!

You definitely have a mystery!

I’m going to suggest something else. Try quit using Dawn dish detergent or any household cleanser in your ultra sonic and switch to a biodegradable ultra sonic solution specifically designed for ultrasonics. Years ago I only used household detergent/cleansers in my ultra sonic thinking that they would be as good as an ultrasonic solution from a jewelry supply company. Eventually these cleansers started to eat a hole in the stainless steel ultra sonic tub.

I talked to the owners of Otto Frei and they told me that household cleansers aren’t designed to not react with stainless steel. Since then I’ve switched to the gentle, biodegradable ultra sonic cleaners sold by Otto Frei (Otto Sonic Solution) and Rio Grande (Rio Rapid Cleaner) and have never had another problem.

You’re getting some kind of chemical reaction on your silver from an unknown source. I think you have to start eliminating potential causes one by one.

Also, Julie’s idea of buying some bottled water as test is a good one.

I’ve never lived in a location with hard water. So I got curious and googled it. There’s a lot going on in hard water! You could be having a chemical reaction from everything you’re using. Dawn, chorine in the water and the hard water chemicals.

One last thing, be sure to gently dry your jewelry after rinsing. I’ve had jewelry discolor after cleaning and rinsing then letting it air dry while soaking wet.

Keep us posted! I know that I’m really curious to find out what’s going on.



I think both Don and Rob have it correct. Hard water contains calcium and magnesium… these won’t react to silver, but if there is sulfate in the water it will cause a gold discoloration. Trying distilled water won’t harm. Atmospheric sulfur gases as with airpollution will also discolor silver. That’s why Don noticed tarnish with an open door.

Great link here…
Scroll down to The Science Of silver Tarnish And It’s Cause.
After eating sulfur heavy foods and handling silver I have left oxidized fingerprints on silver.
And best of all if you scroll down on the list of Sources Of Tarnishing Gasses it actually says that human farts can tarnish silver. This so delights the 6 year old in me.


anything with sulfur in it will tarnish silver. hydrogen sulfide is usually NOT present in organic materials such as eggs unless rotten under low to no oxygen conditions. H2S is extremely toxic (as toxic as cyanide) …reduced sulfur as in H2S and in organic sulfur containing molecules (odorants in excrement and flatulence, as well as in decomposing meat…) will tarnish silver black quickly. H2S is produced in the human gut by bacterial breakdown of sulfur containing aminoacids from proteins, but the amount is small enough not to be toxic…most of the biologically produced H2S is generated by microbes that live in low to no oxygen environments. They ultilize sulfate as a source of oxygen for metabolism, releasing elemental sulfur and H2S as by products…sewer gas can contain dangerously toxic levels of H2S… Less reduced forms such as S02, sulfur dioxide, will also tarnish silver… airpollution from combustion contains S02 which will account for tarnish forming on silver exposed to air for a long time…S02 in the air is normally oxidized to sulfate, S04, which does not tarnish silver…except for a very long time as sulfate is slowly reduced to more reactive species. The presence of copper in sterling accelerates tarnish. Copper is more reactive than silver, which accounts for fine silver being more tarnish resistant.

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My gut agrees with the idea of using distilled water and either no Dawn or the simplest, odor-free kind without antibacterial. Who knows what those ingredients are, and they might stick to the metal. I live in a hard-water place and make my pickle with citric acid (which captures the Mg and Ca ions) without problems, but hard water plus other stuff can produce precipitates that make life weird. PS I’m not an experienced jeweler by I’m a biochemist.

I have an ion exchange water softener… no hard water problems with Ca and Mg build up. However, there’s Na instead. Distilled water really should have nothing in it… PS: I’m a retired neurologist with some background in molecular biology… I understand why you like citric acid… I used Sparex which is NaHS04… it was very expensive compared to old fashioned Saniflush which was the same chemical which I switched to with the same results…too bad it’s no longer available due to environmental concerns…

see my reply above… it was meant to go to you… thanks

Food grade citric acid lasts a long time, is cheap, and I don’t know why more people don’t embrace it. Cleans your toilet tank, Keurig and coffee pot like a dream, too!

citric acid works both as a cleaner and a water softener. Water softeners now can be bought cheaper than ion exchange resin water softeners… the hard water goes thru sodium citrate canisters that chelate divalent cations, in exchange for sodium. The systems cost a fraction of ion exchange bead systems but the cost is in the replacement of the citrate canisters. Citric acid chelates monovalent and divalent cations. The acidity is low and is gentle on cleaning anything. It’s the active ingredient in Lime Off… the commercial product for cleaning bath tubs and tiles in showers…However, it acts slowly… I’m impatient and want instant results… that’s why I use muriatic acid for toilet bowl cleaning… not only gets rid of hard water rings but also sterilizes whatever it touches… most toilet cleaners have hydrochloric acid as the active ingredient, with additives to make it into a gel… too expensive compared to a gallon jug of 37% HCl…however, I won’t use it on tiles, as it attacks the grout. Otherwise citric acid is great!


I had some situations where I noticed the yellowing of silver too.

I’ve had this happen to me in my Gallery, and it seems it happens faster to all silver jewellery if there’s copper and brass in the same cabinet.
In this experience, this yellowing is the first stage of oxidization of the silver. I just clean them with a gentle cotton cloth and they’re bright grey-silver again.

I’ve also noticed in the past, that sometimes after ultrasonic cleaner (I use an eco-friendly cleaner), the jewels get some yellowish stains, I’m not sure if they’re from residual cleaning product, which an experienced jeweller who’s a friend of mine, told me that he cleans in the ultrasonic, then he passes the jewellery through running water, then he places them in a bowl of heated wood dust to remove the water and all the moisture.

I’ve also noticed in the past that when I use brass brushes with my Foredom pendant motor this “imprints” the brass on the surface of the metal, I’m not sure if it’s because of temperature or something else. But I did chase an anatomical heart in copper, and then “polished” it with a brass brush and now it’s copper color on only a few spots and mostly brass colored all over.

This is definitely not an answer to your problem, is just to share my experience in hopes of bringing other situations to light when it comes to yellowing silver and other metals.
I hope it helps you somehow.

that’s odd… I can understand why brass brushing would do that… brass has zinc in it… it also would add copper., turning it brassy. Copper has a higher redox potential than silver ( higher propensity of oxidize and tarnish)… copper should protect silver from oxidation. Perhaps you should just keep silver jewerly separate from copper and brass jewerly in different cabinets… do the copper and brass jewerly tarnish also when kept with silver jewerly?.. tarnish on silver is more noticeable.

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