Keeping Silver Clean
What causes tarnish: Humidity and chemicals in the air cause silver to tarnish. The most common cause for jewelry is the oily residue from our hands and fingers.
Preventing tarnish and storing your silver: Tarnish can be minimized during storage. Place individual pieces of silver inside a polyethylene plastic bag (Ziploc®. bags work great) then seal the bag. Wrap each piece with non-buffered tissue paper (acid-free and of archival quality) or soft, anti-tarnish tissue to guard against humidity and prevent contact with materials from the storage bag to the silver. Tarnish-absorbing cloths and Anti-Tarnish (look for 3M or Hagerty Anti-Tarnish strips) paper strips also work well for a limited time. An alternative choice is to place small containers or bags of desiccated silica gel and activated charcoal inside the bag (making sure each piece is individually wrapped). Storing silver in a special silver chest or box lined with tarnish preventive fabric is also effective, and you can add a Anti-Tarnish strip into the box/chest and change it every few months. DO NOT use plastic cling wrap, newspaper or rubber bands. They have properties that react with silver causing damage that will require a silversmith to repair or polish it to remove the damage. Cardboard boxes that aren't archival have acids that will tarnish the silver very rapidly. DO NOT lacquer or wax your silver due to the difficulties in obtaining an even coating. Many times if the coating was not been applied well, it may be uneven, have streaks and/or small holes, so that when the object tarnishes, the end result is many times worse than if no coating had been applied at all.
Storing your silver jewelry: So…while the above storage tips are the optimal way to store fine silver, silver jewelry should be worn and easily accessible so you can enjoy it without inconvenience. If you keep a paper Anti-tarnish strip in your jewelry box, and occasionally wash in warm water with a phosphate-free detergent, then dry with a soft cotton cloth, that may all that is needed. Or if in a rush when taking your jewelry off, just wipe clean with the cloth before returning to your jewelry box. Remember to apply your hairspray and perfume BEFORE putting on any jewelry.
These cleaning tips and hints are for the general public interested in maintaining the majority of personal silver, items that are silver or gold plated need the same type of care. Museum conservators use a different method requiring special chemicals, hours of time and special experience. Remember that the easiest way to keep your silver cleaning to a minimum is to store it properly or wear it.
1. If there is no tarnish on your silver, use a phosphate-free detergent to clean it after use. Silver that is used, then gently washed and dried immediately, will require seldom tarnish removal.
2. When first noticed (usually a yellowish-brownish tint not associated with the patina placed for decoration), tarnish is easily removed. It becomes increasingly difficult to remove as it eventually turns to black. Frequent light cleanings, (washing the object with a phosphate-free detergent), then drying with a soft cloth is better than waiting until the tarnish gets so difficult to remove that more abrasive polishes would be needed.
3. When polishing or drying always use a clean, soft cotton cloth. Certain items may require a clean soft cotton ball.
4. Rub the object in a straight, back-and-forth manner so to maintain a uniform appearance. Avoid rubbing in a circular motion.