Monday, April 15, 2013

Use Baking Soda to Clean Tarnished Silver Jewelry

The tarnish we find on our silver jewelry is due to a thin layer of black silver sulphide which forms when the silver reacts with the sulfur based pollutants in the air. Many of us tumble or polish silver jewelry to remove tarnish.  It takes about 1-2 hours so it is worth considering a quicker alternative - the baking soda method.


There is also another significant difference between the two methods besides the time factor. Tumbling and polishing will mechanically remove the tarnish so some silver is lost. Harsh chemical removal solutions also do the same thing. But using the baking soda method will preserve the silver because the silver sulfide layer is simply converted back to silver.

Sulfur is not the only compound that readily reacts with silver.  This easy method gets the black silver sulfide to react with the aluminum so that the sulfur atoms transfer over to it as shown in this chemical equation :


So how well does it work?

I tried using the baking soda method to clean this badly tarnished pair of ear wires. This pair couldn't be any worse!


What I used :
  • 1 cup of water heated in a microwave oven on high for 1 1/2 minutes
  • 1 tablespoon of baking soda
  • A small glass bowl lined with aluminum foil at the bottom
I've seen recipes with added salt or dish detergent, neither of which is necessary for the process. The dish detergent will degrease a dirty pair of earrings though.

The hot water helps dissolve the baking soda faster and also speeds up the reaction.


I added the baking soda and mixed until it was dissolved.


I dropped in the ear wires and made sure they were in contact with the aluminum as much as possible.  The process is actually an electrochemical reaction whereby a small electric current occurs between the silver and the aluminum  - like how batteries work. This is why the ear wires need to be in contact with the foil. I also turned over the ear wires part way through to "do" the other side.

Bubbles formed as the chemical reaction began. 


A lightly tarnished pair of ear wires I previously cleaned took about 5-10 minutes.  This pair though was so badly tarnished 15 minutes was not enough.  I repeated the cleaning with a fresh solution for another 10 minutes.

As you can see, most of the tarnish is gone.  The ear wires though were not as shiny as they could be at close magnification. You can see smudges around the curved portions of the ear wires.


I could have repeated the process yet again but I just used my polishing cloth to finish up.


Verdict :  It is a quick and easy method especially if the pieces were not too badly tarnished.  The process is ideal for silver plated pieces which might not survive tumbling.  But for really shiny silver pieces, it's hard to beat tumbling.

Before You Go:
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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips

12 comments :

Divya N said...

sounds great..will try it

Jan said...

Get brave ... try Comet ... YES, Comet.

You have to scrub at least a little, but it works for me. It is non-abrasive and works fast so is especially effective if you reach for a favorite piece you want to wear RIGHT NOW ... a quick few minutes at the kitchen sink and you are ready to go.


Pearl Blay said...

That is brave! Will have to check out Comet!

Cristina said...

WOW! Great post, Pearl! And just what I needed! Thank you!
I've been trying to find a method to safely and gently clean wire wrapped pieces and I'll just have to try this one! Do you know if it's safe for the gemstones as well?

kisses,
Cris

Pearl Blay said...

That will depend on the gemstone. Pearls for instance are quite fragile. I would test with a gemstone bead separately.

Pearl Blay said...

If you are using sterling silver wire and don't have delicate gemstones, then I would tumble if I were you.

BetteJo said...

.. this chemical equation ... leave it to a scientist! Lol! Great tip though!

BetteJo said...

What about toothpaste? I have used that in the past.

Pearl Blay said...

That would come under the mildly abrasive category. Works for many pieces of jewelry (not pearls) if you don't have a tumbler and don't mind some elbow grease.

TJewellicious by tanti said...

great post..! thanks for shared... :)

Chrissi said...

I've heard of it being done with washing soda too

Anonymous said...

A damp cloth or sponge dipped in baking soda and scrub a bit....done. Personally, too many chemicals in comet or anything else that would make me use that stuff. Baking soda is much cleaner and no chemicals.

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