How to properly care For Sterling Silver
So you have made the move and bought in a beautiful piece of silver, and you certainly hope to maintain its original appearance as much as you can. If it is "sterling" silver, it is 92.5% pure, meaning that it contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
If you have ever owned a piece of silver before, then you already know that silver tends to lose its original look and get discolored over time. The mere exposure of silver to air causes it to tarnish, or develop a dark film; a process that accelerates when the air has high sulfur content.
While there is a good number of silver enthusiasts who believe that minor tarnish is good since it further develops the patina of that piece, especially in silver pieces with intricate designs by defining the depth and outline of the pattern, excessive tarnish can diminish its beauty, and even give it a dirty look. Fortunately, there are a few guidelines that you can follow to ensure that your sterling silver preserves its original brilliance.
Regularly used sterling silver pieces are the easiest to take care as they do not need much attention besides the regular cleaning after use. While air is a well known enemy of silver, you also need to keep your piece away from rubber. Rubber can cause serious etching to your silver that can only be repaired by a professional. So, never wrap your sterling silver piece in rubber bands, even when there is a cloth or paper preventing direct contact of the rubber to the piece. The silver can still be affected. In fact, you should not place your pieces anywhere close to rubber. If your silver piece comes in contact with acid, eggs, fruit juices, vinegar, salad dressing, olives, and salt, you should wash it immediately to prevent damage.
As mentioned earlier, the best way to deter tarnish is through regular use of your piece, but it needs immediate cleaning or rinsing afterwards. Silver pieces are easily scratched, so you should never clean using harsh abrasives. Instead, hand-wash the piece in warm, foamy water and add a phosphate-free detergent. Do not let the piece stand in water since a combination of detergent, water, and heat may loosen soldering. So, rinse properly and dry immediately.
Hand rubbing when cleaning develops patina and enhances its beauty. You can wash sterling tableware in a dishwasher, but this will not develop the patina. To avoid the loosening effect, you should use minimal detergent. Never apply dishwasher detergent directly on the piece as it may form dark spots. You should also wash sterling and stainless steel items separately, since contact can cause permanent damage to the silver. In some cases, washing new sterling pieces in a dishwasher causes them to develop brown spots, due to the reaction of water droplets on the copper in sterling. Fortunately, the copper surface wears off gradually after several washings, but you can prevent this by washing new sterling pieces by hand.
You should store your sterling silver pieces in a chest coated with tarnish-resistant flannel, when not in use, or for display. Alternatively, you can place the piece in air-sealed plastic bag to avoid tarnishing from contact with air.
Proper cleaning and storing can drastically cut down tarnishing, but you may still notice that your piece has some stains, or is not as shiny as it was when new. In such cases, polishing is necessary. Use cotton or plastic gloves when polishing sterling, but never rubber gloves.
With proper care of your sterling silver piece, you can avoid extreme tarnish and corrosion. But in the event that this happens, it is best to take the piece to a professional, who will get rid of the stain using a polishing wheel. Harsh cleaning and polishing techniques can damage and devalue your silver jewelry.