Why does jewellery tarnish & how can I slow the process?

Jewellery becomes tarnished over time as it's exposed to impurities in the air. This process is called oxidization. Some things that can speed up this process are:

  • Ocean air
  • Pollution
  • Body chemistry - medications and highly acidic drinks can change your body chemistry causing a reaction between your skin and the metal, in turn speeding up the oxidization process. (Especially on a hot day where you may be sweating more than usual.)

Tips for preventing tarnish:

  • Store your jewellery in small plastic bags, squeezing out any extra air.
  • Place anti-tarnish strips in your jewellery box and or in the small plastic bags.

Polishing your tarnished jewellery.

High polished metals:

High Polished metals are best kept clean using a 'Rouge Cloth' or 'Polishing Cloth'. These cloths are often double sided cotton, infused with a cleaning compound on one side. The side with the polishing compound is used first to remove grime and tarnish with the plain side of the cloth used last to further buff the metal and remove any compound left behind. To clean chains simply fold the cloth in half and gently draw the chain through, repeating the process as necessary until free of tarnish. Eventually the cloth will begin to blacken but it will still continue to work effectively for a very long time.

One benefit of this cloth over liquid tarnish removers is that it does not harm semi-precious or precious stones. Personally, I don't like using the liquid dips unless the jewellery has extremely hard to reach areas. It does provide some instant gratification whereas the cloth requires some time and effort, however I find that the jewellery tends to tarnish quicker once you start using it. A polishing cloth can be found at any local jewellery tool supply store, many retail jewellery stores, or online.

NOTE: This method is not recommended for matte finished surfaces as the polishing compound will tend to stick in the low grooves, resulting in a dull finish.

Matte finished metals:

Matte finished metals are very easy to buff up using a brass brush and some soapy water, or a tooth brush with mild paste toothpaste. The brass brush works best and is like a large toothbrush for jewellery, working in a similar fashion. Wet the bristles of the brush and apply a small amount of gentle dish soap. Basic green soaps like Palmolive work best. DO NOT use oxi-clean soaps as these contain oxygen and the molecules will actually attach to your jewellery, causing it to tarnish very quickly with the effect being extremely difficult to remove. Avoid excessive amounts of water on the wooden handle of the brush as this will cause it to crack and lose bristles. Gently rub the tips of the bristles against the metal. When cleaning is complete, rinse with fresh water to remove any soapy residue.

You can use the brass brush on high polished jewellery that has become scratched and worn over time. The brush will uniformly burnish the metal and brighten it up again. But avoid highly reflective newer surfaces as the brush will uniformly scratch it and make it appear dull. A brass brush can be found at any local jewellery tool supply store or online.

Alternatively you can use the above method with a simple soft toothbrush and gentle paste toothpaste or mild dish soap and water. 

Caring for blackened/oxidized jewellery.

Jewellery that has been purposely blackened or 'oxidized' should never be placed in cleaning dips as this will remove the dark colour completely, as the blackened effect is actually achieved by speeding up the tarnishing process. Blackened areas that regularly come into contact with skin will eventually turn silver over time. This can create a much desired vintage looking effect. However, if you would like your piece taken back to its original blackened state it's best to have it re-oxidized by a professional.  

Caring for enamel work.

Enamel is glass and if mistreated can break. The following will help keep your enamel jewellery free of chips:

  • Store items in a plastic bas separate from other jewellery. Don't snuggle them in a pile!
  • Avoid dropping enameled jewellery on hard surfaces such as cement floors and ceramic tile, they don't get along!
  • Surfaces that become dull due to grease and grime can be gently buffed up with a clean soft cotton cloth.


Happy Cleaning!