What is the way to keep silver from tarnishing?

Silver is a beautiful metal that can add elegance and shine to any home. However, one downside of silver is that it tends to tarnish over time when exposed to air and moisture. Tarnish is a thin layer of silver sulfide that forms on the surface of silver, causing it to become dull and dark. The good news is there are ways to slow down tarnishing so you can keep your silver looking its best.

Why Does Silver Tarnish?

Silver tarnishes due to a chemical reaction. When silver is exposed to sulfur-based compounds in the air, like hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide, a chemical reaction takes place that causes silver sulfide to form on the surface. This silver sulfide layer appears as tarnish. High humidity and temperature accelerate the tarnishing process.

Common Causes of Tarnish

There are a few common culprits that expose silver to sulfur compounds, leading to tarnish:

  • Air – Trace amounts of hydrogen sulfide gas can cause tarnish, especially in homes near industrial areas or with well water containing sulfur compounds.
  • Moisture – Wetness accelerates tarnish by allowing sulfur compounds to adhere to the silver more readily.
  • Rubber bands and rubber-lined boxes – The sulfur in rubber reacts with silver.
  • Salt air – Coastal environments contain chlorides that can damage silver.
  • Cleaning chemicals – Some contain acids, chlorides and sulfides that tarnish silver.
  • Foods – Eggs, mayonnaise and mustard contain sulfur compounds that can cause tarnish if left on silver.

How to Prevent Silver Tarnish

While you can’t completely prevent silver tarnish forever, there are effective ways to slow the process and keep your silver looking beautiful for longer.

Proper Storage

Storing silver correctly is one of the best defenses against tarnish. Follow these tips:

  • Use non-sulfur storage materials like plastic, glass or canvas. Avoid rubber bands, rubber lined boxes, and paper with high lignin content.
  • Wrap silver tightly in anti-tarnish cloth, acid-free tissue, or plastic wrap to create a barrier from air and moisture.
  • Store silver in cool, dry places away from heat and humidity.
  • Avoid crowded storage as condensation can form on silver surfaces.
  • Place silver in an airtight container with anti-tarnish strips, which absorb sulfur gases.
  • Store flatware upright in drawer compartments or slotted trays to allow air circulation.

Cleaning and Polishing

Regularly cleaning and polishing your silver helps reduce tarnish buildup. Use a gentle, pH-neutral silver polish and soft cloth to buff away existing tarnish and create a protective barrier.

Avoid cleaning silver with toothpaste, baking soda or solutions containing chlorine bleach or ammonia, as these can damage the silver over time. Make sure to rinse silver thoroughly after polishing to remove any residue.

Use Silver Plate or Stainless Steel for Everyday Use

Save your fine, pure silver pieces for special occasions and opt for silver plate or stainless steel for everyday use. Silver plate is made by fusing a thin layer of pure silver onto a base metal, providing shine but with less investment.

How to Remove Tarnish from Silver

If your silver does end up tarnishing, don’t worry! Tarnish is only surface level and there are ways to safely restore the shine and luster of your silver items.

Non-abrasive Silver Cleaners

Specialized silver cleaning solutions work well to remove light to moderate tarnish. Look for a pH-neutral formula to avoid damage. Simply soak the silver for a few minutes, then rinse and buff dry.

Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil

For heavily tarnished silver, boil a pot of water with baking soda, salt and small pieces of aluminum foil to create a chemical reaction that lifts tarnish. Place silver in the solution for a few minutes while wearing gloves. Rinse thoroughly and polish dry.

Silver Dip

Heavy-duty silver dips quickly dissolve tarnish for a deep clean. Submerge silver for 30 seconds to a few minutes based on directions. Rinse very thoroughly. This works well for intricate items like chains.

Ultrasonic Cleaner

An ultrasonic cleaner uses high frequency sound waves to deep clean silver. Simply fill the tank with warm water and a small amount of mild detergent. Let silver soak for a few minutes until clean. Rinse and dry thoroughly after.

Polishing Cloth or Pastes

Gentle use of a treated polishing cloth or paste can help rub away tarnish. Take care not to scrub too hard. Use smooth, circular motions. Make sure to rinse off any residue after polishing.

Professional Silver Cleaning

For heirloom or highly valuable silver, professional silver cleaning may be best. Reputable jewelers and silver specialists have professional-grade solutions and polishers to clean silver safely and effectively.

How to Care for Silver Jewelry

Silver jewelry requires some special care to keep it looking its best. Follow these tips:

  • Store jewelry in resealable plastic bags to prevent tarnish.
  • Apply clear nail polish to the underside of silver rings to prevent skin contact that causes tarnish.
  • Clean jewelry regularly by gently scrubbing with a soft toothbrush and mild soap and water. Rinse and dry thoroughly.
  • Use a treated polishing cloth to buff silver jewelry and maintain shine.
  • Take off silver jewelry before swimming or cleaning with chemicals.
  • Have jewelry professionally cleaned once a year for a deep clean.

Best Practices for Keeping Silver Tarnish-Free

Daily Habits

  • Wash silver immediately after use, don’t let food residue or cleaning chemicals sit.
  • Rub a quality cloth over silver after washing and drying to help prevent spot tarnish.
  • Use silver items frequently to keep a protective layer of silver sulfide from building up.
  • Keep a polishing cloth handy at the dinner table to wipe and buff silver pieces after use.

Weekly Habits

  • Wash silver pieces in warm, soapy water once a week to remove any residue and grime.
  • Inspect silver weekly for any new tarnish spots and use a polishing cloth to remove promptly.
  • Place anti-tarnish strips in cabinets and drawers where silver is stored to absorb sulfur gases.
  • Check that all silver pieces are thoroughly dried and wrapped in anti-tarnish cloth or bags.

Yearly Habits

  • Have silver professionally cleaned and polished yearly for a deep clean.
  • Replace worn anti-tarnish cloth wrappers.
  • Inspect storage bags and containers for sulphur residue buildup.
  • Review products used near silver for chemicals that may cause damage.

Home Remedies to Prevent Silver Tarnish

Want to take a more natural approach? Here are some DIY options for keeping silver tarnish-free:


The calcium carbonate in chalk absorbs sulfur compounds. Place sticks or powder in silver storage containers.

Charcoal Briquettes

Activated charcoal binds to harmful gasses. Bury silver items in burlap bags with charcoal to prevent tarnish.

White Rice

The starch in rice adsorbs sulfur from the air. Bury silver in rice filled socks or small bags.

Anti-Tarnish Strips

Copper or silver clad anti-tarnish strips absorb sulfur gases. Use in storage containers and display cases.

Cat Litter

The clay in fresh, unused cat litter absorbs moisture and odor causing compounds. Place a thin layer in storage containers.

How to Prevent Silver Plated Items from Tarnishing

Silver plated items require specialized care to avoid wear and tarnish of the thin silver layer. Follow these tips:

  • Hand wash gently with mild soap and water. Avoid abrasive scrubbing.
  • Rinse and dry immediately after washing to prevent water spots.
  • Use a silver polish specifically made for silver plate to gently clean and add protection.
  • Avoid over-polishing silver plate more than 2-3 times a year.
  • Store in anti-tarnish bags and keep separated from sterling silver to avoid chemical transfer.
  • Don’t use silver dips or abrasives meant for solid silver.

Common Silver Cleaning Mistakes

While cleaning and polishing are important to keep silver looking it’s best, there are some mistakes to avoid:

  • Using bleach, ammonia or acidic cleaners that damage silver over time.
  • Letting moisture or cleaning agents dry on silver causing spotting.
  • Rubbing silver vigorously with abrasives causing tiny scratches.
  • Neglecting to rinse silver thoroughly after cleaning.
  • Using rubber, felt or flannel polishing materials that cause tiny scratches.
  • Storing silver improperly in materials that cause tarnish.

How to Tell if Silver is Real or Plated?

Here are some ways to identify real solid silver vs silver plating:

  • Look for a stamps or hallmarks indicating 0.925, Sterling or 92.5% pure silver.
  • Solid silver feels heavier and more balanced than plated items.
  • Silver plate can rub away revealing a base metal underneath.
  • Use a magnet. Sterling silver is non-magnetic while plated items under the silver are magnetic.
  • Examine edges and joints. Plating often wears down exposing base metals.
  • Have items professionally appraised by a jeweler.


Caring for your silver items may seem daunting, but just remember to store properly, clean gently and regularly, and remove tarnish promptly. With some simple preventative steps, you can keep your silver looking beautiful and avoid permanent damage from neglect. Follow these tips and enjoy your silver for years to come!

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