Jewelry Fix: What to do if Your Sterling Silver is Turning Black, Grey, White!

Why is my silver jewelry turning strange colours? It’s a question I get asked a lot. I recently had a customer complain about a necklace “tarnishing” just a few weeks after purchase. His wife decided to use the polishing cloth to give the sterling silver a wipe, and was aghast when it came away black.

A well-used silver polishing cloth.
A well-used silver polishing cloth.

So he wrote me to express his surprise that his new necklace would discolour so quickly.  It made me realize it’s probably a great education opportunity.

When silver tarnishes, it’s a surface discolouration  caused by the interaction of oxygen (air) with the silver. As the British Assay Office explains it, “silver naturally interacts with oxygen and sulphur-bearing pollutants to create silver sulphide, resulting in a visible discoloration of the metal’s surface. Silver tarnishes in environments containing various sulphuric gases, even in very low concentration. The amount of tarnishing is determined by the relative humidity, ambient temperature, gas concentration, and the length of time the silver is exposed to the gases.”

With sterling silver this process is normal, natural, expected, and yes, it can occur relatively quickly.

Many things can speed tarnish; air pollution, the minerals in your water (and as such wearing your silver jewelry in the shower can speed this process too), living or working near a chemical, electric or manufacturing plant are all things that can cause discolouration more quickly.

Recent studies have shown tarnish develops microscopically within hours of being cleaned and exposed to air again.  You may not see it on the piece for several days or weeks, but it’s there, and will show up as a black residue on a polishing cloth.  A great way to keep seldom worn jewelry clean (and silverware if you have it), is to store sterling silver in a ziplock bag with all the air squeezed or rolled out of it.  You can wrap it in a soft cloth first too.  Oxygen and thus tarnish may still seep in and can still cause blackening especially if the pieces are stores for long periods of time, but it should keep things to a minimum.

Chemically tarnished rings. Oops!
Chemically tarnished rings. Oops!

Coincidentally at the same time as this customer contacted me,  I had a friend show me some rings I’d made for her.  The shiny sterling silver had turned a deep, dark black.  This was no tarnish effect, and she admitted she’d immersed her baubles in some household cleaner (Lysol) to spruce them up.  Instead, they’d become instantly and deeply chemically oxidized.

Now, she actually liked this look and referred to it as ‘edgy’, so she’s leaving them as they are for now.  If she did want them restored it should be a relatively simple process of buffing the chemical scarring off the surface layer, and exposing clean shiny silver beneath.  But this also serves as a leaning moment; only soap and water, silver polish or a silver polishing cloth should be used to clean silver.  Many household cleaners and chemicals can alter your precious silver.  In fact, I once had a ring turn bronze after accidentally spritzing window cleaner on it, and had other silver turn grey by getting baking soda onto it.  That too buffed out, but you’ll want to be careful with your jewelry.

How to Remove Tarnish-> Get this Inexpensive Polishing Cloth

If you do find some discolouration of your silver, you can remove it with a silver cloth (brand names include Sunshine Cloth, which is available inexpensively from me,  HERE or HERE). If that won’t work, stop while you’re ahead and take it to a pro for professional help.

SUNSHINE MINI.JPG

A Note about Grocery Store Silver Cleanser

I’ve purchased cleansers from grocery stores that just don’t work.  If you’re going to get a cleanser from somewhere other than a jewelry professional, test it first on a small area.  If the cleaner doesn’t remove tarnish instantly, it’s not working.  Proper liquid silver cleaners will remove all tarnish in about 3 seconds.  If you need to soak, or scrub, stop using it, rinse your silver, and return the cleaner to where you bought it and get your money back. (Keep your receipt!)

Fresh new polishing cloths.
Fresh new polishing cloths.

And for the jewelry ‘geeks’, the Government of Canada has written a helpful article about how to best care for your silver.  Read it here.

Have you got a horror story – or a home remedy for tarnish?  Post your comments below!

Check out some of my other blog topics HERE

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61 thoughts on “Jewelry Fix: What to do if Your Sterling Silver is Turning Black, Grey, White!

  1. Thanks a lot for your post. I sprayed lysol clearner on my sterling silver necklace and ruined it. It turned black. It was great to read and confirm why this happened on your blog.

  2. Line a small bowl with foil, shiny side up. Put in blackened silver jewelry and cover with hot water. In a matter of seconds the black is gone and the silver is back to it’s natural glowing self. Does not harm the finish on the silver. There is a harmless chemical reaction due to the foil and heat.

    1. My gawd, you’re the man! Initially I was thinking never to buy sterling silver again.. Tried your tip, though I had to give it a few minutes, it worked flawlessly!! Thank you very much!

    2. Wow! worked perfectly – I have a delicate pearl in my ring so i just held that out of the water. The intricate silver swirls in the ring came clean in less than a minute. I used filtered water so the minerals in my tap water wouldn’t possibly interfere.

    3. Awesome. I have investment silver (0.999) that was tarnished by a rubber band. Black marks across where the rubber band touched (some pieces even through the protective plastic).

      I tried the aluminum foil…I had to do it 5 times with boiling water and let each time sit for an hour. I can still see a discoloration where the marks used to be, but it is 1000% better than anything else I tried.

      THANKS!!!!

    4. Wow!!! This worked like magic! Soon as i poured the hot watert over my ring, the black disappeared. Thanks TedsRide 🙂

  3. Hey Erin, I found this article interesting. I’m wondering if you can help answer a question I have. Is there any way to dye or tarnish silver jewelry so that it turns red? I have this antique solid silver pendant that I’d really like to turn red. Are there any chemical reactions that you know of, or that I might experiment with? Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the question. There’s not a quick and easy way I know of to turn you silver red. If you have a jewelry supply store near you you can try using Liver of Sulphur drops, but I find the colours you get with it are hit or miss. Sometimes it’s black, sometimes brownish red, or even orangish. Copper is very easy to patina in red orange or yellow but not silver I’m afraid.

  4. I had unknowingly spilled some silver cleaner on my counter and a necklace with black cord soaked in it. It is not easy to remove the cord for the pendant. I tried soaking the cord in water, but it still burns my skin. Is there any way to fix this? Also, the pendant, which is pewter and copper now makes my skin itch even after I rinsed it with water. It’s my favorite piece.

    1. Hi Susan, can you post a photo of the cord and the pendant? And do you know what the cord is made from? Leather? Cotton?

      I have some ideas.

      1. Thanks, Erin, I don’t know how to post a photo to this site. The cord feels like it’s made out of some coarse material like cotton or canvas. It’s black.

  5. i accidentally put my hands in bleach (diluted) to clean and forgot that i was wearing my silver ring…it turned a blotchy black! so tonight i made a paste from baking soda and water and gently rubbed it on my ring… it turned shiny silver!!

  6. I accidentally left my sterling silver bracelet to long in the cleaning formula and not it looks white and cloudy – any tricks to get it back to normal?

  7. I have a Judith Ripka chain I purchased used on eBay. It has never been as shiny as my many other Ripka pieces. It is downright gray in color with no shine whatsoever. I have tried the liquid silver cleaner, the polishing cloth, the cream/paste cleaning method and even baking soda and vinegar. Nothing works the silver is just really gray with no shine. I am 99.9% sure it is authentic and real sterling. I just have never had a piece of silver jewelry that won’t shine up. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Cherie, Thanks for the question.
      Genuine sterling silver from large manufacturers is always stamped (by law it must be) with its mark, usually “925” or “sterling”. On the chain look for the mark on the clasp. It could be your piece is silver plated, and the plating has worn off, showing a less expensive (and not shiny) metal beneath. Also, sometime things on eBay are not genuine. If you purchased it for a very low price, you may have gotten a cheaper imitation/copy.

  8. From Erin Brooke Jewelry:
    I recently got this email from Peggy, who had the opposite problem of tarnish. She’d cleaned her silver, and lost all the dark/blackening in the crevices of her pendant.

    From: Peggy
    Subject: silver jewelry

    I happened to find your website/blog about sterling silver jewelry. I wonder if you can help me.

    I have a beautiful sterling silver pendant which had the black in the crevices. (Sorry, only way I know to explain it.) I put it in silver polish and most of the black came off and now just looks ugly. The crevices which were black have very little black in them, but they’re not shiny like the rest of the piece.

    Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.
    -Peggy

    From: Erin
    Sent: Tuesday, August 25, 2015 3:52 PM
    To: Peggy
    Subject: Re: my silver

    HI Peggy,
    What a nice piece! I can see why you’re disappointed at losing the blackening.

    I’m afraid this is not a fix-it-yourself kind of problem. It looks like the easiest way to correct this is to have a jeweler apply a blackening or oxidizing chemical over the entire piece, then the top is polished with a polishing compound, and it shines up the high points, and leaves the blackening in the low recesses. I’ve attached some photos of the before, during and after of a couple pieces I’ve worked with using oxidization. I think this is what you mean?

    I’m not sure what part of the world you’re in, but my guess would be you can have this done for $30-$50. That’s what I’d charge for such a repair anyhow.

    >>On Aug 25, 2015, at 2:17 PM, Peggy wrote:

    Erin, THANK YOU for your helpful information. I truly appreciate it. This piece has been just sitting for a few years and I’ve been so disappointed that I can’t wear it. How kind of you to give of your time to someone you don’t even know.

    I was hoping the charge to repair it wouldn’t be that high, but I think I’ll do it because I love the piece.

    Thank you so much, again.

    -Peggy

    PS: I’ve learned my lesson (the hard way). I have other similar, smaller pieces that I will NEVER dip in silver cleaner. I’ve just been using a silver cleaning cloth since this fiasco.

  9. Hi Erin, I have inherited some “silver” jewelry and can not find the sterling or 925 mark on it. It has however cleaned up very nicely with a tarnish removing cloth and wondered if that meant it was silver, since it had been able to oxidize?

    1. If it doesn’t have the stamp it’s likely silver plated. It could be any number of base metals, coated in a microscopic layer of real silver. It’s just as pretty but you may eventually see it wear through. Gentle cleaning is best for silver plate; a soft cloth and light pressure. 😊

  10. i cleaned my silver chain with baking soda and vinegar and salt and it turned a random rainbow colour whats the best way to get this off?

    1. Hi Bob. That’s a tough one. You’ve had a chemical reaction with the surface. I’d recommend taking it to a jeweller for a professional cleaning or refinishing.

  11. Hi Erin. I found one of my mom’s rings and it was completely tarnished (black). I dipped it in my silver cleaner (“Silver Blue”) and the whole thing turned white and calcified in parts. I freaked out and was devastated. After reading your blog and comments I tried the silver cloth and it worked!!!!! Some parts are very intricate and need a bit more work, but it’s so shiny. Thank you so much for your help. I greatly appreciate it!! Do you know why that happened? I use the cleaner all the time and it has never done that before.

    1. Sometimes the cleaning fluid can get old and become less effective; I’ve seen that before. Also, sometimes, depending what the ring’s been doing or what it may have come in contact with previously, it can react with the cleaner too.

  12. Hi Erin, my friend had a pendant made from pmc and she has had it for around 2 years. It had a couple of little black streaks on it. I took it upon myself to shine it up for her with a microfibre cloth the streaks came straight off and looked great. A week later she sent me a picture of the pendant and all of it had turned black even part of the chain that I had cleaned, I felt so awful I had only tried to shine it up for her. It has her little boys print on it too it’s very special to her. I went back around to clean it up again with the cloth it came off straight away but a week later again it had gone back I can’t think what has happened, any ideas? Xx Ella

    1. Tarnish is a funny thing. Depending on where you live and what’s in the air, it can be very persistent. Sounds though like the piece might be dirty. A good scrub with dish soap and warm water should help; even a brass brush if you have one. Then try polishing again. If that doesn’t help it might be time to take it to a pro for a professional cleaning.

  13. Hi I have a pair of silver earring hoops marker 925 the post turned a radish brown color and it appeared to have a skin like finish pealing off of it as well the earrings were bought at Macy’s and are not plates could it just be the chemicals in my body that reacted with the alloys I have a few other pieces from the same designer that have not done this or had the skin like coating peel off

    1. Hi, I have a box of small sterling silver earring hoops that have tarnished almost black on the backside next to my skin. This is my style and I wear them around the clock because I don’t want to fool with taking them on and off. They don’t clean up from a liquid silver cleaner. What can I do? I’ve even taken a file and tried to get it off down to the shine. Help!!!

      1. Is there any chance they’re silver plated? Sometimes nickel underneath can be that blackish colour that you can’t get rid of. If you’re sure they’re .925 sterling they might just need professional polishing by a jeweler. But don’t file them! you need to be delicate with them and filing will only scratch then, not restore shine. You can also try using a silver polishing cloth.

  14. quick question, we recently had bed bugs and o e of the ways to exterminate them is to heat ur house up to or in excess of 140 degrees F. my standard .925 italy silver necklace went almost jet black….. is that tarnished or what?? thanx for ur time!

  15. My two sisters and I have matching silver necklaces. My necklace turned dark. My Mother said it was my body chemistry. Is this true?

    1. Yes! Body chemistry has been known to cause oxidization faster in some people. Also, different creams, lotions or perfumes you use and your sister doesn’t can alter the effects too.

  16. Silver tarnishes due to sulphur, not oxygen. (What ever happened to knowing/researching facts prior to advising others on a topic??)

  17. Hi, I left my sterling Silver engagement ring in jewelry cleaner too long and now its white looking is there a way to get this fixed?

    1. Hi Halley, It’s probably best for it to be cleaned by a pro at this point. It shouldn’t be expensive and should clean up nicely.

  18. I inherited some jewelry from family and I am rather new to metals and jewelry ETC. So i went to a local store and picked up some jewelry cleaner that they sale in the jewelry department. I followed the instructions soaked for 30 seconds and pulled it out and some of the items turned brown and black… Granted it is probably inexpensive jewelry, however, it is beautiful jewelry that some pieces have been passed down from generation to generation. I am currently trying the aluminum foil and hot water to see if that at least brings it back to some shade of silver, however i am having little luck with a piece my children gave me several years ago with their birthstones (crystal) and i am assuming sterling silver rope chain. PLEASEEEE HELP!! I have no idea how to fix this and I so do not want to admit i just ruined quite a bit of family jewelry! Thanks!

    1. You can tell if the jewelry is sterling silver: just look on the clasps or the backs for a stamp of the number “925”. If it’s there, it’s sterling silver. If not, it’s likely inexpensive plated jewelry and determining what it’s made of may be impossible. However these items could possible be replated by a professional at nominal cost if they’re of sentimental value.

  19. Thank you so much. The aluminum worked on some of the pieces (sort of) they are kind of dingy silver now…. The piece my children gave me the pendent piece is cleaning up a little i am going to do another soak in the hot water and foil the chain however, still black. Most are really sentimental pieces that i want to fix and will take them to my moms jeweler.. This necklace, my boys are going to be very upset with mommy about as i have rarely taken it off in over 6 years…. (my oldest son is autistic and notices when i wear it and when i do not) Thank you again

  20. To tedsride “TedsRide
    JUNE 3, 2014 AT 4:38 AM
    Line a small bowl with foil, shiny side up. Put in blackened silver jewelry and cover with hot water. In a matter of seconds the black is gone and the silver is back to it’s natural glowing self. Does not harm the finish on the silver. There is a harmless chemical reaction due to the foil and heat.” I did this with my jewelry… Took about 3 tries with boiling hot water, and it fixed all of my jewelry. I have no idea how this worked or why it worked, but it did and that is all that matters. You are a lifesaver!!!!! Truly! Thank you Erin L for this blog site, I was about to melt down into tears! Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU!!

  21. Hello, thanks for your article. Actually, I have a different thing going on with my silver, and I can’t find any information on it anywhere. When I put tarnished (or normal) silver on, within 2-3 days it sparkles. Same with gold. It never tarnishes on me, on the contrary, my skin seems to polish silver and gold. I’d love to know why as I’ve never met anyone else who can do this. This happens with rings, silver neck chains, bracelets, anything I put onto my skin. I’ve even tried it with silver things that have gone completely black. Within 2 days of wearing, it is perfectly shiny! Does anyone know why this might be?

    1. That’s pretty cool Calista. I’ve never heard of that, but I do know a person’s body chemistry can have certain effects. Maybe someone else will see this comment and can enlighten both of us abut if this is more common. -e

  22. I cleaned my ring with hydrogen peroxide and vinegar because I had a rash from a silver ring. Now my ring is white and I dont know what to do. Please help!

    1. This should go to a professional. Sounds like the ring might be plated and the chemicals could have reacted with the metal underneath. If it’s 925 sterling it’ll need to be properly refinished. It shouldn’t be too expensive.

  23. Tooth paste and a toothbrush clean all jewelry wonderfully. I wouldnt do opals or pearls with it tho

  24. My daughter passed away. I purchased a teardrop Stirling piece that holds her ashes inside. One day I noticed it was black. Once I cleaned it with Tarnex. Then looking very closely at it I noticed it has several fine cracks in the Stirling silver and some chips on the edges. In very upset. I don’t think sterling silver is supposed to crack or chip. I paid $200.00 for it. Does anyone know if this is normal? Please help.
    Thank you.

  25. I purchased a sterling silver tear drop sealed locket when my daughter passed away with her ashes inside it. It turned black so I used Tarnex and it removed the black. Then when taking a close look at it I noticed that there were fine cracks in it along with a few chips around the edges. What can I do and what does this mean?
    Thank you,
    Jess

  26. I have tried to clean silver in a pot containing strips of aluminum foil and water with 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of baking soda. ..it creates an electrolyte solution and the oxidation on the silver is transferred to the aluminium foil by the same process that electroplating works…however this might not be the best method of cleaning jewelry since heat might damage some jewelry.

  27. I gave my girlfriend a sterling silver ring. She’s on vacation with her family in Jamaica, later on she told me that the ring turned black. Like if someone had burned almost similar. Do you know the cause of this? Please let me know thank you!

    1. It could be any number of things; likely contact with a chemical like chlorine or similar. Is the ring stamped with 925 inside the band? If not, it could be that there’s other metal in there that reacted with a chemical or even salt water.

  28. My sister complained that her sterling silverware,which she has washed in the dishwasher for years without a problem, is suddenly turning “white,” so she is now washing it by hand. They recently took several days painting their kitchen. Could this cause some sort of reaction? I think she uses some sort of Cascade cleansing ball in the dishwasher, so I also wonder about that, though, again, this all was fine for years. Any help would be great. Thanks.

    1. In the dishwasher!!?!? OMG, that’s a terrible thing to do to your silver!! It could be any number of things; the soap composition, something else in the dishwasher, rinse agent… yes, even paint. She should stop doing that immediately.

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