Why Jewellery Tarnishes and How to Avoid It

Why Jewellery Tarnishes and How to Avoid It

Tarnishing is an unfortunate yet inevitable process that every jewellery lover will experience. Over time, exposure to air, moisture, oils, and other elements will cause jewellery to lose its lustre and shine. It's a natural chemical reaction that can't be avoided—but it can be treated!

This tarnishing process is especially frustrating when it happens to cherished jewellery pieces. Thankfully, slowing the process down is easy and cleaning tarnished jewellery is even easier. In this article, we've shared what causes tarnishing, how to prevent it, and the best tips for cleaning tarnished jewellery to help you protect your favourite pieces.

What causes jewellery to tarnish?

Tarnishing is the result of oxidation, a chemical reaction that occurs between the metal in the jewellery and the environment. When jewellery is exposed to air and moisture, a thin layer of metal oxide forms on its surface causing the jewellery to look dark and discoloured.

Tarnishing happens when jewellery comes into direct and prolonged contact with air pollution, high humidity, or everyday products, like makeup, perfume, sunscreen, or disinfectants. Even body oils and sweat can cause tarnishing.

Although tarnishing is permanent on fast fashion jewellery made from cheap metals, like copper and brass. For fine metals, like gold, gold-fill, vermeil, and sterling silver, tarnishing isn't permanent and can be removed by cleaning the jewellery.

How long does it take for jewellery to tarnish?

The time it takes for a piece of jewellery depends on the type of metal, the environment, and how the jewellery is cared for. Some metals are more prone to tarnishing than others. Sterling silver tarnishes rather quickly compared to gold jewellery. However, both metals will still tarnish if not cared for properly.

It's always best to store jewellery in a storage box to protect them against unnecessary exposure to air pollution, high humidity, or contact with common products that may accelerate tarnishing. Regular cleaning will delay the tarnishing process and keep jewellery looking its best.

Why Jewellery Tarnishes and How to Avoid It

How to Prevent Jewellery From Tarnishing

The best way to prevent jewellery from tarnishing is to use proper storage, follow a cleaning routine, and wear jewellery regularly. By following these tips, you can prevent your jewellery from tarnishing and keep it looking its best for longer.

Use a jewellery storage box

Exposure to air and moisture is one of the main causes of tarnishing. Leaving jewellery out on a jewellery stand or in a trinket dish will not only result in tangle chains and lost earrings, the jewellery will lose its shine much quicker. So always store your jewellery in a proper jewellery storage box to slow down the tarnishing process.

Use anti-tarnish strips

An anti-tarnish strip is a small piece of paper that contains activated carbon to absorb moisture and prevent tarnishing. We include a free anti-tarnish strip with all our jewellery storage boxes to help keep your jewellery looking its best.

Avoid exposure to everyday products

Not many people realise but the common everyday products we all use are the main cause of jewellery tarnishing. Everything from makeup to beauty products can trigger oxidisation. To avoid this happening, try to only apply beauty products, like perfume and lotion, before putting jewellery on.

Remove jewellery before cleaning or bathing

While high-quality jewellery will be absolutely fine submerged in water—so long as it's completely dried afterwards. The reason why it's best to remove jewellery when swimming or bathing is because prolonged exposure to the chemicals in the water will accelerate the tarnishing process.

Clean jewellery regularly

The simplest and easiest way to avoid tarnishing is frequent wear and regular maintenance. Follow our jewellery cleaning tips to remove any dirt or oil that may contribute to tarnishing, and help maintain your jewellery's shine.

Why Jewellery Tarnishes and How to Avoid It

How to Clean Tarnished Jewellery

Our step-by-step guide to cleaning jewellery will help restore tarnished jewellery pieces in an instant. Although most pieces can be cleaned with a mild soap and gentle cloth, some jewellery may require a professional clean. Be careful of delicate pieces as scrubbing can scratch the surface and damage components.

To clean tarnished jewellery, mix a mild soap with warm water in a bowl and place the tarnished piece in it. Let the jewellery soak for a few minutes before using a soft-bristled brush or gentle cloth to clean the jewellery. Once clean, rinse the jewellery under fresh water and dry with a soft cloth.

For more detailed instructions, follow our eco-friendly jewellery care tips.

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Written by Sophie Davies

Sophie is a freelance writer and full-time jeweller. She has been writing about simple living and sustainability for over ten years; exploring simple living, sustainable style, and slow travel. She writes for a variety of brands and publications as well as her personal blog, A Considered Life.

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