Why Does Silver Tarnish? Causes and Fixes

Here comes the silver lining! Silver jewelry is sleek, timeless, and tasteful. Yet many pieces lose their luster and develop tarnish after a few weeks. 

Yet a few simple steps can keep your jewelry sparkling for years. Why does silver tarnish? A complete answer to that question requires learning about a few different things. Here is your complete guide on maintaining your silver jewelry. 

Causes for Tarnish

There are multiple answers to the question, “Why does silver tarnish?” Therefore, to keep your jewelry safe, you must know about all of the causes of tarnishing.


Sulfur is the leading cause of tarnish. Silver reacts to sulfur and forms silver sulfide, which creates a black coating on your silver. Even small amounts of sulfur in the air will create a tarnish. 

Sulfur is a chemical element found in many common foods and commercial products. Eggs, legumes, meat, and nuts all contain it. When they rot, they can release sulfur into the air, so storing silver jewelry near your food can result in a tarnish. In addition, many processed foods like dried fruit contain sulfites, which are derivatives of sulfur that can also create tarnishes.

Heat can amplify the tarnishing effect. This is because sulfur becomes more pressurized in hot environments, so storing your jewelry in a warm cabinet can damage it. 


Humidity by itself cannot cause your silver to tarnish or corrode. However, moisture can accelerate the tarnishing process and make the tarnish worse. Sulfur reacts with moisture in the air and becomes more pressurized, wearing down your silver sooner. 

Most people store their silver in their bathrooms. When they run the faucet or shower, moisture can get into the air and combine with sulfur. Keep your silver away from sources of running water. If you must keep your jewelry in your bathroom, put it in an airtight and watertight container. 

Related: How to Store Jewelry


Chlorine reacts with silver to create silver chloride, which makes a black film on your silver. In high amounts, silver chloride can make pits in the silver, causing it to break. 

You can find chlorine in pool water, bleach, and cleaning products. Chlorine can evaporate, especially in very hot environments, so avoid the area around a pool or laundry facility. 


Copper by itself will not tarnish your silver. But copper reacts with oxygen to create copper oxide, which can leave a red coating on your jewelry. 

Many pieces of silver are silver alloys with copper in them. Before you buy a piece of silver jewelry, research how much copper is in it. If your piece has copper, you must take special care to prevent it from reacting with the air. 

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Acids can also form silver chloride and other compounds that discolor and corrode your jewelry. Sulfuric and nitric acid can dissolve silver and leave tarnishes on any remaining pieces. Sulfuric acid is in industrial cleaning products, drain cleaners, and batteries. Nitric acid is a common ingredient in fertilizers and cleaning agents. 

Some people have natural acids in their skin. When these acids contact silver jewelry, the silver can develop a tarnish. Measure your skin pH level before you wear your jewelry. If you have a pH level below seven, you may want to wear something beneath your jewelry so it doesn’t contact your skin.

Cleaning Tarnished Jewelry

There are a few ways to prevent tarnish and clean a piece once a tarnish has developed. Here are the best steps you can follow.

Related: How to Clean Tarnished Jewelry

Wear Your Silver Regularly

The natural oils in your skin can remove moisture and chemicals from your jewelry. They can also polish your pieces so they gleam better. 

Rotate through your silver jewelry so you wear each piece. Keep track of when you wear each piece, and put on anything you haven’t worn in a few months. You don’t have to wear your jewelry at formal events; just wearing it around the house can help. If you don’t like your jewelry anymore, give it away before it tarnishes. 

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Don’t Wear Your Silver While Cleaning

Most cleaning products have at least one ingredient that will cause silver to tarnish. If you need to use products besides soap and water to clean your home, take your silver off first. Move the jewelry into an area where the chemicals cannot contact it. 

After cleaning, wash your hands with water to remove any cleaning products on your skin. Open the windows to the room you were cleaning so the chemicals in the air leave your home. Dry your hands with a microfiber cloth before putting your jewelry back on. 

Read the ingredients label for any cleaning products you buy. If a product has a substantial amount of sulfur, chlorine, or acid in it, consider getting an alternative.

Use Polishing Cloths

Polishing cloths are your best tool for polishing your silver at home. You can remove a mild tarnish without soap and water by using a microfiber cloth. Try to find a cloth with a silver-polishing ingredient like baking soda.

Rub your jewelry gently using your cloth. Do not push down on the jewelry too hard, as you risk scratching it. You may need to rub the surface a few times in order to get all of the tarnish off, so be patient. 

As you rub your silver, you may notice that your cloth has a black coating on it. The coating is the tarnish coming off. When you have finished with your cloth, you can wash it off using soap and water or by placing it in the laundry machine.

Related: Polishing Jewelry

Try a DIY Method

If a polishing cloth doesn’t work, you can clean your silver by making your own cleaner. Take a glass or plastic container and line the bottom of it with tin foil. Mix together two teaspoons of baking soda, a teaspoon of salt, and a cup of boiling water in the container. Place your jewelry into the container, making sure it is fully immersed. 

The ingredients will create a chemical reaction that removes the tarnish and transfers it to the tin foil. Your jewelry must be touching the foil for the reaction to work; if your jewelry starts to float, hold it down with something. Once the tarnish has come off, you can remove your silver with your fingertips or by pouring the container into a colander.