Why Does Silver Tarnish?

When we buy stuff, we want it to last as much as we can and use it to its maximum lifespan, especially in jewelry. Jewelry may be a necessity for some but for many individuals who work hard to make both ends meet, jewelry is a luxury whether it’s gold, white gold, or silver. For some, their silver is a prized possession because it has sentimental value; maybe it’s a gift from a loved one, a friend, a special someone, or an heirloom piece.

Silver, a popular and budget-friendly alternative to white gold or platinum is a go-to metal for jewelry when you want a glamorous piece without breaking the bank. But as with any metal, silver tarnishes, sometimes quicker than we want or expect them to. Tarnishing especially in something that we wear is not attractive at all and is really annoying. So in this blog, we’ll go through some of the most common reasons as to why our beloved silver jewelry tarnishes.

Tarnish Silver - Why Does Silver Tarnish

Tarnishing does not only occur in low purity silver but even real sterling silver tarnishes, on the other hand, pure silver is not very reactive and does not react with water or oxygen at ordinary temperatures but pure silver is not sturdy enough for jewelry and for the record, it does tarnish eventually with consistent wear and tear and exposure to high levels of chemicals and/or high temperatures.

Silver tarnish is the discoloration that occurs in items made of silver such as jewelry and kitchen utensils which can be a yellowish tint, deep yellow, or black. Silver tarnishing takes place through a range of methods.


One of the reasons why silver tarnishes is due to the deterioration of the metal in which your jewelry is made. Corrosion occurs under humid or wet conditions. When we sweat, chemicals in our perspiration though may be considered mild is enough to cause corrosion one jewelry metals that we wear especially when supported by warmth and air.

Sterling silver readily corrodes on the skin if there is an adequate presence of salt. Remove any rings if you’re to handle salty stuff like chips, salted nuts, and when cooking with salt or swimming in the ocean.

Metallic Abrasion:

The use of cosmetics and other chemicals when they come in contact with your jewelry can cause your silver to tarnish or rub off and have spots with black color. Certain chemical compounds present in makeup like zinc oxide and calamine may be stronger than the chemical compounds in jewelry and if you can, you should avoid these chemical compounds when purchasing your makeup or you may remove your jewelry when applying makeup to avoid some of the compounds from falling and sticking into your jewelry causing abrasion. Your jewelry should be the last thing you put on before leaving the house.

Other Compounds:

The presence of hydrogen sulfide or natural gases in materials that silver comes in contact with is mostly the main reason for silver tarnishing. In general, any sulfur-containing materials can tarnish your silver, and pollution/smoke caused by burnt fuel like coal or oil is a common example. So if you live in areas with high levels of pollution, make sure to clean your silver regularly after use.

Other materials such as wool, latex, rubber bands, chlorine, and some paint cause tarnishing. Increased humidity and or elevated temperatures can accelerate and worsen tarnishing.

In terms of food, strong-smelling ones like eggs and onions, and oily meals can cause your silver to tarnish. And if you have moist or oily skin, make sure to polish your silver often or you may use the absorbent powder in areas where you wear jewelry. In other cases, the wearer’s body chemistry affects and reacts with alloys resulting in tarnishing which also may be possible if you’re taking certain medications.

Your line of job may also affect your jewelry and may cause or worsen the tarnishing process. If you are a photographer who handles photographic chemicals or solutions, remove your jewelry before working on these chemicals. If you’re working on the perfume counter, perfume chemicals may spray on your silver rings or bracelets so be careful when testing perfumes; the same goes for the customer if you love buying perfumes.

Our silver items like jewelry will tarnish eventually but knowing the most common reasons why it tarnishes can help us greatly in slowing down the tarnishing process and hold it up for a while. Clean your silver after every after use, if possible and most especially at the first sign of tarnishing, and when necessary seek help from a professional jeweler.