Why Does Silver Tarnish? 5 Factors That Accelerate the Process (2023)

Ever wondered why your beautiful and vibrant silver rings or bracelet become dull and black and lose their sparkle over the course of time? Ever wondered why antique silver ornaments in your cabinet look so old and tarnished as if they’ve never shone before? If yes, you’re at the right place!

In this post, we’ll tell you why does silver tarnish! Let’s dive deep and study the science behind tarnishing, shall we?

Why Does Silver Tarnish?

Generally, silver reacts with sulfur-containing compounds to form greyish-black silver sulfide, a chief component of tarnish. So yes, even pure silver is not immune to tarnishing when brought in contact with sulfur-containing gases.

However, if you’re handling sterling silver, the 7.5% copper in the alloy makes it more prone to tarnish.

Due to the presence of 7.5% or more copper in sterling silver and other low-purity silver, tarnish layers of these silvers are also found to contain other compounds such as copper sulfide and copper oxide besides silver compounds.

Overall, tarnish results from the oxidation process, where silver and trace copper are oxidized to their sulfides and oxides. Scientists, while studying silver tarnish, have often found silver chloride to be part of the composition.

Among countless chemical processes that occur naturally, silver tarnishing is one of them and, thus, is inevitable. Nevertheless, there are various ways to accelerate or decelerate the rate with which silver tarnishes. We’ll discuss everything in detail below.

The Science Behind Color Changes During Tarnishing

Why Does Silver Tarnish? 5 Factors That Accelerate the Process (1)

Commonly, silver tarnish is of black color. But when applying patina, especially Liver of Sulfur, on your silver, if you perform with precision and catch the color at the right time, you can witness of range of tarnish colors.

(Video) How to Tone or Tarnish Silver (Tutorial)

You will notice the color range – straw yellow, red-brown, purple, blue, and finally black. You can witness this color progression in a natural tarnish layer as well, but it might take years to develop.

Now, let’s discuss the science behind changing tarnish colors! The color of the tarnish changes as the tarnishing proceeds due to a phenomenon called ‘Thin-film interference.

The light that hits the tarnish layer splits, where some are reflected from the top of the tarnish, whereas the others are reflected from beneath the tarnish layer. When the light recombines after reflection, some colors are lost.

The colors that remain depend upon the thickness of tarnish, and only when the thickness is greater than 100nm is when the true color of tarnish – black is observed. Below that thickness, you will notice the color of tarnish changing.

How Long Does Silver Take to Tarnish?

The rate of tarnishing tarnishes mostly depends upon two variables – the concentration of sulfur-containing gases that the silver has been exposed to and the length of time of the exposure.

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is one of the most common culprits of tarnishing silver. Hard-boiled eggs, as it imparts H2S, are often used to add patina to silver pieces.

As strong oxidants are also known to tarnish silver, how much your silver is exposed to such chemicals also determines the tarnishing time.

If you take silver jewelry to the pool or hot springs, you might notice tarnishing within minutes. But if you store your silver in a cool dark place, away from chemicals and moisture, it might take months or years before you notice a layer of tarnish on such items.

(Video) Does sterling silver tarnish?

Moreover, the rate of tarnishing is greater in freshly polished silver pieces than in silver pieces that already have a fine layer of tarnish over them. Due to that reason, experts often suggest letting a layer of tarnish sit on top of your silver if you can.

The Factors That Accelerate The Tarnishing Process

Why Does Silver Tarnish? 5 Factors That Accelerate the Process (2)

If you want to prevent your silver from tarnishing, first, you must know what factors accelerate the process. Here are a few factors that are known to accelerate silver tarnishing.

1. Moisture and high heat

Never soak your silver items in water, and never store them in hot places. Moisture and high heat are known to aid in the tarnishing process. If your silver piece is moist, dry them with a cloth instead of air drying. Remember – air-drying can lead to spots!

2. Some food particles

Foods such as garlic, onion, eggs, black salt, and spinachcan accelerate tarnishing. If your silverware has come in contact with any of these, make sure to clean them properly before storing them.

3. Papers, cardboards, latex, and rubbers

These materials are known to have high sulfur content. Paper and cardboard used in the packaging have been identified as one of the most common tarnishing accelerants.

4. Cosmetics

Makeup, hair products, or even perfume might contain chemicals that react with silver and aid in the tarnishing process. Moreover, makeups are also known to contain abrasive materials that rub off tiny metal particles, which then might appear as black dust.

So, always wear your silver jewelry at last, and every once in a while, make sure you clean it with mild soap and water. And dry it quickly using a silver-safe cloth. As we all know, moisture is a big no-no!

5. Oxidants

Household oxidants like bleaches are also known to tarnish silver within minutes. So, if you’re using bleach for some purpose, make sure you take out your silver rings and bracelet beforehand.

(Video) Does it Matter if Silver Becomes Tarnished?

How to Protect Silver From Tarnishing?

Why Does Silver Tarnish? 5 Factors That Accelerate the Process (3)

Your silver will sooner or later tarnish. But hey, that doesn’t mean you cannot delay the tarnishing process, right? If your silver pieces have a habit of trashing a lot sooner than you expect, this section is a must-read for you. Read on to find out how to protect your silver from tarnishing.

1. Avoid moisture and high heat

Sulfur-containing gases tarnish silver at a higher rate when the temperate is warmer, and the relative humidity is high. So, always keep moisture and high heat away from silver items.

That means no showering with silver jewelry on, no doing dishes, washing hands, or cooking with a ring or your finger, and definitely not going to pools and hot springs without taking out silver jewelry beforehand.

2. Be aware of what you’re touching your silver items with

Newspaper, latex, rubbers, bleach, plastic bags, cardboards; these all material can accelerate the tarnishing process. So, never store your silver in direct contact with newspapers, cardboard, and plastic bags.

3. Store your silver properly

Store your silver ornaments in drawers or boxes lined with anti-tarnish or flannel cloth. You can also wrap individual pieces using acid-free tissue or silver cloth and store them in a zip-lock bag.

4. Clean your silver once in a while

Clean your silver with warm soapy water or dip them on a hot baking soda-vinegar bath lined with aluminum foil for that extra sparkle. You’ll get rid of skin oils, food residues, and dust during the process, and the baking soda bath also removes tarnish if your pieces have any. Great, isn’t it?

How to Clean Tarnished Silver?

Why Does Silver Tarnish? 5 Factors That Accelerate the Process (4)

Cleaning tarnished silver, though quite labor-intensive, can be pretty rewarding. Your silver will come out shining and sparkly like no tarnish layer was ever formed on it. Yes, you can request professionals to do the work.

But why pay someone else to clean your tarnished silver when you can do absolutely it on your own! Here are three ways to clean tarnished silver.

(Video) How to Clean Tarnished Sterling Silver Jewellery FAST!

1. Aluminum, baking soda, and salt

Let’s get science-y, shall we? This method might be the most favorite for many who are trying to get rid of their silver tarnish at home. In this electrochemical process, an aluminum foil plate containing your silver pieces is submerged in a hot solution of baking soda.

The hydrogen gas produced during the reaction reacts with the tarnish and reduces it back to silver metal. If the tarnish isn’t completely removed in one go, you can try this process 2-3 times. If some of the tarnish still remains, give a finishing touch to your silver process by using a polish cloth.

2. Lemon juice and salt

Squeeze some lemon juice into a container, enough to fully dip your silver item in. Let it soak overnight.

Then, take out your silver and look for areas that are still tarnished. If you see any, take some salt in a toothbrush and brush the surface. The slight abrasion will probably get rid of all the tarnish. Once you’re done, wash with cold water and dry the piece properly.

3. Silver polishes or polishing cloth

This might be a bit expensive option compared to the above two. But if you have plenty of silver to remove tarnish from, this might be your way to go.

Polishing clothes are best if you have lightly tarnished silver. Though they are impregnated with abrasive material, they are not quite as abrasive as silver polishes. So, if your silver is heavily tarshined, opt for polishes instead.


Silver tarnishing is a natural chemical process, and you can never get away with tucking your pieces for long, even if you do it safely.

With all the information in this post, you’ve got nothing to worry about. You even know how to remove the tarnish! So, what are you waiting for? Flaunt your silver jewelry without any hesitation!

(Video) Clean silver, removing tarnish instantly without polishing or harsh chemicals

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What causes silver to suddenly tarnish? ›

Silver is a noble metal, which means it is resistant to oxidation and corrosion in moist air. However, moisture and temperature do have an effect on sulfur, and it is the interaction of humidity and sulfur with the silver that causes tarnish.

When silver tarnishes a what reaction happens? ›

The tarnish is actually the result of a chemical reaction between the silver and sulfur-containing substances in the air. The silver is actually combining with sulfur and forming silver sulfide. Silver sulfide is black. When a thin coating of silver sulfide forms on the surface of silver, it darkens the silver.

What accelerates silver tarnish? ›

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.

Does heat cause silver to tarnish? ›

When sulfur reacts with silver, you get tarnish. The effects of temperature, moisture and its distance from sulfur influences silver's corrosion rate. Corrosion rates increase as temperature and humidity increases because sulfur vapor pressure is more intense at higher temperatures.

Is silver tarnishing an oxidation reaction? ›

Silver metal exposed to the atmosphere corrodes and becomes tarnished as a result of oxidation and precipitation of the metal as an insoluble salt.

What happens when silver react with water? ›

Silver does not react with pure water. Is is stable in both water and air. Moreover, it is acid and base resistant, but it corrodes when it comes in contact with sulphur compounds. Under normal conditions silver is water insoluble.

Is silver tarnishes physical or chemical change? ›

Silver reacts with sulphur containing substances or simply sulphur in the air forming silver sulphide. The newly formed compound is black in colour. The presence of tis compound appears as tarnishing of silver. It is literally a chemical reaction and irreversible in nature.

How do you accelerate oxidation of silver? ›

Use Boiled Eggs

Squish them up until they're in fairly small pieces. This releases sulfur, which will oxidize your antique silver items when you put them in the bag. Just leave the item in the bag for several hours—the longer it stays in contact with the eggs, the more oxidized it will get.

Why does some silver tarnish faster than others? ›

Some modern silver jewellery is deliberately oxidised using sulphur containing compounds to give it an “antique” look. The rate that silver tarnishes depends on the concentration of sulphur-containing gases in the air. The most common sulphur-containing gas is hydrogen sulphide (H2S).

What causes metal to tarnish? ›

Tarnish is a product of a chemical reaction between a metal and a nonmetal compound, especially oxygen and sulfur dioxide. It is usually a metal oxide, the product of oxidation. Sometimes it is a metal sulfide. The metal oxide sometimes reacts with water to make the hydroxide; and carbon dioxide to make the carbonate.

What helps silver tarnish? ›

Clean Silver with Vinegar

This cleaning agent is a great option for many things, including your tarnished silver. Mix 1/2 cup of white vinegar with 2 tablespoons of baking soda in a bowl of lukewarm water. Let the silver soak for two to three hours. Rinse with cold water and let airdry.

Does silver tarnish in cold weather? ›

Tarnish can also be accelerated by cold or warm water and humidity, so storing sterling silver jewelry in a dry place is essential.

Does temperature affect silver? ›

The study showed that the effects of temperature and the distance between the sulfur and silver influence the corrosion rate. The corrosion rate increased as the temperature increased.

Is silver oxidized easily? ›

Real silver is highly inert, making it very hard to oxidize the surface.

What are three oxidation states for silver? ›

The most common oxidation state of silver is +1 (for example, silver nitrate; AgNO3); a few +2 (for example, silver(II) fluoride; AgF2) and +3 compounds (for example, silver(III) persulfate; Ag2(SO5)3) are also known.

What happens if you put silver in salt water? ›

Sterling silver that comes into contact with salt water can cause your jewellery to darken and oxidise more quickly than it would normally. It can also leave a residue on your jewellery that will speed up the tarnishing process over time.

Is silver damaged by water? ›

Water generally does not damage sterling silver. *But* water does cause silver to oxidize (darken) more quickly, and what type of water and the chemicals in it has an impact on how much it will cause your silver change color.

What happens when silver reacts with oxygen? ›

Silver metal does not react with oxygen but reacts with hydrogen sulphide gas in the air and forms a thin black layer of silver sulphide (Ag2S) on it. Therefore, silver jewellery or ornaments tarnish due to the formation of a silver sulphide coating on their surfaces.

What are 5 Physical Properties silver? ›

Pure silver is nearly white, lustrous, soft, very ductile, malleable, it is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity.

What is the ability to tarnish? ›

Tarnish is a thin layer of corrosion that forms over brass, silver, copper, aluminum and other comparable metals. Tarnish is caused by a chemical reaction in the outermost layer of the metal. Unlike corrosion or rust, tarnish is a surface phenomenon.

Is silver tarnishing a physical process? ›

Tarnishing is properly considered a chemical change.

How do you fix severely tarnished silver? ›

Quickly restore your jewelry or tableware with vinegar, water and baking soda. This cleaning agent is a great option for many things, including your tarnished silver. Mix 1/2 cup of white vinegar with 2 tablespoons of baking soda in a bowl of lukewarm water. Let the silver soak for two to three hours.

Can silver tarnish be reversed? ›

The silver can be returned to its former luster by removing the silver sulfide coating from the surface. There are two ways to remove the coating of silver sulfide. One way is to remove the silver sulfide from the surface. The other is to reverse the chemical reaction and turn silver sulfide back into silver.

How do you restore severely tarnished silver? ›

For silver that is heavily tarnished, mix a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water. Wet the silver and apply the cleaner with a soft, lint-free cloth (not paper towels). Work the paste into the crevices, turning the cloth as it gets gray. Rinse and buff dry.

How do you stop silver tarnishing? ›

Tarnish happens as a result of silver jewelry being exposed to oxygen and sulfur particles in the air. So, to keep your silver from tarnishing, you can store it in a ziplock bag and other airtight container. If you're using a bag, be sure to remove all the air before sealing the bag.

How quickly does silver tarnish? ›

Sterling silver can begin to tarnish in anywhere from 2 months to 3 years, but don't let that worry you. Tarnish is no big deal and there are simple ways to clean and prevent it.

Can silver become permanently tarnished? ›

Anti-tarnish bags and polishing cloths can help minimalize the tarnish to your sterling silver jewelry. But, when the inevitable occurs and you notice your jewelry has darkened or become dull, there is GOOD NEWS! Tarnish is not permanent… AND it is easily removed!

Does tarnish damage silver? ›

A thin layer of dark tarnish can quickly destroy the surface lustre of silver. This layer consists mainly of black silver sulphide, and is caused by sulphurcontaining compounds such as hydrogen sulphide in the air. (For more detailed information, Selwyn 2004 .)

Is silver tarnishing a chemical change? ›

A chemical reaction with the silver of flatware, jewelry, or other silver objects can change their beautiful lustrous sheen to a dull, blackened surface. This dark coating is called tarnish. Compounds in the air and in foods can contact silver metal and react to form tarnish.

Does lemon juice damage silver? ›

Lemon juice is naturally acidic, which helps to remove any tarnish that may have formed on the surface of your silver. Together, these two ingredients make for an effective and gentle cleaning solution that won't damage your silver in any way.

Why is tarnishing a chemical change? ›

Tarnish is a product of a chemical reaction between a metal and a nonmetal compound, especially oxygen and sulfur dioxide. It is usually a metal oxide, the product of oxidation. Sometimes it is a metal sulfide. The metal oxide sometimes reacts with water to make the hydroxide; and carbon dioxide to make the carbonate.

Can you clean silver with toothpaste? ›

Use non-gel and non-abrasive toothpaste.

Rub onto the jewellery or silverware with circular motions to polish it and clean off the tarnish. Leave it for 5 minutes and then rinse off the toothpaste with water. After this procedure the silver is clean and shiny as new.

Can Coke clean silver? ›

If you don't have any chemical cleaner, you can use Coca-Cola, or Coke, as a simple cleaning substitute for sterling or plated silver. The acid in Coke works to cut through any grime or rust on the silver's surface. Once you soak the silver in cola, you can have a piece that looks good and new!

Does toothpaste help tarnished silver? ›

It is a common myth that toothpaste is a good way to clean your jewellery. This is actually false. Toothpaste can damage your diamonds, gemstones, gold and silver. Toothpaste is abrasive and has a hardness of around 3/4 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness.

Does sunlight cause silver tarnishing? ›

It's a good idea to remove sterling silver completely before cleaning. Keep out of direct sunlight: Before you hit the beach or pool, be sure to remove your silver jewelry. Sunlight can cause silver to tarnish as well.

Why does my jewelry tarnish so quickly? ›

Why? It's simple - over time, your jewelry comes in contact with moisture, acids, oils and air. They react with the metal in the jewelry, causing it to eventually wear down and tarnish.

Why does my silver keep turning black? ›

Silver becomes black because of hydrogen sulfide (sulfur), a substance that occurs in the air. When silver comes into contact with it, a chemical reaction takes place and a black layer is formed. Silver oxidizes faster in places with a lot of light and high humidity.


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