Can Sterling Silver Get Wet? Here's What You Need To Know and More

Jewelry Care

Can Sterling Silver Get Wet? Here's What You Need To Know and More

You would think that sterling silver can get wet - since it is a precious metal that has been used for such things as antique teapots, for example. Yet, we never see the potential damage or discoloration inside.

Can sterling silver get wet? The straightforward answer is yes, sterling silver can get wet - just like every other metal. But there are many factors and circumstances to consider to keep it in top condition.

Sterling silver is a precious metal that is very resilient, looks beautiful in any shape or form, and is well worth the investment in monetary terms. However, without the right care and consideration, your silver could end up becoming tarnished, making it unattractive and less valuable.

What is Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is actually a metal alloy - it's not pure silver. Most jewelry and silverware are made with sterling silver - including the antique teapots we mentioned earlier.

There is 92.5 percent silver, and 7.5 percent alloy is sterling silver. Usually, this 7.5 percent is made of copper or zinc.

Since it isn't pure silver, it can be bought more cheaply, and it's easier to manipulate into various intricate designs and objects than fine silver. Plus, sterling Silver plated products are even more inexpensive since very little silver is needed to produce the item.

Furthermore, sterling silver can be more durable and is less likely to be dented or damaged than pure silver. So, it's no surprise that lots of very attractive jewelry pieces, such as engagement rings, are made from sterling silver.

Yet, the big problem is that sterling silver is easier to tarnish than pure silver. This is because of the combination of alloy metals within its makeup that are susceptible to chemical reaction more than pure silver.

Elements such as zinc, copper, and nickel, commonly used in sterling silver, tarnish very quickly.

Can Sterling Silver Get Wet?

Before answering this question, it's essential first to consider that there are various types of water that silver can become exposed to.

A good example is to think about a sterling silver watch that you wear daily - and don't want to remove. Throughout anyone's daily routine, their hands and wrists are going to get wet from bathroom visits and showers, at the very least.

It is important to know if it's hard or soft water you're exposing the watch to. Furthermore, you might enter a swimming pool with your watch, or sit in a hot tub - both have chemicals added for cleanliness that could be harmful.

In short, all water types will affect silver because a reaction called oxidation occurs with the two substances. In basic terms, oxidation is a form of corrosion on metals, but the rate that it happens isn't always the same. 

Hard Water

Hard water typically contains magnesium or calcium, which actually makes it less corrosive than soft water.

Soft Water

Contrary to its name, soft water is very corrosive due to its low pH levels. It also has low TDS levels, which means it lacks minerals that could make it less corrosive, such as calcium and magnesium.

Pool Water

Stay well clear of any chlorinated water like in pools because it can severely tarnish sterling silver. Furthermore, if the water is warm, it can increase the tarnishing process's speed - making your silver look dull and ugly.

Salty Water

Whether it's seawater or a pool with saltwater filtration, the salt will be very corrosive to your sterling silver.

Hot Tubs 

Hot tubs can be treated with various chemical mixtures to keep them clean. Ultimately, it's not a good idea to wear your silver jewelry while sitting in one. Plus, the heat will speed up any corrosive processes.

Hot Springs

Since no one will know the exact chemical makeup of a hot spring, it's not in your interest to risk exposing your sterling silver to its waters. Most likely, there will be corrosive elements within the water.

Sterling Silver Care and Cleaning

So we've established that sterling silver can get wet, but any exposure should be extremely limited so that it doesn't tarnish. 

Yet preventing it from getting wet isn't the only way to keep sterling silver well preserved. To maintain its beautiful appearance over a long period, you need to establish a special care routine. Plus, you need to keep your silver away from other particularly damaging substances and environments.

We mentioned salt in water is highly corrosive to this precious metal, but you might not have considered salty air exposure, for example! If you live by the coast, the air will be salty, so you'll want to make sure that your silver isn't worn regularly near the coastline.

Other situations can lead to silver losing its sparkle, including: 

  • Humid air
  • Sweat 
  • Cosmetics
  • Household bleach
  • Certain foods

If you live in a humid environment, you need to have a cool, dry area to keep your silver in its best condition. Sweating is an issue that can be avoided by taking your silver jewelry off during any exercise and if you're in a hot place.

Avoid wearing cosmetics in areas where you are planning on wearing your silver jewelry. Or, if you are going to use makeup, find strong waterproof varieties so that it doesn't liquidize onto your jewelry through perspiration.

Household bleach and other cleaning substances in your home can play havoc with sterling silver. Always take off any silver jewelry around your fingers or wrists when cleaning or washing to avoid exposing it to any of these harmful chemicals. 

Lastly, a variety of foods contain substances that are corrosive to silver. Therefore, when prepping food or cooking - take off your silver rings and bracelets.

Cleaning Your Silver

Here is an effortless sterling silver cleaning routine that you can carry out anywhere between two to five times a year - or more if you have the time. 

1. Use a reputable and purpose-made silver jewelry cleaner so that you get your silver looking sparkling. Add a small amount of the cleaner to a soft cloth.

2. Proceed to slowly and gently rub your silver several times.

3. Rinse your silver in warm water. We recommend hard water, as it will be less corrosive than other varieties.

4. Very quickly rid the water from your silver jewelry or silverware by blotting it dry with a cloth or towel.

Alternatively, if you don't want to clean your silver yourself, there are professional jewelry cleaning services out there that can provide you with an excellent service. Most likely, these professionals will also be able to carry out any repair work needed for your silver.

Also, for those who don't want to buy jewelry cleaner, you can make your own easily with everyday household products.

One way is to use two parts water to one part bake soda, which will form a thick paste. Then carry out the same cleaning steps as mentioned above. Even dish liquid and water can work if you don't have baking soda available.

Although, we should mention that baking soda works exceptionally well with heavily tarnished silver. You just have to apply a different methodology, and you'll need some aluminum foil too.

The Aluminum Salt Bath Method

When you need to clean more than one item or larger objects, such as silver cutlery, candlesticks, or tableware, an aluminum-soda bath is beneficial. With the shiny side up, line the bottom of a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. To prevent unintended chemical reactions, use ceramic or glass bakeware - never anything made from metal.

Next, add baking soda and fill the bath with water. For every gallon of water, you need around 1.5 tablespoons of soda. Bring the tarnished silver to a boil and place it inside for 15 seconds. Using kitchen tongs, take the silver out from the bath. To cool off, leave the silverware on paper towels and try to blot out any excess liquid.

Other surprisingly effective cleaning methods can include using:

  • Toothpaste
  • Lemon-lime soda
  • Window cleaning detergent
  • Hand sanitizers 
  • Ketchup 
  • Vinegar
  • Cornflower

There are clearly many tried and tested ways of getting the job done.

How to Store Sterling Silver

Storing silver correctly can prevent from getting exposed to wet, damp, or humid environments. The following storage tips apply to both silver jewelry and silverware.

Wrap each piece of silver in either acid-free tissue paper or unbleached cotton muslin to protect your silver in the best possible shape. Keep away from chemicals, which can harm your silver.

To prevent scratching, you'll also want to do whatever you can to avoid one piece of silver from touching another.

Put everything in a plastic bag, preferably a zip-top bag that reseals or a box lined with soft cotton - make sure it's unbleached. Also, wood can induce a chemical reaction, so wooden boxes for storage are actually best avoided.

This last step sounds a little strange - put a piece of standard chalk in your silver bag or box.

Storing silver with a piece or two of chalk helps to absorb moisture accumulation in the bag, which can avoid tarnishing. You will not have to worry about the chalk coming into contact with the silver because it will be already wrapped.

Ensure that you do not store the pieces in a hot or humid environment, such as an attic or a potentially damp basement. This way, you'll prevent any sources of moisture from tarnishing your silverware or jewelry. Place it in a drawer, cabinet, or cool and dry pantry type space.

Silver Science

Now that we've run through a lot of practical and useful information, we'll finish with some silver science! Specifically - how does silver oxidize and then become tarnished?

To understand this, we'll explain how you can actually tarnish your own silver! 

How to Tarnish Silver

It's going to sound strange, but you're going to need a hard-boiled egg. Also, a silver spoon is the right choice of silverware to use in this procedure as it's not so expensive as jewelry. 

Clean the spoon with one of the cleaning methods we've already described so that no existing tarnish can be seen anymore. Get a transparent storage box and place the spoon inside. 

Now remove the shell from the egg and rinse it under some water. Make sure to leave any excess water on the egg's outer skin, which is a critical aspect of the tarnishing process. 

Finally, place the egg into the box along with the spoon and put the lid on. Wait for a good few hours, but monitor the scoop regularly. 

To begin with, the spoon will turn yellow in the space of around 30 minutes. Then the spoon will transform to a red color, then finally blue or black. One good tip to speed up the tarnishing process is to put the egg in the box as hot as it can be. 

Now we reckon hardly anyone will want to try tarnishing their silver, but there is a point to explaining this process. 

When the egg is sealed into the box, a concentration of sulfur-containing gas begins to accumulate. Sulfur-containing gas is really what causes tarnishing on silver. And the tarnish is scientifically known as hydrogen sulfide.

What's also good about the process is that you learn just how much your silverware or jewelry is tarnished by looking at the coloring. You'll be able to judge how much cleaning is required and the best methodology to do so. After all, cleaning silver can be extremely labor-intensive.

So, in essence, if you're really serious about protecting your silver, like heritage professionals, you need to keep it well clear of sulfur-containing gases. 

Final Thoughts

Sterling silver can look beautiful but is also very practical because of its durability. A significant problem, though, with sterling silver is that it can tarnish quickly.

Can sterling silver get wet? Yes, it can, but it's best avoided. Good silver care and cleaning are also required to keep your silver in tip-top condition.

If you have any further questions about sterling silver jewelry, please don't hesitate to contact us!

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