How to Clean Sterling Silver Necklaces

Updated November 6, 2019
Cleaning silver jewellery with a special cloth

Learn how to clean sterling silver necklaces so you can bring back the sparkle and beauty of these precious jewelry pieces. There are different processes, depending on whether your necklace is sterling or silver-plated and whether it includes gems. Find the one that's best for your situation.

How to Clean Sterling Silver Necklaces

The best way to remove tarnish from silver jewelry is by gentle polishing with a soft cloth, such as one made of microfiber. You should only use polishing cloths or felt to clean silver jewelry, as paper towels can cause scratches.

  1. Using the cloth, rub the necklace in long strokes. The movement will gently rub off the tarnish, but this can take some time.
  2. It's tempting to use harsh abrasive polishes, but these can dull the look of silver jewelry over time. If simply rubbing the necklace isn't working, use a silver polishing cloth pre-treated with a very gentle polish. These sell for about $15 on Amazon.
  3. Once you have the main surfaces polished, use a cotton swab to get the areas you couldn't reach.
  4. Use great care near gemstones, especially if you are using a cloth with a gentle polish. Many gems are sensitive to chemicals and abrasives. Clean these with a weak dish soap and water solution.

How to Clean Silver-Plated Necklaces

Many necklaces sold as silver aren't solid sterling silver. Instead another metal like brass or copper plated with a thin layer of silver. Take a moment to look at silver marks before you begin cleaning, since these will tell you the silver content. You should always take care when cleaning plated jewelry, as vigorous scrubbing can peel off thin plating.

  1. Use a mild detergent, such as dish soap, diluted with water to first remove any dirt and clean up the gems.
  2. Then clean the necklace with a mild jewelry cleaning formula, such as Weiman Jewelry Cleaner. If the necklace contains gems, don't submerge them in the cleaning formula. Instead, dampen a cloth and gently rub them.
  3. If the necklace is still tarnished, rub it very gently with a silver polishing cloth. Try to minimize rubbing as much as possible.

How to Clean a Sterling Silver Chain

If your sterling silver necklace doesn't have any stones and is a chain, the cloth polishing method may not be ideal. It's difficult to get into the spots between the chain links. Instead, consider a dip cleaner, such as Hagerty Instant Silver Dip. Keep in mind, a silver dip will remove all the tarnish on the piece, which means you'll lose the dark patina that can show off a pretty pattern. It can be a good option for a simple chain, though.

Should You Use Homemade Jewelry Cleaners on Your Necklace?

There are lots of homemade jewelry cleaning options out there, and some of them can offer a great solution to cleaning your silver necklace. However, some homemade cleaners are harmful to silver jewelry.

Do Try Mild Dish Soap

Mild dish soap is a great place to start with any necklace. It won't remove tarnish, but it will help you get the necklace clean. Line your sink with a towel and add some soapy water. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Don't soak necklaces that have hollow sections. These are sometimes filled with a material that can expand when wet.
  • Use a soft cloth or clean, soft toothbrush to get into the crevices in your silver necklace.
  • Dry the necklace with a lint-free cloth, being careful not to snag the areas that have prongs.

Don't Use Toothpaste

You may have heard that it's safe to use toothpaste on silver. Toothpaste can get rid of tarnish, but it's too abrasive to use on delicate silver jewelry. If your necklace is silver-plated, it could even scrape through the thin layer of silver on the outside. Stick to gentler methods instead.

Don't Use Aluminum Foil and Baking Soda

While aluminum foil and baking soda can clean silver, this method is too harsh for jewelry. It's also really bad for necklaces with gemstones, since it involves soaking the piece in water.

Are Sonic Cleaners a Good Options?

Some jewelry retailers and home appliance stores sell jewelry cleaning machines that promise to gently clean your fine jewelry using water, mild cleaners, and sonic waves. These machines are the same ones that some jewelry retailers use to clean their products, but they aren't ideal for all necklaces. Buying a sonic jewelry cleaning machine may not be the best option if the sterling silver necklace contains gems. These machines can damage diamonds with inclusions, natural gemstones like pearls, and sensitive stones like opals, onyx, and emeralds.

Prevent Tarnish

No matter what method you use for cleaning your sterling silver necklaces, you should also try to prevent tarnish by storing jewelry properly. Use a jewelry box or storage system that keeps necklaces untangled, dust-free, and dry. This will help prevent dirt and tarnish and reduce the amount of cleaning you need to do.

How to Clean Sterling Silver Necklaces