Tarnish Away Frequently Asked Questions

To buy Tarnish Away™, go to the Tarnish Away™ Product Page.

How to Use the Tarnish Away™ Product:

What Type of Jewelry does Tarnish Away™ Clean? What items shouldn’t I Clean?:

Comparing Tarnish Away™ to other Jewelry Cleaning Products:

Related Questions:

Why Does Tarnish Away™ Work?

Most people would rather forget their high school chemistry class, but here is a brief science refresher (but I will spare you the part about the electrons). Tarnish on Sterling Silver jewelry is caused by oxidation. The oxygen comes from exposure to air and air pollution like sulfur contributes to the process. Tarnish Away™ works because magnesium is a better oxidizer than the silver. Using water as electrolyte, the oxygen moves to the magnesium to create magnesium oxide.

So in plain English, the magnesium snatches the tarnish away from the silver! It is really good at it.

What kind of Jewelry is Tarnish Away™ Designed to Work On?

Tarnish Away™ is designed to clean Sterling Silver. It is safe to use on most products used to make jewelry, but it is going to do the most dramatic job on all sterling silver jewelry, or the sterling silver components in jewelry where sterling silver is combined with gemstones, glass beads, Swarovski or Preciosa (leaded) Crystal, and other commonly used components. Please see the topic on what items probably cannot be cleaned – the list mostly consists of items that can be damaged by water.

If you know your jewelry is all Sterling Silver, it is safe in the Tarnish Away™. If you are not sure and it might be Silver Plated or some other silver colored material, PLEASE test first. If you have not cleaned a mixed media jewelry item with the Tarnish Away™ before, PLEASE test it first.

To test your jewelry: Mix up some warm water & the dish washing detergent that you plan to use in the Tarnish Away. Soak for about 5 minutes, rinse under the tap, then gently blot dry on a paper towel. If you have portions of the jewelry that were improperly dyed, the dye will transfer dye to the paper towel. Look for any other changes to the appearance of the jewelry. If you don’t see anything, you are good to go! Be sure to use the type of soap you’d use in the sink, not the kind that goes in a dishwashing machine.

What type of jewelry can I clean?

Tarnish Away™ is designed to clean Sterling Silver. It also works well with any metal jewelry that oxidizes, such as Copper & Brass. The really terrific thing about this product is that it will not damage any jewelry that can be safely washed in warm water & mild detergent. That makes it safe to clean any jewelry that has a mixture of materials – which covers much of the modern beaded jewelry that is so popular. Virtually any kind of gemstone beads that are used in your jewelry will be unaffected by the cleaner. Silver jewelry that incorporates leather or fabric cord can be cleaned. Even most freshwater pearl jewelry with silver findings can safely be cleaned.

The instructions on the kit are really brief – could I have a detailed version?

The instructions on the box are intended to remind you of the steps when you haven’t used the Tarnish Away™ cleaner for a while. The first time you use it, you may want more detail, so we’ve provided these instructions on a paper insert inside your kit:

  • If you are not sure that your jewelry is water safe – test first before using Tarnish Away™.
  • Put the magnesium plate inside the soaking tray
  • Set your jewelry on top of the plate – jewelry that touches the plate will clean fastest
  • Add a bit of dishwashing detergent or Silver Accel™ cleaning booster – about a teaspoon of either one will do but Silver Accel™ can make the process go faster.
  • Add enough hot water to cover the jewelry. You can wait for the water from the tap to get hot, or you can heat up about a cup of water in the microwave. The water does not have to be boiling, but the warmer temperature makes the cleaning go faster.
  • Wait 5 minutes for lightly tarnished items, longer for more heavily tarnished pieces. One way to tell that lightly tarnished items may be ready is that the water has cooled down enough for it to be comfortable for your fingers.
  • Items that still need more cleaning can be repositioned on the magnesium plate. Flipping a piece to the other side can help speed up the process. Softly scrubbing with a soft toothbrush can help remove surface film.
  • Most tarnish will be removed within 20 minutes. Don’t panic if you leave things in longer – they will not be damaged or “over processed”. Items that were heavily tarnished (black, purple or iridescent tarnish) will probably still not look they way you want them to. Please refer to the questions in this FAQ regarding heavily tarnished pieces.
  • Rinse in cool water & rub lightly with fingers. This step is more important than it sounds, because it helps remove remaining surface film from the jewelry.
  • Polish a bit with a paper towel or a tissue to dry. A micro-fiber cloth can also be used, if you have one. This step also helps remove surface film.
  • Rinse & dry the plastic soaking tray and magnesium plate before storing.

How do I know if my silver jewelry is made from Sterling Silver?

Commercially made sterling silver jewelry must be marked by the manufacturer with the amount of silver used in the piece. In almost all cases, this amount is 92.5% (the minimum requirement). The mark usually says ‘925’ but sometimes you will see ‘92.5’. In older pieces (1960s and before) from Mexico & Thailand, it was common to stamp the entire word ‘Sterling’. Look for the mark on some part of the jewelry that is smooth & flat, such as the back of a pendant or on the flat piece of metal near the clasp (called a quality tag because it was often the place to stamp the silver quality on a chain necklace). The stamp can be VERY tiny, so a magnifying glass can be helpful. A typical place to look is on the side of the trigger portion of a clasp as you can see in the example.

925 mark on a Sterling Silver clasp

Handmade jewelry does not have to be stamped, but artisans usually use commercially manufactured parts such as clasps, headpins and earring posts or wires. Looking for a stamp on those parts will let you know that sterling silver components were used.

If you can’t find a mark, the next best method is to pay attention to how the jewelry behaves. If it tarnishes, it is likely to be Sterling. Items like costume or fashion jewelry tend to be made from base metal plated with a very thin coating of Silver or Gold. The plating will not tarnish, but it will wear off, exposing the base metal below. If you see patchy places on your jewelry, or areas that are dull rather than tarnished, you probably do not have sterling.

How often can I clean my jewelry?

As often as you like! Tarnish Away™ does not wear out or cause any residue. Unlike a polish, it does not remove any silver from the surface of your jewelry. The cleaning method is very gentle, so it won’t harm your jewelry, even with frequently cleaning.

How long do I leave my jewelry in the cleaning bath?

Lightly tarnished items can get clean in as little as 5 minutes. Heavily tarnished items can take much longer. Jewelry can be left in the water for hours, though, so don’t panic if you’ve put something in to clean and have forgotten about it.

Heavily tarnished items (completely black or purple or iridescent when they go in) may not get clean by the time the water gets cold. You can put fresh hot water in the soaking tray to help clean these items.

Badly tarnished items often have both surface tarnish (which can be removed by Tarnish Away™) and tarnish that has worked it’s way deeper into the silver. Once you have cleaned the surface, you may want to use a micro-abrasive polishing cloth to clean a little deeper to improve the appearance of the piece.

Why is Tarnish Away™ better for my jewelry than a paste or liquid polish?

Polishes remove tarnish via abrasion & sometimes by chemical action. They tend to remove a very tiny bit of the surface of your silver product when polishing. While you can polish Sterling Silver items many times, if you polish them enough, the surface can noticably wear down. Polishes work well on large flat surfaces, but tend to leave residue in crevasses or the openings in filigree. On very delicate jewelry, polishing can bend or deform the shape of the jewelry, which won’t happen when soaking in water.

Why does Tarnish Away™ do a better job than a polishing cloth?

Polishing cloths remove tarnish via abrasion & a finely powdered material that is impregnated into the cloth called jeweler’s rouge. They may remove a very tiny bit of the surface of your silver product along with the tarnish. Polishing cloths work well on large flat surfaces and are terrific for a quick cleanup before wearing a piece of jewelry for the night. But rubbing the polishing cloth over the jewelry can bend or deform the shape of the jewelry if you are not careful. Polishing cloths are no good at getting into tight locations or small holes such as those found in filigree or most chains.

Why does Tarnish Away™ do a better job than a silver dip?

The chemicals used in dip style products vary widely. Some are fairly mild and are mostly detergent or ammonia based. They tend to clean off surface grime and soapy films, but don’t do a lot for tarnish removal. Other dips are fairly harsh and are not great for your skin. Depending on the active ingredients, they remove a bit of the silver surface along with the tarnish. They can also remove the black silver oxide that is used to give detail to certain jewelry products, such as the handmade silver beads from India or Bali. Each can be useful, depending on what you are cleaning, and what you are trying to accomplish but it is wise to research them first so that you don’t damage your silver or your pocketbook.Tarnish Away™ uses a gentle electrolytic cleaning process that works well without removing silver and it is completely safe for your skin.

Why does Tarnish Away™ do a better job than an Ultra Sonic Cleaner?

Ultra Sonic Cleaners are great for jewelry that is DIRTY. They use ultra-sonic waves in a liquid to gently dislodge soap scum, body oils, cosmetic products and other filmy stuff that we pick up on our jewelry just by wearing it. Ultra Sonic Cleaners by themselves do not to a thing to remove tarnish. So for Sterling Silver jewelry that is tarnished, the Tarnish Away™ product is the thing that will do the job.

Is Tarnish Away™ safe to use on jewelry that contains precious gemstones?

Absolutely! Precious gemstones such as Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald are safe in water & gentle soap, so they are a great match for Tarnish Away™. Even if your jewelry is not made from Sterling Silver, the jewelry will benefit from removing soapy & oily deposits that build up on jewelry over time.

What kind of materials might not be able to be cleaned with Tarnish Away™?

Any materials that are adversely affected by water or dish washing soap. Materials that are used in jewelry that could fall into this category include (but are not limited to):

  • Silk ribbon (silk thread as used in knotted pearls necklaces is colorfast & usually OK)
  • Paper Media, even if lacquered
  • Turquoise (low quality stabilization & over-dyeing that is occasionally used on this soft stone can sometimes cause issues)
  • Over-dyed Gemstones (e.g. low grade Lapis Lazuli is sometimes over-dyed to make it look like higher grades)
  • Freshwater Pearls (most pearls are dyed well with oil based dyes, but some pearls on the market were processed with cheaper water based dyes that are not colorfast)
  • Coral (most coral on the market is dyed because natural red & pink coral is endangered and expensive – like pearls, most coral is dyed well with oil based dyes, but some is processed with cheap water based dyes that are not colorfast)
  • Porous gemstones (can be filled with stabilizing agents, some of which could be unstable in water)
  • Amber & Amber look-alikes
  • Opals
  • ‘Natural Products’ – wood, seeds, nuts, shells, etc (many different enhancements can be made that are not water stable)
  • Feathers
  • Any stones that are glued into place with water soluble glue

Please avoid any item that is water soluble – and carefully test any questionable items first if not sure!

How is Tarnish Away™ different than those Electrolytic Cleaner Plate Products?

There are a few other electrolytic cleaning products on the market – examples include “Silver Lion” which comes from the UK and “Museum Precious Metals Cleaning Plate”. They do work, but not as well as magnesium, because aluminum is not as efficient at oxidation as magnesium is. The chemists say “magnesium is at a higher position in the activity series than aluminum”. In fact, if you wanted to remove oxidation from aluminum based jewelry, Tarnish Away™ would do it!

To try to improve cleaning efficiency, aluminum based products rely on using VERY hot (boiling) water and washing soda. Washing soda (Na2Co3) is not Baking Soda (NaHCo3), so you will often find people who have bought these products that are unhappy with the results because they assumed they could use the more readily available Baking soda product. Some of the products sell you little pre-measured packets of washing soda with the cleaning kit to avoid this confusion.

When shopping online, you often are not given much information about a product. One way to spot Electrolytic cleaners that are Aluminum based is that the plates are often perforated. Also if the plate is very large (6×8″ or larger) and the price is low, it is aluminum. Magnesium costs a great deal more than aluminum!

Also be aware that, while this method works pretty well on all sterling silver jewelry, additives such as washing soda, baking soda or salt can be tough on pearls and porous stones such as Turquoise or Lapis Lazuli. When cleaning mixed media jewelry, choose a polish method that does not require the additives.

Why is this product more expensive than others on the market?

Most of the product cost is the cost of the active element: magnesium. Magnesium costs more than the most often used substitute, aluminum. It’s worth it, though, because it works so well that you don’t have to use additives that can be hard on gemstones or pearls in your jewelry.

How many times can I use Tarnish Away™ before it is used up?

Tarnish Away™ never wears out. Once you buy one, you can use it over and over again as long as you have the magnesium plate. I personally own a plate that has been in use for over 35 years and it works as well as the brand new ones we sell.

How do I maintain my Tarnish Away™?

The product does not require maintenance – it will always work. However, you can improve cleaning SPEED by occasionally removing the surface oxide from the plate (the powdery white surface material and the blackened spots that appear after cleaning silver jewelry). Just run warm tap water over the plate and scrub with a pot scrubbing pad (e.g. Scotch Brite). A little dishwashing detergent is also OK to use. Don’t use laundry detergents, because they can have more caustic ingredients.

Why do I need to use dishwashing detergent with this product?

You don’t! The Tarnish Away™ will remove the oxidation without anything but the water. The reason we want people to use the product with a little mild detergent is that the soap loosens dirt, scum from soaps & skin products and body oils that inevitably get deposited on jewelry. The water needs to touch the actual surface of the silver to do the job and it can be prevented by oily deposits. Besides, getting those deposits off of your jewelry will also make it look better. Dish detergents that contain de-greasing agents tend to work great on jewelry that is all metal, but if you are cleaning silver jewelry that contains pearls or soft gemstones like turquoise, you may want to use plain water or something extra mild like baby shampoo.

Why do I need to use hot water with this product?

You don’t! The will work with cold or lukewarm water. The hot water helps the dishwashing detergent loose surface deposits and speeds up the cleaning process quite a bit. Cold water out of the tap can take about three times longer to clean items than hot water.

How long does the cleaning process take?

Used as directed, cleaning tends to take about 5 minutes for mildly tarnished items. For badly tarnished items, you may want to let the items soak for 5 to 10 minutes, then scrub them with a soft brush (a soft toothbrush works well), then freshen up the hot water and soak again.

My jewelry won’t fit in the little box you provide – can I use something else?

Yes – you can use any non-reactive container with the magnesium plate. Examples include glass bowls or glass pie plates, plastic storage boxes, or even non-reactive sinks like porcelain, fiberglass, granite or composites. Do not use in a metal container or a stainless steel sink. Use just enough water to cover the jewelry – using too much water can slow down the process.

My magnesium plate has some long shallow scratches on one side & some grey splotches; is it defective?

No – it is normal. The conditions you describe are just part of the manufacturing process of the plates and in no way affect how well the plate works. In fact, over time, you will see the color of the plate change depending on what gets cleaned in the soaking tray.

My magnesium plate is a little too wide to fit flat in my tray – did you send the wrong size?

No – the sizing is intentional as it improves the surface contact of the magnesium with the water which tends to speed up the cleaning process. Sometimes, though, it is annoying if the pieces you are cleaning tend to roll all to one side of the tray. If you would like the plate to be flat, you can use it in a non-reactive container such as a glass pie plate or a plastic container for soaking.

Can I use Tarnish Away™ to clean my silver plated cutlery or serving dishes?

We don’t recommend this use. While the Tarnish Away™ will not hurt your silver plate, the amount of water needed to submerge the items tends to be too much volume for the size of the magnesium plate, so you may be disappointed with the results. The areas that touch the plate clean fastest, so if the item is a lot bigger than the plate, you will get a patch that is the most clean and the rest will still have some tarnish. Also, people tend to let silver plate sit around a long time between cleanings, so anything that has tarnish that looks purplish to black has very deep oxidation that can go beyond the surface layer of silver. Even when the top layer of oxidation is removed, these areas can remain black and can even look pitted. This is not because of the product, but because of the damage done by neglecting the piece for so long or by exposure to environmental pollution, such as sulfur in the air.

Can I use Tarnish Away™ to clean old coins or silver nick-nacks?

Possibly. Valuable coins should always be looked at by a coin expert before doing any type of cleaning, even just rinsing in soap & water. You can actually reduce the value of certain coins by cleaning them. Vintage silver items should also be looked at by an expert before cleaning is attempted.

If you have determined that you won’t lower the value of the item by cleaning it, we encourage you to test the coin or other items first with mild detergent and water first before using Tarnish Away™. If the items are water safe and are unaffected by mild detergent, the electrolytic process with the magnesium is not going to damage them. As mentioned elsewhere, anything that has tarnish that looks purplish to black has very deep oxidation that can go beyond the surface layer of silver. Even when the top layer of oxidation is removed, these areas can remain black and can even look pitted. This is not because of the product, but because of the damage done as the items aged and oxidized deeply.

Can I use Tarnish Away™ to clean Silver Plated Jewelry items?

You can – but the results may not be what you expect. Tarnish Away™ will remove oxidation from any silver plating that remains on the item, but silver plated items tend to still look dull after cleaning. This is because that in many cases, the original plating has worn off, or has worn off in spots. Plating tends to be extremely thin on most plated jewelry items (2-3 mils thick). The silver tends to wear off fairly quickly, but you don’t always notice, because the jewelry industry often uses base metal underneath that is somewhat silver colored. It isn’t as bright and shiny, but it is hard to see the plating wear off, especially when jewelry tends to collect soap residue and skin oils. Our tests with silver plated jewelry items show that they look better after cleaning, but they will never look as good as the day you got them.

Can I use Tarnish Away™ to clean Gold items?

Tarnish Away™ will not hurt gold items. Gold does not oxidize like sterling silver does, so cleaning with Tarnish Away ™is not really doing anything but letting the jewelry soak in warm soapy water. Tarnish Away™ is great, however, when you have jewelry that uses gold and sterling silver in the same piece. The sterling is de-tarnished and the gold will not be adversely affected.

Can I use Tarnish Away™ to clean Copper items?

You can, but the results will not be as dramatic as with Sterling Silver products. Copper jewelry discolors from both oxidization (blackens) and it Patinas (turns greenish) due to the presence of oxygen & other elements (such as sea water or spa water), so is only dealing with part of the issue that makes copper turn color. Tarnish Away™ is great to use with modern jewelry that combines Sterling Silver & Copper elements in the same piece. It will do a great job on the silver and will improve the appearance of the copper.

Can I use Tarnish Away™ to clean Brass items?

You can, but the results will not be as dramatic as with Sterling Silver products. Brass is an alloy of zinc & copper. The copper in the mixture is the main reason for oxidation of brass and the product will remove some of the surface oxidation.

We do not recommend the use of Tarnish Away™ with large brass items like serving platters, but jewelry that contains some brass elements such as beads or brass inlays should be fine. Please remember to always test items with water & mild soap first before cleaning in.

Can I use Tarnish Away™ to clean Pewter items?

You can, but it may do nothing. We do not know of a cleaner for natural pewter other than just detergent & water to remove surface residue. Pewter is just pretty dull looking. Silver plated Pewter will benefit from Tarnish Away™, however, as the surface of the silver will probably brighten up.

Can I use Tarnish Away™ to clean Fine Silver items?

You can, but you shouldn’t need to! Fine Silver is 99.9% pure silver, so it has none of the alloy materials that are found in Sterling Silver that cause oxidation. If you’d like your Fine Silver to look better, you can usually just clean it with water & mild soap to remove any surface oils or scum from skin products. After drying, polish with a soft cloth. You should be aware that Fine Silver is extremely soft, so take extra care in handling so that it does not get bent or scratched.

What is Sterling Silver & why does it tarnish?

Sterling Silver is 92.5% or more Fine Silver (pure silver) that is alloyed with other metals. Usually the metal is copper, but there are a variety of metals that also are commonly used. Fine Silver does not tarnish, but Sterling Silver does, because of the metals that are mixed in.

So why not just use Fine Silver? The main reason is that silver is just too soft to behave well when making finished goods. Also, Sterling Silver is more affordable because the alloy materials used are much cheaper than the Fine Silver they replace.

Silver tarnish is considered to by caused by oxidation (the surface of the material mixing with oxygen in the air) and by the presence of air pollution (such as sulfides) and perhaps even some of the ingredients in skin products or cleaning products that you may use. Exposure to chemicals used in spas or swimming pools, such as chlorine, can also hasten the darkening of your Sterling Silver jewelry.

The tarnish pattern shown on the necklace below demonstrates the tarnish that forms due to the use of skin products. The very back of the necklace where you see the clasp and necklace extender is not very tarnished, but the closer you get to the front of the necklace, the darker the silver gets. This pattern was created because the necklace is worn by someone that uses facial creams containing glycolic acid on the neck and throat area, but the cream is not applied to the back of the neck. Similar results will occur from other acidic ingredients that are common in face creams, such as citric acid (Vitamin C).

Tarnish Pattern on a Sterling Silver Necklace

That little box you provide is too short to lay out my necklaces straight – what to do?

Don’t worry about it! You can put the jewelry in the box any way it will fit, as long as it is covered by the water. If you really are determined to arrange your necklaces, you can put the magnesium plate in any non-reactive container you may have available at home. A Pyrex baking dish works well, or try a plastic tray or a glass bowl. Please do not use any containers made from metal.

I read somewhere that this thing works better if you add …

Please use the Tarnish Away™ only as directed. Using other additives like baking soda, salt, cleaning products that contain ammonia or chlorine, alka-selzer, rubbing alcohol, etc. are not recommended and may damage or discolor your jewelry.

I read somewhere that magnesium is used to make showy science experiments

Don’t worry – those YouTube videos are designed to create a flash! They use finely powdered magnesium (vs. a solid plate) and silver nitrate (not present in the cleaning product). Watching our jewelry cleaning product in action is very safe & boring in comparison, except for the excellent results when you see what your jewelry looks like when done!

Back in the 1950s, magnesium was used for making frying pans, griddles and even ladders because it is so light weight and strong. Not only will plate magnesium not catch on fire, it was considered a safe material for food preparation. Manufacturers eventually switched to using Aluminum as the price of Magnesium went up.

I cleaned my jewelry but the tarnish comes back quickly – what’s wrong?

This is not a problem of the cleaning product (whichever method you use) but a function of either the silver in the jewelry or the environment it is in. The alloy materials that are used in Sterling Silver vary, and some alloys tarnish faster than others. Alloys like Argentium Sterling Silver TM tarnish very slowly, for example. Some Sterling Silver products are made with an anti-tarnish surface treatment when they are manufactured so they tend to tarnish more slowly than more cheaply made Sterling Silver products. Once that surface treatment wears off, though, the silver will tarnish faster than when you first got the piece. Your environment can affect your jewelry, too. Cities that have a higher concentration of sulfur (from vehicle emissions) in the air will have a faster rate of tarnishing. In the winter, certain furnace systems can increase local air pollution. Also, products that you use on your skin or cleaning products you use can contribute to tarnishing. Spas & swimming pools also are treated with chemicals that can affect your jewelry.

To slow the tarnishing process down, you may want to try using tarnish inhibiting zip bags, or regular zip bags with an anti-tarnish tab inserted in the bag. Even just storing your jewelry in plain plastic bags that keep them away from the oxygen in the air can slow down the tarnishing process.

A little known fact is that certain gemstones accelerate the tarnishing process of sterling silver. Natural Amber, Marcasite, and Pyrite contribute to the tarnishing process. Lapis Lazuli and some Jaspers also have this effect because they contain substantial Pyrite inclusions. When buying Amber, Pyrite or Marcasite, in particular, skip the silver findings and go for gold instead.

Does the jewelry need to touch the plate to work?

It doesn’t, but proximity to the plate speeds up the cleaning process. The water is the transfer medium, so items need to be completely submerged. When cleaning a lot of items at the same time, I like to swish them around in the soapy water, rearrange the pieces and even flip things to the other side to reduce the cleaning time.

Wouldn’t it just be cheaper to clean my jewelry with toothpaste?

Cheaper yes, but toothpaste is incredibly abrasive to soft metals like Sterling Silver, Gold and Copper. Even though you might not notice the affects right away with the naked eye, magnification will show that you are scratching the surface of the metals and any stones in the piece. Soft porous stones like Turquoise can actually get the toothpaste material in the pores and then you’ll be able to see it as it dries. Residue can also get caught in stone settings. We strongly encourage people not to ever use toothpaste on their jewelry!

Can I Use Tarnish Away™ on Fashion Jewelry?

No. Fashion Jewelry is usually electroplated, so we don’t recommend cleaning it in Tarnish Away™ or with a polishing cloth. A better choice would be gentle liquid dip product.