Why Does My Jewelry Tarnish and How Do I Fix It?

Written By Allie Perry June 28, 2024

We’ve all been there.

You open your jewelry box…or pretty decorative pouch or beat-up old container that you don’t even remember how you got but it’s literally the perfect size and you hope it never finally falls all the way apart…and grab your favorite piece of jewelry, only to find out it’s somehow a totally different color than what you remember. Whether your silver ring turned black or your gold earrings suddenly look kind of brown, you now have an unwearable piece of jewelry.

But how did this happen?!

Why Does My Silver Jewelry Discolor?

If you wear silver jewelry, you already know it’s prone to tarnishing. What you may not know is that the tarnishing is caused by a chemical reaction between silver and sulfur-containing substances in the air. This reaction forms a black layer of silver sulfide on the surface of your previously white jewelry. Sometimes, this black detailing is added when the jewelry is made, giving it an antique look. 

You know what else causes silver to turn black? YOU! The pH level of your skin can cause a reaction with sterling silver! The more acidic your skin is, the faster it will accelerate the oxidation process of the copper alloys in sterling silver, turning your jewelry (or your skin) green or black.  Yuck.

Factors contributing to tarnishing include:

  • Air Pollution: Exposure to polluted air, especially in urban environments, accelerates tarnishing.
  • Chemicals: Contact with household chemicals, perfumes, lotions, and even some foods can hasten the discoloration process.
  • Humidity and Skin Oils and PH: High humidity, sweat, and natural oils from the skin can also contribute to silver tarnishing.

Why Does My Gold Jewelry Discolor?

Pure gold does not tarnish.  But as I discussed in a previous article, pure gold is very soft and most gold jewelry is alloyed with other metals. These other metals will increase your jewelry’s durability, but they can also react with the environment and cause discoloration, often making your gold jewelry look a bit brown.

Key reasons include:

  • Alloy Metals Reaction: Copper and silver, commonly used in gold alloys, can oxidize and lead to tarnishing or a greenish tinge.
  • Skin Chemistry: The pH level and chemical composition of an individual’s skin can cause gold to change color.
  • External Chemicals: Similar to silver, gold jewelry can react with lotions, perfumes, and other chemicals. Always put lotions and perfumes on before your jewelry to minimize contact. Never spray perfume directly onto jewelry!

Will My Platinum Jewelry Discolor?

Platinum is highly resistant to tarnish and discoloration, but it's not entirely immune. Over time, platinum can develop a patina—a slight change in color or texture that some people find attractive. This color change brings the metal from a bright white to a softer, grayer white, which I happen to love.

Reasons for this include:

  • Scratches and Wear: Daily wear and tear can cause platinum to develop a duller look, often perceived as a patina.
  • Chemicals and Oils: While rare, exposure to harsh chemicals and natural skin oils can affect the appearance of platinum over time.

How can I prevent my jewelry from tarnishing?

  1. Proper Storage: Store your jewelry in a dry, cool place. Use anti-tarnish strips or pouches to reduce exposure to air and moisture.
  1. Avoid Chemicals: Keep your jewelry away from perfumes, lotions, hairspray, and household cleaning agents.
  1. Regular Cleaning: Clean your jewelry regularly using appropriate methods for each metal. For example, use a gentle silver polish for silver pieces and mild soapy water for gold and platinum.
  1. Wear with Care: Remove your jewelry when engaging in activities that expose it to sweat, chlorine (like swimming pools), or harsh chemicals.

How to Remove Discoloration

Silver Jewelry:

  • Polishing Cloth: Use a special silver polishing cloth to remove tarnish.
These silver care cloths are non-toxic and help prevent future tarnish!
  • Silver Polish: There are so many polishing pastes, creams, and wipes on the market to help you restore your silver. Do your homework and research which is best for your particular needs, especially if your silver jewelry has any gemstones.

Gold Jewelry:

  • Polishing Cloth: Use a special polishing cloth impregnated with polishing compound to restore the color and luster to yellow gold. Be careful with your white gold jewelry, since most of it is plated with a thin layer of rhodium that you don’t want to remove.
These soft polishing cloths are perfect for your gold jewelry!
  • Mild Soap and Water: Soak the gold in warm soapy water, then gently scrub with a soft toothbrush.
  • Ammonia Solution: For tougher tarnish, a diluted ammonia solution (one part ammonia to six parts water) can be used, but only occasionally. Be sure to double check that ammonia is safe for any gemstones in your jewelry.

 Platinum Jewelry: 

  • Mild Soap and Water: Clean with mild soapy water and a soft cloth.
  • Professional Cleaning: Due to the durability and value of platinum, professional cleaning is often recommended to maintain its shine and remove any patina. 

Tarnishing or discoloration of jewelry is a common issue, but it’s definitely something you can manage at home. And now that you know the causes of tarnishing and what preventative measures you can take to avoid it, you won’t ever have to worry about your amazing outfit being derailed by having to swap out that perfect piece of jewelry you wanted to wear!



Allie is the owner and goldsmith behind Allie Perry Designs.

Learn more about her here, or connect with her on Instagram!

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