How to prevent cheap jewelry from changing color or rubbing off on your skin?
June 26, 2008 6:07 AM   Subscribe

How do I prevent cheap metal jewelry from tarnishing? I have a couple of necklaces that I adore, and while they weren't dirt cheap, they are not made of the finest of metals. They have changed color somewhat - are brassy in places, and one looks almost like it could be rusting? - and I would like to recoat them. Is this possible?

Someone once told me I could use clear nail polish to prevent this from happening, but that seems like it would just flake off and/or look ridiculous. I'd like to prevent the metal from changing color and from rubbing off on my skin - you know, like green mark that a cheap ring will leave on your finger, gross!

posted by jacquilinala to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Just clean them by polishing. To prevent it happening in future seal them in a plastic ziplock bag when you store them, exposure to air (and the chemicals within it) is what tarnishes them.
posted by fire&wings at 6:12 AM on June 26, 2008

This happens to pure silver jewelry too. Upon exposure to oxygen it gets almost a golden look to it. Get a soft silver polishing cloth from any jewelry store, it comes off pretty easily. And if that doesn't work, you can try actual silver polish: but it reeks.
posted by GardenGal at 6:19 AM on June 26, 2008

Put your tarnished jewlelry in a bowl with some warm water, salt and baking soda ; that will clean the spots off without the hassle of hand-polishing. (Just did this the other night with a pair of $3 earrings, and it worked like a charm.)
posted by junkbox at 6:21 AM on June 26, 2008

The OP is asking about _preventing_ tarnish (rather than cleaning it) -- anybody have ideas about that?

Here's an idea: try to store the items with no oxygen around them. Maybe put them into a plastic bag, immerse it in water with the opening on top to push out all the air, then seal it.

This is just an idea; I haven't tried it. But now that you've made me think about it, I'm going to try it.
posted by amtho at 7:00 AM on June 26, 2008

Wow, I had no idea I might be able to clean this discoloration off! I figured that it was actually the "metal" plating (or whatever they use on cheap jewelry) coming off of the jewelry.

I am going to try to clean them off tonight. In the meantime, I'm going to look up where to get silver polish.

Thanks! AskMeFi comes through as always :)
posted by jacquilinala at 7:03 AM on June 26, 2008

As for preventing the tarnish - I will also try to store the jewelry in a sealed plastic bag, but I think that at least some of the tarnishing is from wearing it. The metal rubbing against my skin, especially in the NYC summer heat, means sweat could be wearing away the coloring/plating, couldn't it?
posted by jacquilinala at 7:05 AM on June 26, 2008

You're right on the clear nail polish. I tried to use it on a coin I had on a necklace when it started tarnishing, and it looked great for maybe five minutes of wear before it start cracking and flaking. It looked worse than the tarnish did. I ultimately had to take it all off with nail-polish remover.

I wonder if anyone's tried clear polyurethane spray varnish for this purpose. Seems like a non-water-soluble one might work. I've never tried this, though, so try it at your peril!
posted by limeonaire at 7:08 AM on June 26, 2008

Yes, it could definitely be from mechanical action + sweat -- the friction on your skin rubbing away the plate.

Depending on what kind of base metal it is, you might be able to get a jeweler to re-plate it, like they do with rhodium over white gold. Might be worth asking, anyway.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:09 AM on June 26, 2008

I have a cheapie necklace that looked kinda tarnished (my skin will strip gold plate in a matter of days). I just scrubbed it up... it was filthy because it's actually a baby pink colour now (wtf?).

Anyway the silver is definitely long gone! I was planning on getting some chrome model paint or some car paint.

Try a more expensive nail polish or maybe some glue? (Not superglue!) Use a little paint brush and apply it very evenly. (And not quite so thick that if it were to come off, it would peel off in a chunk but the closer to the better.)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 7:30 AM on June 26, 2008

My cheap jewelry has a quick dip in Tarn-X every few months. It's good for small chains, etc., and it's super easy.
posted by limeswirltart at 7:34 AM on June 26, 2008

Brassy =! tarnishing; it does sound like the original plating has worn off.

Silver Plating at Home
posted by kmennie at 9:15 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know if or how it differs from regular nail polish, but there is such a thing as jeweler's lacquer.

Rather than laying in with a 16oz bottle of the stuff, ask a local jeweler about it
posted by CKmtl at 9:36 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I store my sterling silver jewelry wrapped up in a Sunshine polishing cloth, which seems to retard tarnish. I wrap it tightly in the cloth, then tightly in tissue or some other non-plastic material, then keep it in my jewelry box. If it does tarnish a bit around the edges, a quick swipe with the polishing cloth cleans it up much haster than scrubbing with paste or liquid polish.

Of course, to keep it clean, you have to get it clean.

Is it silver-plated? If so, you might try this immersion method for cleaning it, rather than polishing off all the tarnish. I use it for my plated silverware, and it works a treat! I don't put the silverware on the stove, though. Instead, I do it this way:

Place a non-reactive dish (I use a Pyrex dish) in the sink and line it with aluminum foil. Put the silver in the dish and sprinkle the baking soda over it. Pour boiling water over it all, completely immersing the silver. Let it sit a few minutes and, if necessary, repeat, with fresh foil, soda, and water.

Dry it briskly with a clean, soft cloth to buff up the shine, or if it's still somewhat dull, use the Sunshine cloth to remove the last bit of tarnish.

Note: don't use this method if your jewelry has stones or insets; the boiling water or the chemical reaction could damage them. If the jewelry isn't silver, don't use this method. In any case you might like to test it on one piece first.
posted by Elsa at 11:40 AM on June 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

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