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Silver has been a popular material to make jewelry from since ancient times. It is an affordable and versatile metal that is known for its beauty and durability. In fact, if cared for and stored properly sterling silver items can last a lifetime.

Since pure silver is too soft to be useful to make jewelry it is usually combined with other metals to make it stronger and more affordable. Sterling silver is 92.5 percent pure silver; the other 7.5 percent is a mixture of other alloys, such as copper. Because these alloys are directly mixed with the silver they won’t wear down over time like silver plating would do.

Copper generally makes up the entire remaining 7.5 percent of the metal’s composition. This is because copper can add to the metals durability without taking away from its color or beauty. Because of this, adding copper does not take away from the value of the silver.

While copper can do much to strengthen the silver it also makes it more susceptible to tarnish. Tarnish is described as a darkening of the metal as the silver reacts with the gases, such as sulfur or hydrogen sulfide, in the air.

In order to avoid tarnish build up, you should store your sterling silver jewelry in tarnish resistant cloths or bags. These clothes are usually treated to help prevent the discoloration that tarnishes causes.

Another way to prevent tarnish build up is to wear your jewelry frequently. Pieces that sit for long periods in warm, damp areas are likely to tarnish easily.

Tarnish should be removed as soon as it becomes visible. If it is left on the jewelry for too long it can permanently damage the silver. To clean your sterling silver jewelry or other household items you should polish them regularly. Use a polish that is formulated specifically for removing tarnish. The solution should be a low abrasive and phosphate free detergent.

If your jewelry contains gemstones you should avoid cleaning it in a solution that involves soaking it in the liquid. Immersing the stones in the cleaning solution can damage or dull the finish on them. Instead use a solution that you can rub on using a cloth or other soft material.

The polish should be applied using small circular motions. It is okay to use a cotton swab to get detailed or intricate areas that a cloth may miss. You should stop polishing once the silver is bright and shiny again, even if you think it still looks darker than it should. Knowing when to stop will prevent you from removing layers of silver when you are polishing.

Once you are done, you should make sure that all of the cleaning solution has been removed before storing the silver. Use a new clean cloth to remove excess solution and buff the silver for added shine.

Some people believe that toothpaste makes a good cleaning solution for silver. However, experts warn against it because toothpaste can be abrasive and leave scratches or dull the metal.

When cleaning the jewelry, make sure you use a soft cloth that will not cause scratching or chipping. In addition, when storing the jewelry, make sure not to place it in a location where it will rub up against other pieces that may damage or scratch the silver.

Sterling silver may also develop a patina. This is the greenish color that develops as the metal oxidizes. Patina is the reason the Statue of Liberty is green. Many people enjoy the look of patina. However, if you prefer a more shiny appearance, polishing your jewelry regularly will help keep it bright.

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