Do It Yourself Tarnish Removers for Your Favorite Sterling Silver Beads and Findings

Lately, instead of buying brand-new sterling silver clasps, findings, and beads, I've been turning to a few new sources.  First, I've been practicing my wire working skills to make my own earring findings and clasps using my favorite sterling silver wire and beads.  Second, I haunt my local thrift shops, junk shops, and antique shops.  There are treasures there, and a lot of them are sterling silver!  And of course, I go back and recycle findings and clasps from older projects or projects that I never finished (gasp!).

The only downside to using recycled or upcycled sterling silver is that sometimes it's in less-than-perfect condition.  When I get a beautiful piece of sterling that looks like it could use a little loving, I'll clean and polish it up.  Jean Campbell wrote a wonderful blog about this very topic a couple of years ago, and here's the method that she tried for cleaning tarnished sterling silver:

Tarnish-Busting Formula
1. Choose a plastic or glass (never metal) pan that is deep enough so that when filled with water your tarnished jewelry will be covered.
2. Put a piece of aluminum foil in the bottom of the pan. 
3. Pour near-boiling water into the pan.
4. Add a couple tablespoons of baking soda to the water.
5. Place the tarnished jewelry onto the piece of aluminum.
6. If necessary, add more baking soda to the dish until you see the tarnish coming off your piece. You should get a slight bubbling effect with an odd odor.

You can clearly see the difference in the before and after photos here.  Jean also used a soft toothbrush to completely remove the rest of the tarnish from the beads and findings, but it didn't take much effort.  We're not sure how the chemical reaction would affect gemstones or other beads, and I would never try it with a piece strung on silk, cotton, or nylon thread because of the hot water. But it went perfectly for this bracelet made of sterling silver, freshwater pearls, and crystals strung on beading wire.

One word of caution: I wouldn't use the boiling hot water method with any handmade glass beads.  If the beads aren't properly annealed, there's always a chance that the boiling hot water can cause thermal shock and your lovely handmade beads will crack.

But if you want an alternative method for polishing silver, try using your favorite tartar control toothpaste with a small toothbrush.  I've found that a toddler-sized toothbrush works perfectly.  You can also make a weak solution of vinegar and salt using two cups of vinegar and a teaspoon or two of salt. 

Do you have a favorite homemade solution for cleaning tarnished silver?  Share it here!  (Who knows?  We might all be making more of our own findings and hitting the thrift stores more often for our jewelry-making needs!)


Bead Happy,


P.S. If you haven't had a chance yet to vote in the 2011 Bead Star competition, now is the time!  Voting ends on May 17, 2011 so cast your votes now!  This is the first year that Bead Star has included bead-stitched pieces in the Seed Beads category, so take a look and vote for your favorite entries!


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Jennifer VanBenschoten

About Jennifer VanBenschoten

Born in New Jersey in 1974, I escaped to the Adirondacks for the first time in 1995, making it my permanent home in 2000.  I have been interested in beads, buttons and making jewelry as long as I can remember.  It's probably my mother's fault - she was a fiber artist and crochet historian, and whenever she ordered supplies from one mail order source, she would order a huge bag of assorted buttons and beads for me and my sister!    

26 thoughts on “Do It Yourself Tarnish Removers for Your Favorite Sterling Silver Beads and Findings

  1. That is a great tip and I will have to try it….
    Prior to completely reading my mind said…” Can I use this method on my Pearls strung on Silk”…It is always a pain to clean the Silver Findings on my Strung pearls..Usually use a toothbrush with Dawn dish soap and it works ok. I also use an ultrasonic cleaner and that doesn’t work that great for just trying to get the shine back on my Silver.

  2. I went to Cozumel ,Mex. and they were cleaning the silver with just baking soda and a soft rag or tooth brush. I have been doing that for years. The other tip is to keep it seal in one of the little plastic bags, it keeps the shine longer.

  3. I have a perforated aluminum sheet that I purchased many years ago for just this application. However, it is recommended that “Washing Soda”, not baking soda be used with the boiling water. It is claimed that the tarnish is removed via electrolytic reaction. The washing soda is by Calgonite and seems to work more quickly than baking soda. As long as some part of the silver is touching the aluminum, all of the tarnish will disappear. This is particularly effective on cutlery and other silverware, too, including silverplate.
    Let kids watch–it’s like a magic trick!


  4. Arm and Hammer washing soda also works great, is stronger and cheaper than baking soda. Not safe for coated beads and may not be safe for softer gemstones but I have found no ill effects on emeralds and diamonds. I use it to clean up all my base metal costume jewelry too.

  5. I’ve made a paste of soft chalk and water with a soft cloth to clean silver and silver findings. The chalk can’t have the hard outer coating.

  6. Hi

    I tried this recipe a while back and it did not work, so I was talking to a friend about it. She informed me that it is WASHING SODA, not BAKING SODA that must be used. I tried it again using washing soda and it worked.

  7. It might help to mention that washing soda is also known as borax, and there’s a brand of it commonly in grocery stores (at mine it’s a bit hard to spot, usually on the top shelf as it’s no longer as common a household product as it once was) called 20 Mule Team–or something like that. It is in the laundry products section, for the young among us who might not automatically know that!


  8. Oh, my goodness, no one has mentioned Renaissance Wax! for after you polish your silver – it will keep your silver un-tarnished for eons! Just don’t wash it with hot water – that takes the Renaissance Wax off. Eventually, just give it another coat. They say you can even eat off the silverware you polish with it. It has a strong smell (white spirits) but they off-gas and disappear pretty fast. Not poison, they say, but I keep my distance from it, or use a mask. Polish it right off with micro-fleece. They also sell a nice metal polish that works well on silver, called Pre-Lim – and a metal de-corroder. Just Google “Renaissance Wax!” I wouldn’t be pushing this particular brand, but no one else makes this micro-crystalline wax metal protector and polisher. It was developed by an English company, and it’s used in museums, e.g. for armor, for cutlery, for all fine jewelry, etc.. It seems expensive, but a little goes a VERY long way. I’ve been using it for 2 years now, and I wouldn’t be without it – I, also, love to haunt the 2nd hand stores and restore, disassemble etc, things. And it’s not just for silver, it’s for any metal. I also use it to give a soft glow to semi-precious stones and glass beads. As for silver polish, I usually just use… silver polish – commercial (blush). I always tell everyone about Renaissance Wax.. thanks for the chance.

  9. I also shop at thrift stores and have come home with fantastic jewelry some sterling silver and priced at only a dollar or two! How I clean and shine mine is to put a little white toothpaste on an old soft toothbrush. I then rinse and dry the items and they shine like brand new. Oh and they smell good too!

  10. With regard to keeping your silver items in a sealed plastic bag…..add a small piece of white chalk to absorb any moisture. I have found that often the resealable bags occasionally allow moisture in when used alone.

  11. Years ago I saw Heloise (Hints from Heloise) on a TV commerical for VO5. She used it for cleaning a sterling silver picture frame. I had a “liquid silver” necklace and had no idea how to clean it since I didn’t know what it was strung on. The VO5 worked great!! (smells better than chemicals too) I find it really gets into the nooks and crannies too.

  12. I only use plated metals in my designs. I usually clean tarnished items with silver wipes and they work fine. But I saw no mention in this article if the baking soda method will work on plated metals as well?

  13. Try lemonjuice and salt, or ketchup-yucky but it works. Apparently an acid and mild abrasive are what’s needed. These work on the non-ferrous metals with copper as an alloy, plus fine and argentium silver. Soap & water for aluminium, or polishing cloth removes the aluminium oxide. Burnishing in your tumbler or using your flexshaft with appropriate bits & polishing compounds work too. I want to try the renaissance wax. I would think microcrystaline wax is sold by others too. I’ve heard of people having success with floor polish too. Be careful with toothpaste on gemstones, the abrasive particles can become trapped in any inclusions and ruin your stone.

  14. Does anyone know how to clean Swarovski crystals (back to their once sparkling state) that are actually strung along side of sterling silver beads that have just been polished? Once I have polished the silver beads, I find that the crystals are dull and have a bit of the polish (washing soda, sunshine cloth, etc) residue left on them afterwards? Thanks!

  15. I wanted to thank you for posting about this again.
    I have a piece that is very hard to clean constructed with sterling silver chain at it’s core and all s/s wire wrapping and I was so up set about the tarnish and unsure of how to clean it because I used pearls in it’s construction and since they can not go in an ultrasonic cleaner I have watched it get darker and darker it is not something you can wipe to clean I have been gearing up to have photos take of some of my work by a pro for submissions to some galleries I am interested in and there was no way to clean it. Lately I have been working in gold fill just to avoid tarnish
    Thank you again I am one very happy camper right now!


  16. While many of these solutions “work” ,They actually remove a layer of silver when they remove the oxide -it is really SILVER oxide. To properly clean fine silver use a product that contains something such as sliver fluoride ; that way , the fluorine will recombine with your silver (in the silver oxide) and actually plate your piece with a protective layer of silver. The drawback of these products is the cost, as you are buying silver (chemically combined in the cleaner). The best way is in a special bag for keeping silver in – I believe Lee Valley tools sells them at a reasonable price. I put all my finished work in it because we seem to have a high amount of sulphur in our area. Renaissance wax works well but sometimes I want to throw my things in a bag and get on with life. I also use tarnish prevention strips.

  17. These are some great suggestions for removing tarnish especially when you have tight little places you are trying to reach. I was wondering if anyone uses Gold Filled beads? I use them in my wire wrapping and they discolor after awhile. Some don’t return to their initial luster – will this tarnish removing method clean those too?


  18. when i was as teenager we used to use Taco Bell mild hot sauce. just recently i tried comet cleaner mixed with just a little water to form a thick solution and it worked good on solid and well plated items and a few snake chains. but i wouldn’t reccomend it for any valued peices as im am not sure of what it might do to other beads or not. it was mainly just an experiment. also it states on the the label “do not use on silver” so im sure there is some sort of damage that could be done. but i didn’t notice any.

  19. I just tried this method and instead of turning my plated silver pieces bright and tarnish free, my silver beads turned black in about 3 seconds. Any chemists know why?