FAQs about Sterling Silver

by Wirnani Garner

You probably come across sterling silver in your everyday life more often than you think. Sterling silver jewelry is especially popular, and the metal is made into a wide variety of rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, watches, charms, and pendants. It's also used to produce and embellish serving dishes, sculptures, frames, and many other household items. The use of sterling silver was first popularized in the 1800s, and today, sterling silver gifts and jewelry are widely available, as these items are often preferred as a less expensive alternative to gold and other precious metals.

Questions about Sterling Silver:

  1. What is the difference between pure silver and sterling silver?
    Sterling silver is composed of 92.5 percent pure silver and 7.5 percent other metals. The 7.5 percent is usually copper; however, different metals can be used in the alloy to improve various properties and create silver that will be perfect for specific projects. Sterling silver is almost always used because pure silver is too costly and too soft to make large, functional objects. By alloying silver with copper or another metal, silver becomes strong and affordable enough to be of practical use.

  2. Why should I choose sterling silver jewelry?
    The main reason to choose sterling silver jewelry is to save money. Sterling silver is a beautiful metal that looks like white gold or platinum, but it's much less expensive. Sterling silver is fashioned into a wide range of jewelry pieces and can be set with gemstones or embellished with other stunning precious metals. Sterling silver lets you have a wardrobe full of lovely jewelry pieces to suit any outfit and express your personal style, while still allowing you to stay on a budget.

  3. How do I minimize tarnish on sterling silver?
    Tarnish occurs commonly and easily on sterling silver due to the way moisture in the air reacts with the alloy. To minimize tarnish on your sterling silver, store them in a dry area or use silica gel packets to keep moisture levels down in your jewelry box or flatware storage containers. There are also special storage containers available that are made specifically to store sterling silver. Additionally, after wearing sterling silver jewelry, wipe it down to get rid of any perspiration that may have transferred from your skin. Sterling silver necklaces should also be kept away from dust, grease, and sulfur, as all these things accelerate the rate of tarnish on your silver. Some alloys used in the process of creating sterling silver react poorly when they come in contact with chlorine, causing discoloration, so it is best to remove sterling silver jewelry prior to using swimming pools, hot tubs and some household cleaners.

  4. How do I clean my sterling silver?
    Because sterling silver can tarnish easily, it is a good idea to clean and polish it regularly to maintain its shiny appearance. When cleaning sterling silver, you want to polish the surface with a soft, cotton cloth. Microfiber cloths like the ones used to clean eye glasses or computer screens are perfect for cleaning sterling silver jewelry pieces; other materials are likely to scratch and damage the surface. Sterling silver can be polished without special cleaners, but if you choose to use one, be sure to select a cleaning solution that is made specifically for sterling silver to avoid scratches. Warm water mixed with some liquid detergent can also be used, as long as you use a very soft cloth in the washing process.

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Updated January 7, 2015