What is Silver Tarnishing and What Causes It?

Tarnishing, also called toning, is an effect on the outermost layer of a metal that causes the metal to become discolored. Like iron rusts when exposed to oxygen, silver can tarnish when exposed to the air due to a reaction between silver and hydrogen sulfide in the air. Also, touching silver products with your hands may cause tarnishing over time due to the oils from your skin. 

Some products tarnish quicker than others. For example, because of the finish on the American Silver Eagles, they tend to tarnish slower than traditional bullion coins. On the other hand, the Somalian Elephant coins tend to tarnish quicker due to their tubes being made of PVC as opposed to the traditional plastic tubes that most other coins come in. The PVC traps moisture and releases slightly acidic gases which can contribute to the toning/tarnishing of coins.

Tarnished Silver Coin

Does Silver Tarnish Affect the Silver Value?

With lower premium items such as silver rounds and silver bars, tarnishing really doesn't have an impact on the value of these items. This is because silver bullion products like these are typically valued by the weight and purity of silver in them and not specifically their condition and look. When it comes to numismatic items, tarnishing starts to have more of an effect on the price.

Many collectors view cleaned coins negatively because they prefer coins to be in their natural state, even if the coin looks more "dull" compared to the cleaned coins. Collectors believe that tarnishing is just a part of the coin's history and occasionally, with certain coins, tarnishing/toning can actually increase the price of a coin. This is why it is recommended that collectible coins are not cleaned.

Tarnished Silver Bar

Can Silver Tarnish be Avoided?

Typically the best approach to keep your silver from tarnishing is the way you store your silver. Storing your silver bullion in a tube or capsule should help avoid long-term tarnishing. If you do not have capsules or tubes, even everyday storage items like plastic food storage containers or plastic bags can be used for storage. Any protection against open-air would help protect against the effects of tarnishing.

There are also packets with dehumidifying crystals that can be placed in your safe, vault, or just in the vicinity of your silver bullion to remove moisture from the air and protect your assets. For long-term preservation of numismatic collectibles, a steady and low humidity is advantageous. Humidity levels are important to consider as small moisture particles may inevitably cause some spotting.

When handling pure silver, we advise to never touch the product directly with your bare hands. As mentioned before, the oils from your hands can speed up the tarnishing process. Touching pure silver with your hands can also leave unwanted fingerprints on your silver bullion products.

To avoid this, many people purchase cotton gloves that insure no oils get onto the silver. Another more commonplace option is surgical gloves. They aren’t as effective as cotton gloves when it comes to protecting against smudging, however, they will protect against the oils that can cause tarnishing.

How to Clean Silver

There are risks involved with cleaning silver since it is a soft metal that can be easily damaged if cleaned improperly. There are many different silver cleaners out there and it is extremely important to follow the exact instructions in order to not damage the silver. e-Z-est cleaner is the cleaner that we recommend to our clients. It is fast, effective and should not damage your products if used properly.

There are also home remedies to clean silver. One common method is boiling saltwater, adding baking soda, and putting the silver in that solution to soak for a few minutes. It is important you don’t let the silver sit in any cleaning solution for too long, as it can eat away at the silver content. And again, it is generally considered best practice not to clean collectible silver.

Cleaning Silver Video

We put together this short video to help our customers that are looking to accomplish the at-home approach mentioned above: