Tarnished Gold – What Causes It and How to Remove It

Tarnished Gold Ring

Does Real Gold Tarnish?

Pure gold is a noble metal and is the least reactive metal. This means that it shouldn’t ordinarily react with elements in the air leading it to tarnish. However, almost all gold jewellery is not made of 100% pure gold, therefore tarnished gold can be a problem.

This is because pure gold is very soft and is difficult to work with. Goldsmiths combine other, harder metals with the gold, called alloys, to create a piece of jewellery. Doing so makes the material easier to shape and set stones into and ensures it will be durable for many, many years. We talk more about this in our blog What is Sterling Silver?’.

So, whilst 100% pure gold won’t tarnish much (although it does a little), it is more the alloys used in gold jewellery items that react with the elements in air and cause tarnish.

Tarnish on the surface of gold jewellery does take some considerable time to occur, though, especially compared to silver which tends to tarnish much more quickly than gold.

Consequently the higher percentage of gold in the item of jewellery (ie the higher the gold carat) the least likely it is to tarnish – 9ct gold will tarnish more easily and quickly than 18ct or 22ct gold.

What Is Tarnish?

Tarnish is where deposits are laid down on the surface of a metal. It results when an element in the metal reacts with an element in the air and causes a dull, blackened, greyish appearance on the surface of the metal. 

It does not penetrate the metal though and will not harm it. It simply lays on the surface and can easily be removed with the correct products.

What causes Tarnish on Gold?

Tarnish is caused by metals reacting with other non-metal elements like particles in the air, such as sulphur and oxygen. As mentioned earlier, it is the alloys used in the gold that react with these air particles.

The reaction between the elements causes a chemical process where particles are laid down on the surface of the item of jewellery.

What Does Tarnished Gold Look Like?

Tarnished Gold Ring
A Tarnished Gold Ring

Tarnished gold seems to dull and deepen in colour. Sometimes it looks a little like rose gold. Occasionally you will slightly mottled, blackened patches. The image above is heavily tarnished and you will rarely see gold this tarnished.

Silver tarnish is very noticeable. Gold tarnish is less so. To the point that you may not even realise your gold jewellery is tarnished.

If you give it a clean you may be pleasantly surprised at how much brighter it is!

How to Remove Tarnish on Gold

gold ring before and after cleaning
Gold Ring Before and After Cleaning

Gold tarnish can be removed easily and simply by a number of methods.

Preparatory Gold Cleaner

A gold cleaner like this one here, will safely and easily remove any surface tarnish from gold and bring it back to its full lustre and sparkle. You can also use this cleaner for pieces of jewellery that are set with semi and precious gemstones.

Gentle Dishwasher Cleaner

Soaking the item of tarnished gold jewellery in warm soapy water with a little gentle dishwasher detergent dissolved in the water. Clean with your fingers or a soft make-up brush or a very soft babies toothbrush. Don’t use a toothbrush as it may scratch the surface of the gold. Dry and buff with a soft, lint-free cloth.

Please never use toothpaste, which we know many people use, as it is too abrasive and will scratch your jewellery. 

Buff with a Gold Polishing Cloth

How to Prevent Gold From Tarnishing

As with any jewellery, never allow chemicals to come into contact with your jewellery. Hairspray, perfume (especially), creams and lotions may all increase tarnishing on your gold jewellery. Even perspiration can cause tarnishing.

Some people notice skin reactions or a sudden tarnishing of their jewellery when they start taking a medication, which is causes a change in body chemistry.

Put your jewellery on last when you are getting ready in the mornings, and remove your jewellery ideally when you get home after a day our and certainly before bed (please don’t sleep with your jewellery on!).

When you are not wearing your jewellery we recommend placing your jewellery back in its box or inside a zip-lock plastic bag to prevent the air coming into contact with it.

To Sum Up …

Your gold jewellery will last for many years. We almost take for granted how our jewellery doesn’t perish over time. However, we do need to remember to take care of it.

When we are not wearing it we should store and protect it from being knocked or damaged, and from the elements – the air which has chemical elements which react with the alloys in our jewellery. We must also remember to protect our jewellery whilst wearing it, such as ensuring we don’t allow chemicals on the jewellery (wear rubber gloves if using chemicals).

If our gold jewellery has tarnished, there is no need to despair. It will clean up beautifully again, easily and cheaply at home with gentle soap and water or a proprietary gold jewellery cleaner.


Bullion by Post

World Gold Council

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