QUESTION: I have a couple silver necklaces. They're not very expensive; the kind you find at usual clothing stores and/or a costume jewelry store. It was quite warm yesterday and when I removed one of my necklaces, there was a very noticeable green ring all around my neck from the chain. After looking at both of them closely, I noticed a green residue "inside" (for lack of a better word) each chain. Is there a way to get rid of that residue and what can I do to not make that green appear on my skin again?
MY ANSWER: It sounds like the necklaces you're referring to are not actually solid sterling silver, but are either silver, rhodium, or chromium plated to look like silver. That is common with jewelry from costume jewelry stores, department stores, and similar places, because there's no way they can sell for the prices they do if the jewelry is solid sterling.
The green stuff is from oxidization, which happens with all metals at varying rates. Copper, bronze, or brass based metals tend to oxidize very rapidly. Pure gold and fine silver, very slowly. Sterling and Karat Gold, which are alloys, are somewhere in the middle depending on how much silver or gold the alloy has.
When the plating wears off jewelry that has underlying copper, bronze or brass base, or wears thin in spots, you often rapidly get the green gunk of oxidization. That can happen easily between and inside links of chain, as well as on the outside of the chain. That the green gets worse when you get hot and sweaty is normal too, because that makes the base metal oxidize quicker because of the chemicals of skin oils and sweat. The same thing happens with sterling or karat gold because they normally have copper in the alloy, as well as other metals, it just happens much slower. With sterling stilver, particularly Argentium, and 14 karat gold you might not see it happen for years.
First, to get rid of the green, you can try a couple of approaches. You can go for the manual method with a dry q-tip, which will sometimes work. You might also try a jewelry cleaner made specifically for costume jewelry. One I know of is called Jewelryvive, and you can find it at Jewelryvive.com. There are other costume jewelry cleaners, but this is the one I've heard the best about and the only one I've used recently.
Jewelryvive is great at cleaning costume jewelry safely, although I always recommend trying it on a small area of the jewelry at first, just to be double sure. Also, like the instructions say, clean it off well afterwards. They're not kidding! I once made the mistake of not doing that and ended up with a weird white coating on the jewelry It didn't clean off easily. Oops! I did get the coating off eventually, but it's easier just to do it right at first. So just read the instructions (and the info on their site) before you use it.
As for keeping the green from coming back, once the base metal has been exposed by wearing against one another, there are really not a great deal of alternatives. You could try coating it with nail polish, Renaissance was, or another coating product so that skin oils and sweat don't come in contact with the metal. That will have to be redone periodically, but it is a simple solution. You could get them replated, but that's usually far too expensive to be worth it. The same goes for solid sterling silver, it just usually isn't much of a problem for most people because the copper in it is part of the sterling alloy, not under a plating that can wear off.
Original answer article by Robyn Harton of CrystalsAndJewelry.com updated from my 2005 Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved. If you wish to use my writings, etc. rather than write your own from the general information, I grant limited permission to quote from my articles here and you must ask for other licensing information or to use my text or photos here Thanks!