Three kinds of tarnish can oxidize your silver jewelry, making it anywhere from dull to unwearable. So that it doesn't happen to your silver things, three tips can help you identify which kind of tarnish is which and the best way to clean each kind.
Light tarnish is that yellowy film that dulls the shine on sterling silver jewelry. Most folks live with it, perhaps not even noticing it. I don't like it. I've got to get it off. It ruins the reason we parted with our pay for sterling silver jewelry in the first place: For the shine!
A silver polishing cloth will do the trick well on light tarnish. Sunshine silver cloths are a popular brand with dozens more on the market that work just as well. To get into fine places, wrap the tip of a toothpick or small screwdriver with the cloth and rub gently. The more you rub, the shinier the silver gets. Truth be known, vigorous rubbing with any soft clean cloth will also remove light tarnish from accessible silver surfaces. Removed tarnish shows as black on the cloth.
Solid brown spots mark the medium build-up of tarnish. It is characteristic of silver stored in drawers or dark places for weeks or months. Such spots say you've forgotten your jewelry and haven't worn it in a while. The time to work on this tarnish is now, so that it can be removed without being a big project.
Medium tarnish responds well to silver paste cleaning. However, the paste can be difficult to remove completely from crevices and will tend to remain in intricate places. Paste can be removed with the toothpick or screwdriver method when covered with a soft clean cloth. Silver polish is a little more liquid than the paste and does better than paste if the residue is too hard to remove.
Heavy black tarnish is the solid black stuff that coats your silver surfaces almost throroughly. It's what happens when wearing silver jewelry in sulfurous hot springs or when your silver flatware lays unused for years. Black tarnish is complete oxidation of the silver and getting it clean will take more than rubbing.
Removing heavy black tarnish does well with silver dip because liquid gets into intricate places where nothing else can. I found silver dip to restore the original silvery shine in an instant. A dunk in Goddard's Silver Dip will do it. Just don't dunk jewelry with gemstones that are 4 or less on the Mohs scale in it.
Clean the silver around such gemstones with a cotton swab wet with silver dip. Rinse the entire jewelry piece in clear running water. Voila, shine! Even pearl jewelry finished in silver can be cleaned in this way.
Jewelry is said to tarnish even more quickly after silver dip cleaning. A way to avoid this is to polish the silver with the polishing cloth after the silver dip treatment. A very thin film of polish seems to protect the newly cleaned silver from rapid re-oxidation.
The best thing to do for all your silver jewelry is to wear it often and give it a little rub with the cloth before putting it on. Your silver jewelry will remain as shiny as the delight you derive in wearing it tarnish-free!