Does Real Gold Tarnish Over Time?

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Gold jewelry is a worthy investment of your money. Its simple beauty can add a hint of sophistication to any outfit. The big question is: does gold tarnish?

If you’re curious, you’re not alone. Nobody wants discolored gold jewelry. Fortunately, we have the answer. Keep reading to find out if gold tarnishes, how it can happen, and what to do to prevent it.


Does gold tarnish?

Pure (24-karat) gold doesn’t tarnish because gold is unreactive in its pure form. It doesn’t combine easily with moisture or oxygen. 

However, 24-karat gold jewelry is rare. Gold is a soft metal and deforms easily, so manufacturers combine it with other metals to make jewelry. Those metals used in combination can react with other substances and tarnish on exposure.

💡 Take Note: As the alloy metals in your gold jewelry tarnish, the entire jewelry takes on a tarnished appearance. However, the gold itself remains unaffected.

Why does gold tarnish?

The higher the gold karatage in a piece of jewelry, the more resistant to tarnish it is. But gold jewelry can still tarnish after prolonged exposure to moisture, oxygen, and sulfur. A common source of such a combination is sweat. Perspiration differs from one person to another, and that variation can determine how much your jewelry tarnishes over time. Your jewelry will tarnish more if your skin and sweat are more acidic.

Another contributing factor to gold jewelry tarnish is direct and extended exposure to colognes, perfumes, deodorants, and hair sprays. Chemicals like ethyl alcohol, oils, and color dyes contained in these substances won’t corrode your jewelry, but they can dull shine and cause discoloration.

The worst tarnish can come from exposure to chlorine. Chlorine, in both swimming pools and bleach, is harmful to your jewelry. It’s best to take off your jewelry before swimming or cleaning.

What does gold tarnish look like?

tarnish on gold bracelet - does gold tarnish?

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Gold tarnish – and tarnish in general – appears as a mild to serious discoloration, depending on the level of damage.  It can either be a darkening or reddening of your jewelry. Tarnished jewelry is also dull and may no longer be as appealing to wear. Thankfully, tarnish is preventable – especially for gold jewelry.


How to Prevent Your Gold from Tarnishing

The darkening and discoloration of your jewelry can make it a little embarrassing to wear. If your jewelry is still in good shape, here are some tips to keep it.

Know Your Skin’s pH

The more acidic your skin, the more likely it’ll tarnish your jewelry. A dermatologist can help you confirm your skin’s pH using a pH meter, but you can test it at home with a pH balance strip. The strip tests your body’s pH with a sample of your saliva. Your body’s pH usually corresponds with your skin’s pH, so this test gives you a good idea.

If you know your skin is more acidic than the regular range, take off your jewelry before workouts or other sweat-inducing activities.

Avoid Moisture

Avoid exposing your jewelry to moisture for long periods. It’s wise to invest in an air-tight jewelry box with a small silica gel pouch. Also, though gold jewelry is safe for showering, prolonged exposure to water and soap can dull its shine.

Apply Oils and Perfumes Before You Wear Your Jewelry

Perfumes, oils, and sprays can affect your gold long-term. For that reason, wait a few minutes after applying all your cosmetics before putting on your jewelry.

Wipe Your Jewelry

Wipe your jewelry with a soft cloth after each wear. This process will remove any sweat, moisture, and dirt build-up over the day. You should also clean your jewelry whenever there are signs of extra dirt.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals

Keep your gold away from harsh chemicals like ammonia and chlorine. Take your ring off before swimming or using strong household cleaners like bleach. And though ammonia is suitable for removing tarnish from gold, it can do severe damage over time.


How do you remove tarnish from gold?

If your gold jewelry has been tarnished already, it’s not the end. You can clean and bring it back to its previous shine. Here are some methods to remove gold tarnish.

Dish Soap

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Add mild dish-washing soap like Dawn to a bowl of warm water and drop your jewelry piece in it gently. Allow it to soak for about 15 minutes. 
  2. Take it out to rub off the tarnish and dirt. You can use a soft-bristled brush for this. Don’t use paper towels or stiff brushes to avoid scratching the jewelry.
  3. Rinse your jewelry under a warm water tap when you finish scrubbing.
  4. Wipe it down with a soft cloth to remove water stains and excess moisture.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is fantastic for cleaning jewelry, but it may be too abrasive for jewelry with gems. The heat and baking soda can affect the gems and adhesives used to hold them in place. 

However, if you have a plain gold chain or earring, here’s how to use baking soda to clean off gold tarnish.

  1. Boil about two cups of water.
  2. Take out a baking dish and cover it in aluminum foil, touching all the corners. Make sure the shiny side of the foil faces up.
  3. Put your gold on the pan. If it’s a chain, untangle and spread it out.
  4. Pour enough baking soda to cover your jewelry all around..
  5. Pour the hot water over your jewelry, making sure it’s fully submerged. Allow the jewelry to sit for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Take out your jewelry with a pair of tongs and wash it under a tap.
  7. Wipe down your jewelry with a soft cloth to remove excess moisture and bits of baking soda.

Ammonia

Ammonia is a powerful chemical, so use gloves for this method. You should also work in a well-ventilated room because ammonia badly affects the lungs. The chemical is corrosive and will cause burning and irritation of the respiratory tract. This irritation leads to difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest.

Here’s how to use ammonia to clean gold tarnish.

  1. Add a cup of warm water to a container.
  2. Mix in a teaspoon of mild soap and half a teaspoon of ammonia.
  3. Drop your gold into the mixture and let it sit for no longer than 10 seconds.
  4. Pull out the jewelry with tongs, a fork, or your gloved hand. Scrub it with a soft-bristled brush to get the stains off. Keep your gloves on through this process.
  5. Wash your piece with water and dish soap to get all ammonia off. 
  6. Rinse your jewelry and wipe it with a soft cloth to remove moisture.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have any further questions, we have the answers.

Does 14k gold tarnish?

Yes, 14k gold tarnishes. The lower the gold karatage, the more likely it will tarnish with everyday use. This tarnishing happens because of the other metals alloyed with gold, like copper and silver. On exposure to moisture and oxygen, these metals begin to react and can turn black.

Does 18k gold tarnish?

18k gold can tarnish. It won’t tarnish as quickly as 14k or 10k gold because the quantity of gold is higher, but it can tarnish after prolonged exposure to sulfur, oxygen, and moisture.

Does real gold turn green?

The green coloration you see in jewelry is usually caused by copper’s exposure to moisture and chemicals. Copper isn’t in all forms of gold, but your jewelry can turn green over time when it is (in red and rose gold, for example). This green color doesn’t mean your gold is fake; it means the other metals in the jewelry are reactive.

Does gold rust in water?

Gold can’t rust in water because it doesn’t contain iron. Pure (24K) gold jewelry doesn’t react in either air or water. However, its alloy metals can tarnish after prolonged exposure to moisture, sulfur, and oxygen.


Tarnished Gold Isn’t Fake Gold

If your gold jewelry has some slight discoloration, it doesn’t mean you’ve bought a fake. In its pure form, gold doesn’t react, but its alloy metals do. 

Still, it’s possible to protect your jewelry with adequate care. In cases where you do everything and still see some discoloration, don’t be alarmed. Your gold is all right and can be brought back to its past sparkle.

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