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Once and for All – Does Gold Tarnish?

Pure 24k gold will not tarnish or rust. It remains shiny because oxygen and other chemical elements have little or no effect on it.


When gold does tarnish it is because the surface is corroding slightly causing it to become darker than usual on the surface, which creates a tarnish film. To answer the question, “Does gold tarnish?” some online sources claim that real gold does tarnish and others say the opposite. This blog was written in an attempt to clarify and answer the question so that people are no longer confused.


pure goldGold in its purest form is among the least reactive elements on earth. It will not easily combine with oxygen, which keeps it shiny. You do not have to worry about pure gold becoming rusted or tarnished. In gold jewelry pieces, it is not often that you will see a piece made of pure 24-gold since it is simply too soft to be effectively used in making jewelry. Therefore, gold is typically alloyed with other types of metals in creating jewelry. These other types of base metals being alloyed with gold are what cause the problem. They can and do react to moisture, sulfur and oxygen and this will in time tarnish gold jewelry.


High karat gold jewelry will tarnish less than lower karat gold jewelry, whereas 24-karat gold will not tarnish at all. Generally, gold jewelry that is tarnished is of a lower gold karat, most likely under 14 karats. If you have 14-karat gold jewelry pieces, you will notice some tarnishing, but very little in your 18-karat gold pieces.


When you see your gold pieces of jewelry tarnishing, it isn’t because it’s not really gold; it is just not pure 24-karat gold. You can expect that your real gold jewelry to tarnish in time. In very rare cases jewelry made of high karat gold has tarnished, but the higher the percentage of gold, the less likely it is to tarnish. When gold jewelry made of lower karat gold does tarnish, it is still at a far slower pace than sterling silver. There are certain conditions that will hasten gold to tarnish:


gold tarnishTypical causes of tarnishing

When compounds of oxygen and sulfur mix with moisture it will cause gold to tarnish. Everyone has different body chemistry and this is why certain people’s jewelry has a higher tendency to tarnish or may tarnish faster than gold jewelry worn by other people. Other things that can cause 14- or 18-karat gold jewelry to tarnish would be, if it is exposed to potent chemicals, like those in hairspray, deodorants, perfume and cleaning products such as detergents and chlorine.


Items of food can also cause tarnishing. Foods that contain high levels of sulfur compounds and/or acidity like fruit juices, spices, pickled items and onions can contribute to tarnishing.


Steps to prevent tarnishing

  • To keep gold jewelry looking its shiny best for as long as possible, avoid having it come in contact with the items listed above.   
  • Remove your jewelry whenever you wash your hands with soap and water. Soap can cause a dull finish to gradually build up. In time it can be very difficult to clean.
  • Gold jewelry must be carefully stored in separate compartments so they do not mix together and cause scratches. Place a tiny packet of silica inside your jewelry box to absorb any moisture.


On very rare occasions there have been reports of 21- and even 22-karat gold pieces being tarnished. Experts have inferred that these pieces might have somehow been exposed to a caustic environment. It doesn’t mean the jewelry isn’t made of real gold. Your lifestyle and the environment in which you live can contribute to tarnishing.


remove gold tarnishRemoving tarnish on gold jewelry

To remove tarnish on the surface of gold jewelry, mix a few drops of very mild dishwashing liquid (non-phosphate) with warm water. Using your fingertips or a cotton ball, gently wipe away the tarnish. You don’t want to use an abrasive like baking soda or toothpaste. Once the tarnish is removed, use a soft cotton cloth to dry your jewelry. You can also allow it to air dry by laying it flat on a clean cotton cloth. Once it’s dry, polish with a clean cotton cloth or you can use a jewelry polishing cloth to give it some shine.


If over a long period of time you notice that your gold jewelry looks dull, you can certainly take it to a jeweler you trust for a thorough cleaning. Do not hastily grab some jewelry cleaner to do it yourself because you could damage your piece in the process. The best person to tell you what you should and should not use for cleaning your jewelry is your jeweler.


I hope I was able to answer your question, “Does gold tarnish?” adequately in this blog post. If you have any further questions about gold jewelry please do not hesitate to contact me through my website: getpersonalizedjewelry.com



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