Many gasses and materials cause silver to corrode. It corrodes when it comes in contact with water and/or high humidity, dust, acids (commonly from fingertips), salts, oils and some metal polishes. It can also be caused by sulphur compounds in the air (hydrogen sulphide) which are found in car exhausts, rubber products, cigarette smoke and other pollutants. Wooden cabinets and wood products such as plywood, chipboard and custom wood contain formaldehyde which will cause silver to corrode. Protein based materials such as wool, felt, silk and leather also contain sulphur compounds that are harmful to silver.
A lot of silver damage happens when people try to remove tarnish with polishing creams, wadding and rouge sticks. These products contain abrasive compounds as well as corrosive hydrochloric or sulphuric acids.
This sheet explains how to clean silver and how to slow down the corrosion process.
This information sheet was developed by the Conservation Department at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.