Sterling silver reacts with moisture to create a layer of tarnish or oxidation on its surface. Baking soda activated by boiling water in the presence of aluminum, will dislodge the tarnish by making it bind with the aluminum, leaving the sterling silver clean and shiny again. This is the simple, organic way to clean and polish your sterling silver jewelry.
Boil just enough water to submerge all of the sterling silver pieces.
Line a glass or plastic dish with a slightly crumpled piece of aluminum foil. If you have a small aluminum pan that you won't be needing for food preparation again, use that instead.
Lay your jewelry on the aluminum, making sure the silver touches the aluminum.
Sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over the jewelry.
Pour enough boiling water to immerse the jewelry. Bubbling should occur, giving off a rotten-egg odor (the sulfuric gases released by the cleaning action).
Move the pieces around gentle with a wood or plastic utensil to ensure that all of the silver surfaces come in contact with the aluminum. You will notice that the silver has become bright again.
Rinse the jewelry under tap water. To ensure that you don't lose small pieces like earrings and pendants, put a sieve over the drain to catch whatever may slip off your fingers.
Wipe the pieces gently with an absorbent towel and polish with a soft cloth.
If you see yourself cleaning sterling silver regularly, keep and recycle the aluminum pans used for takeout or frozen cakes and pies. To minimize tarnishing, store sterling silver in a moisture-free environment. Use plastic bags with zipper locks, anti-tarnish strips (available at jewelry stores) or moisture-absorbent products (available in some pharmacies). You will also find moisture-absorbent packets in some merchandise such as shoes, medication and accessories that are sensitive to moisture. Reuse these packets by putting some in your jewelry box to minimize tarnish on your sterling silver pieces. Use this technique to clean small pieces of sterling silver flatware and dining accessories.
The baking soda method of cleaning is recommended only for jewelry that is all sterling silver and those that incorporate plastic, glass or crystal beads. Some gemstones are affected by the baking soda reaction--for example, turquoise.