Tumble Polishing Causing My Jewelry to Tarnish?
by Sharon Emery
Tarnish Coating on Sterling Silver
I've been trying to tumble polish for a week now and am having troubles with a coating that looks like tarnish.
My sterling and copper pieces go into the tumbler clean and without tarnish. But they come out with an ugly deposit of tarnish on them!
I'm using a Harbor Freight tumbler, with stainless steel mixed shape shot and blue Dawn dish liquid. I've tried changing the water and soap several times with no improvement. The first soapy water usually comes out dirty, but subsequent changes are clear. And yet the tarnish never goes away... I've tried polishing longer (4 hours) with no effect. I've tried 4 other other dish liquids other than Dawn with the same results...
I'm new to this, and Googled every where and can't find an answer to my issue. I'm pulling my hair out! Any thoughts?
I attached a photo of a sterling silver piece for you to see. The coating does come off with tarnish remover, but I'd like to solve the issue.
Hi Sharon! It sounds like you are doing all the right things with your tumbler. However, I'm unclear as to what you are showing me in this picture as it is obviously not a finished piece of jewelry. Did you anneal this item first? If so, you need to clean it in your pickle solution before tumbling. Tumbling will not remove torch residue, firescale or heat patinas.
Sometimes the rubber leaches in the inexpensive rubber barrels such as the ones from Harbor Freight. It will discolor the water and sometimes items in the barrel as well. Usually this "leaching" goes away after about a week of tumbling when the barrel becomes "seasoned." I've never had items that went in clean come out dirty, unless there was a build-up of residue on my stainless steel shot or on the rubber barrel itself.
You say that your water comes out clear after the initial tumbling.......perhaps all you're doing now is polishing the discolored metal. Are you sure that the metal you are tumbling is Sterling silver or pure copper and not plated??? Plate will be removed by tumbling, revealing the base metal underneath. This looks kinda grey and yucky! Doesn't sound like this is the case as you said that the tarnish remover cleans it up.
The tumbling action could just be polishing your "stained" or dirty metal and not removing the tarnish. Try using a burnishing compound like Rio Grande's Burnishing Solution for tumbling Sterling silver and copper. However if it's plated base metal, no amount of tumbling will make a difference. I do not recommend using the Burnishing Compound for tumbling oxidized items that you wish to remain oxidized! The solution has a tendency to make your patina'd items come out spotty.
First, check to make sure that you are not tumbling plated base metal items....the tumbler will remove the plating! If that does not work, then I would recommend investing in a better quality tumbler such as those made by Lortone.