Silver cloth is a flannel-like fabric that is impregnated with microscopic particles of silver or zinc to prevent tarnishing while jewelry and other metal objects are in storage. The silver and zinc molecules attract sulfur compounds, principally hydrogen sulfide, in the air that would otherwise react with silver items, according to the Society of American Silversmiths website. The material can be purchased by the yard to line drawers and chests, as well as make bags and wraps for individual silver pieces. Other silver products, such as storage pouches and silica gel, can also be used to prevent tarnishing.
Silver is a precious metal that has been prized for its beauty, luster and durability. The metal is prone to tarnishing when exposed to air pollutants, which can come from many sources including wool, felt, gasoline, rubber gloves, motor oil, latex and certain foods such as eggs or mayonnaise. The tarnish-producing gases, which are formed when the sulfur reacts with oxygen in the air, cause the silver to oxidize and become dull, referred to as tarnishing. Silver cloth and other tarnish-preventing materials absorb these sulfide gases to delay tarnishing of silver and silver-plated articles.
Unlike general pollutant absorbers, which are able to slow the tarnishing process but not eliminate it altogether, silver-impregnated cloths and other materials contain particles of actual silver that react with and neutralize the sulfide gases. The silver also has antimicrobial properties, which inhibits the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi.
Although a small amount of silver may be released when the silver-impregnated material is washed, this is far less than the amount of silver emitted by washing and drying conventional cotton fabrics. In fact, a recent study by Bernd Nowack of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology found that textiles impregnated with non-nano silver actually release far fewer silver nanoparticles than previously thought.
When washing a silver cleaning cloth, it is important not to rub the tarnished surface with the washcloth or it will lose its ability to remove tarnishes. Instead, rub the tarnished surface with another flannel-like clean cloth or soft, dry, 100% cotton towel. This prevents the silver from being scratched and allows it to continue removing tarnishes until the surface is shiny.
A variety of tarnish-preventing materials are available for protecting silver during storage, but only Pacific Silvercloth contains embedded silver particles that can repel sulfide gas molecules and retard tarnishing. This material, which is sold by the yard, comes in rich brown and can be cut to line chests or to make bags and wraps for individual silver pieces. If stored properly, the sulfide-absorbing material can last for up to 20 years before it is saturated with silver, according to the silversmiths’ society website. Moisture accelerates the tarnishing process, and putting items wrapped in a tarnish-inhibiting cloth inside a tight-fitting storage chest helps reduce tarnishing. Adding desiccated silica gel or activated charcoal to the storage chest can further enhance tarnish protection by absorbing excess moisture and acidic airborne pollutants.