FreshTrends Gold Guide: Why Does Gold Tarnish?

When you decide to invest in high-quality jewelry, you want it to last. You expect that the jewelry piece is going to stay stunning for years to come.

At FreshTrends, our jewelry is made from solid 14k gold. This means that you won’t see fading like you might see on a plated gold piece. However, it does mean that you must take care of your jewelry so that it doesn’t tarnish. 

Here’s a quick guide to 14k gold, why it tarnishes, and how to properly care for and clean your 14k gold jewelry.

What is 14k Gold, and Why Do We Use It In Body Jewelry?

Gold comes in different karat types. The karat refers to how pure the gold is. 24k gold is pure gold (24 out of 24 parts is gold), and the purity goes down from there. The next level of gold is 18k (18 out of 24 parts is gold), and the level after that is 14k gold (14 of the 24 parts are gold). 

Gold is mixed with different alloys for a number of reasons. You might think that it’s best to get pure gold—some of the most opulent items are boasted to be pure gold, right?—but when it comes to jewelry, this isn’t the case. Pure gold is quite malleable. While this makes it ideal for shaping, it also means that 24k gold will easily damage, which isn’t great when you’re wearing it. For this reason, you rarely find any jewelry more pure than 18 karats.

Because body jewelry is often worn for days and weeks at a time, and it appears in places that see lots of movement, like the face and ears, it’s best to get nickel-free 14k gold for your piercings. This gold will last longer, it won’t damage as easily, and it still carries a significant amount of gold, ensuring that it doesn’t easily fade and that it maintains a beautiful gold appearance.

However, this also means that it can tarnish.

Why Does Gold Jewelry Tarnish?

Pure gold doesn’t tarnish. However, most jewelry contains alloys in order to improve the strength of the gold, and these alloys will tarnish. When an 18k or 14k gold piece tarnishes, it typically gets a little darker in color.

Tarnishing occurs because of corrosion. The most common form of corrosion is seen as the result of exposure to oxygen. Because of this, tarnishing will be inevitable at some point.

However, it is possible to see accelerated tarnishing as the result of exposure to certain chemicals and activities. If your jewelry is only a year old or less, and you’re seeing tarnishing, it may be the result of exposure to chlorine, perfume, acidic foods, salt water, or even your skin. Depending on your body, you may see tarnishing faster than others.  Some chemicals such as sulfur, hair dyes and chlorine react with the other metals in the 14k gold jewelry, causing it to corrode, tarnish and even turn black.

If My 14k Gold Jewelry is Tarnishing, is it Fake Gold or Plated?

This is one of the biggest jewelry misconceptions, and the answer is simple: just because your 14k gold jewelry piece is tarnishing does not mean that it’s fake.

While it’s true that pure gold will not tarnish, it’s very rare that you’ll find a jewelry piece made from pure, 24k gold. In fact, it would be a bad idea since gold is so malleable. A solid gold piece of jewelry will easily break or bend.

High-quality gold pieces are made of 18k or 14k gold. They are mixed with alloys in order to improve strength. While the gold itself will not tarnish, the strengthening alloys will. Therefore, if your 14k gold is tarnishing, it’s not a sign that the gold is fake but rather that the jewelry needs cleaning. Additionally, you should consider your habits and avoid certain things that will make your jewelry tarnish faster.

How to Avoid 14k Gold Tarnishing

Just like any form of aging, a little tarnishing of your 14k gold is inevitable, especially if you wear the jewelry every day. Exposure to things like oxygen, hair dyes, bleach, peroxide, the oils in your hands, and even food can accelerate the tarnishing process.

To avoid early tarnishing, you need to avoid the causes of tarnishing. 

  • Keep your jewelry away from lotions, perfumes, and other products. 
  • If you’re a swimmer, consider taking off your jewelry before entering the water. 
  • Don’t keep your jewelry underwater for long periods of time.
  • Don’t touch your jewelry while cooking or eating, especially when dealing with acidic foods.
  • Try to touch the jewelry as little as possible.
  • Store your jewelry in a separate bag and in a cool, dark, dry place.
  • Remove your jewelry when working out, since sweat can cause it to tarnish.
  • Remove your jewelry when doing any kind of chemical hair process.
  • Clean your jewelry regularly.

Perhaps obviously, the key to avoiding tarnishing is to avoid things that cause tarnishing. High-quality jewelry will last a long time on its own, but it does require proper care in order to maintain its luster. Do your part by avoiding harmful chemicals, cleaning your jewelry regularly, and storing it properly.

How to Clean Your Tarnished 14k Gold

The good news is that tarnishing isn’t permanent. You can try to clean the tarnish at home, or have a professional clean the jewelry for you.

Using a Fine Jewelry Cleaner, clean your jewelry. Make sure that you clean the jewelry gently. While 14k gold does contain allows to make it stronger, it can still easily scratch. Regular cleaning will help reduce the appearance of tarnishing and keep your jewelry looking like new.

To clean your jewelry

  1. Remove the jewelry.
  2. Using the brush in the Fine Jewelry Cleaner, gently clean the jewelry. Do not scrub. 14k gold can scratch easily.
  3. Let dry.
  4. Store the jewelry in individual bags to minimize exposure to the air. Keep the bags in a cool, dark location until you are ready to wear the jewelry.
  5. Do not use alcohol or any harsh chemicals when cleaning your jewelry. Stick to cleaners made specifically for fine jewelry.

If your jewelry has significant tarnishing or you don’t feel comfortable cleaning your own jewelry, have a professional clean it for you. You can go to your local fine jewelry store for help.

It’s always a bummer when your beautiful fine jewelry piece starts to tarnish, but never fear; it does not mean that the gold is fake or that it can’t be brought to its former glory. The key is to understand why 14k gold tarnishes, avoid substances that make it tarnish, and properly clean your jewelry to keep your body jewelry looking amazing for as long as possible.