Does Gold Tarnish? Learn How to Protect Your Gold Jewellery

Gold has long been treasured for its beauty and rarity, making it a popular choice for jewellery and investment. But when it comes to maintaining that gleaming lustre, many wonder, does gold tarnish? Unlike other metals that may corrode or tarnish over time, gold’s unique properties make it stand out in the world of precious metals.

But, it’s not all glitter and shine. The answer to whether gold tarnishes isn’t as straightforward as one might think. Various factors, including the purity of the gold and the conditions it’s exposed to, play a crucial role in determining its resilience to tarnishing. Let’s investigate into the intriguing area of gold and uncover the truth behind its enduring shine.

What Causes Tarnish?

While pure gold is renowned for its resistance to tarnishing, the reality is that most gold items aren’t made from 100% pure gold. They’re often mixed with other metals to enhance durability and create different colours in gold jewellery, such as white, rose, and green gold. These mixtures, known as alloys, are where tarnish can begin.

Alloys react with various substances they come into contact with, such as oxygen, sulphur compounds in the air, and everyday chemicals found in lotions, perfumes, and cleaning products. Over time, these reactions can lead to a slight discolouration on the surface of gold items, manifesting as what we perceive as tarnish.

Even though its resilience, the context in which gold is kept plays a significant role in its propensity to tarnish. High humidity environments, direct sunlight, and exposure to harsh chemicals speed up the tarnishing process. Similarly, the pH level of a person’s skin can influence how quickly gold tarnishes when worn as jewellery.

To maintain its lustre, it’s crucial to understand the factors that contribute to the tarnishing of gold. By mitigating exposure to these elements, one can prolong the pristine condition of gold items, ensuring they sparkle for years to come.

The Role of Purity in Tarnish Resistance

When considering the longevity and beauty of gold items, purity plays a crucial role in determining their resistance to tarnish. Pure gold, known as 24 karat gold, exhibits a remarkable resistance to tarnishing because it does not react with most elements, including oxygen or sulphur compounds, which are common culprits behind the tarnishing of metals.

But, pure gold is soft and malleable, making it less than ideal for everyday items like jewellery, which require a certain degree of durability. To combat this, gold is often alloyed with other metals such as copper, silver, nickel, or zinc to enhance its strength and usability. It’s this mixture that introduces the potential for tarnish.

The higher the karat of gold, the less susceptible it is to tarnishing, as there’s a greater percentage of gold in the alloy. Below is a simple breakdown of gold purity levels and their resistance to tarnishing:

KaratGold Content (%)Tarnish Resistance
22K91.7Moderate to High
14K58.3Low to Moderate

Consumers seeking gold items that balance beauty with practical durability should consider 18K gold as a happy medium, offering a good level of tarnish resistance while maintaining the strength needed for daily wear. Understanding this balance is key to selecting gold items that will maintain their lustre and beauty over time.

Environmental Factors and Tarnishing

Environmental elements play a significant role in the tarnishing process of gold and its alloys. Understanding these elements is key for those who wish to maintain the lustre of their gold items over time.

Air quality is a major factor; high levels of pollution can accelerate the tarnishing of gold, especially if it is alloyed with metals susceptible to corrosion. Areas with high industrial activity often have airborne chemicals that can react with gold alloys, leading to tarnish.

Another critical environmental factor is humidity. Moisture in the air can expedite the tarnishing process by facilitating the chemical reactions that lead to discolouration. Gold stored in areas with high humidity levels or frequent exposure to water, including sweat, is more likely to tarnish over time.

Light, particularly direct sunlight, can also impact the rate at which gold tarnishes. Ultraviolet light can affect gold alloys by speeding up the oxidation process, especially in pieces that include silver, which is prone to tarnishing when exposed to sunlight.

Finally, the pH level of an individual’s skin can influence how quickly gold tarnishes. People with higher skin pH levels may find their gold jewellery tarnishes more rapidly, as the acidic environment can enhance tarnishing reactions.

Understanding these environmental factors allows consumers to take preventive measures, like storing gold in cool, dry places away from direct sunlight, to protect their precious gold items against tarnish.

Preventing Tarnish on Gold

To safeguard gold items from tarnishing, certain proactive measures can be immensely beneficial. The key is to reduce items’ exposure to elements that catalyse tarnish. Storage is a crucial factor; keeping gold in a cool, dry place significantly minimises the risk of tarnishing. Utilising anti-tarnish bags or cloths offers an extra layer of protection, especially for jewellery and heirlooms.

Another effective strategy involves reducing direct contact with substances that accelerate tarnish. This means removing gold jewellery before swimming or showering, as chlorine and saltwater are particularly harsh on gold alloys. Likewise, applying perfumes, creams, and other cosmetics before putting on gold items can prevent chemicals from reacting with the gold.

Regular cleaning also plays a vital role in preventing tarnish. A gentle wipe with a soft, lint-free cloth after each wear removes oils and dirt, inhibiting the tarnishing process. For a deeper clean, a solution of warm soapy water and a soft brush can be used. But, it’s imperative to dry gold items thoroughly to avoid moisture-related tarnish.

In some environments, especially those with high humidity, using silica gel packets in the storage area can help absorb moisture, further protecting gold items from tarnish. Regular checks ensure that preventive measures are working and allow for adjustments as needed.


Gold’s resistance to tarnish is well-regarded, but it’s not immune. The battle against tarnish isn’t lost; it’s about being proactive and aware of the environmental factors at play. By adopting preventive measures such as storing gold properly, avoiding harmful substances, and maintaining regular cleaning routines, one can significantly reduce the risk of tarnish. It’s clear that with the right care and attention, the beauty and lustre of gold can be preserved for years to come. Whether it’s a cherished family heirloom or a recent purchase, taking these steps ensures that your gold remains as radiant as the day it was bought.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes gold to tarnish?

Gold itself is highly resistant to tarnishing, but its alloys with other metals can tarnish due to environmental factors such as air quality, humidity, and the individual’s skin pH level. High levels of pollution and humidity, direct sunlight, and higher skin pH levels can all increase the rate at which gold tarnishes.

How can I protect my gold items from tarnishing?

To protect your gold items from tarnishing, store them in cool, dry places away from direct sunlight. Use anti-tarnish bags or cloths, avoid direct contact with chlorine and saltwater, put on perfumes and cosmetics before your gold items, and regularly clean them with a soft, lint-free cloth.

Can high humidity affect gold?

Yes, high humidity can accelerate the tarnishing process of gold and its alloys. Storing gold in a dry environment and using silica gel packets to absorb moisture can help mitigate this effect.

Is it necessary to clean gold items even if they don’t seem tarnished?

Yes, regular cleaning of gold items with a soft, lint-free cloth helps maintain their luster and can prevent the buildup of substances that might accelerate tarnishing. For deeper cleaning, a solution of warm soapy water and a soft brush can be used.

Do cosmetics and perfumes affect gold’s tarnishing?

Yes, cosmetics and perfumes contain chemicals that can accelerate the tarnishing of gold. It’s recommended to apply these products before putting on gold items to minimize direct contact and potential tarnishing.

How do I know if my preventive measures against tarnishing are effective?

Regular checks of your gold items for signs of tarnish can indicate whether your preventive measures are effective. If tarnishing occurs, you may need to revise your storage conditions or cleaning practices to better protect your gold items.