If you value your jewelry or other fine metal work then anti-tarnish strips are a necessity. Anti-tarnish strips can protect jewelry and prevent tarnish, even if the items are stored for many years. But how do anti-tarnish strips work and what should you look for when you buy them?

First, it's important to know what tarnish is—and what it isn't. Many people think that tarnish is a reaction to the oxygen in the air, but it is actually a reaction to elements in the air. The most well-known form of tarnish is silver tarnish: silver could be exposed to oxygen indefinitely and show no tarnish of any kind. Thus, anti-tarnish strips are quite different from rust protectants.

Silver tarnish actually comes from a reaction to hydrogen sulfide (H2S), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and/or chlorine (CI) in the air. Hydrogen sulfide can come from several sources. It's a gas created by the breakdown of organic substances, on jewelry the most common source of tarnish is when small amounts of organic substance—such as the oil from a fingerprint—begin to decompose, or when there is a trace amount of hydrogen sulfide in the air, which is not uncommon. Because of the organic substances on human skin, jewelry that's worn regularly may tarnish faster than clean jewelry in storage, but both can tarnish over time.

Anti-tarnish strips thus offer an alternative to regularly cleaning and polishing jewelry, even when you're not wearing it. And since textured or engraved silver may be hard to polish clean, anti-tarnish strips can protect jewelry much better than polishing alone.

There are several types of anti-tarnish strips that use different methods to prevent tarnish from occurring. However, it's important to be careful in selecting your anti-tarnish strips: some have historically used chemicals which, although they eliminate tarnish, may be toxic and can harm the metal...These harsh, outdated strips use products like charcoal or chemicals such as nitrates and nitrites, amines, and other tarnish inhibitors often found in many anti tarnish strips. If you see anti-tarnish strips that include any of these, steer clear!

Instead, the best modern anti-tarnish strips use copper based polymers that react to hydrogen sulfide and other tarnish causing gases and neutralize them before they cause tarnish. Thus, instead of trying to remove tarnish off the metal with abrasive substances—and ultimately damaging the metal itself—they simply stop tarnish from forming in the first place.

Have you tried anti-tarnish strips? What did you use them to protect?