Topic: Silver Tarnish

Hello everyone,

Yesterday, I witnessed something I have never seen before.

In May I had a lesson with a bassoon student, and the instrument he just bought was nice and shiny.  I had seen this instrument from time to time over 2-3 years and the silver had always been shiny. 

Yesterday, I saw the instrument again, and the whole instrument was nearly brown with tarnish on the silver; much more than where the student touches the keys.

I've never seen such deterioration in just 3 months, so I assume it must be something environmental at the student's home.

First, any ideas on what could cause such tarnish so quickly.
Second, what would be the best way to go about getting the silver back to its shiny self?

Thanks in advance,

Scott Pool

Scott Pool

"The Ornaments look pretty, but they're pulling down the branches of the tree." - Cake

Re: Silver Tarnish

I asked my husband, a chemical engineer.  He said the thing that will turn silver black instantly is H2S, hydrogen sulfide (that rotten egg smell).  I expect H2S is not particularly present in this student's home, but another bad actor, CO2 (carbon dioxide) is certainly present around the Dallas area in the persona of millions of cars, which are all pouring out CO2 and sulfur.  Also, of course, refineries or other petrochemical facilities are all emitting various cocktails of chemicals, if he lives anywhere near one of them.  Burning things produces these chemicals - maybe a faulty heating system in the house (but that's the wrong season for this problem).  Probably some more info about this student's immediate living situation would be in order.

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Re: Silver Tarnish

You can get paper you put in the case that will help this.  Check any Flute specialty shops.

Mark

Mark Ortwein
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
OrtweinWoodwinds.com

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Re: Silver Tarnish

Did the student just buy it 3 months ago? But you just knew the bassoon with the previous owner?

Did the new owner start using a different case than the previous owner used with it?

Otherwise I find that bassoons tarnish more when they just sit in the case. If they're out and in and touched more they generally don't tarnish as much. Generally the places you touch are the places that don't tarnish, since those are places you're rubbing the surface more. But again, if the instrument sits in the case it will tarnish more. I see this here at the shop for an instrument that's sat on the shelf for a few weeks will have more tarnish than an instrument that's been out and played more (for whatever reason). So maybe the new owner just hasn't practiced it much over the summer? Seriously.

As for cleaning it up: buy a silver treated polishing cloth and start scrubbing away. This may require taking keys off to get at all the nooks and crannies. Not much else for it.

Last edited by Trent (2014-08-25 11:35:26)

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: Silver Tarnish

NancyDuncan wrote:

I asked my husband, a chemical engineer.  He said the thing that will turn silver black instantly is H2S, hydrogen sulfide (that rotten egg smell).  I expect H2S is not particularly present in this student's home, but another bad actor, CO2 (carbon dioxide) is certainly present around the Dallas area in the persona of millions of cars, which are all pouring out CO2 and sulfur.  Also, of course, refineries or other petrochemical facilities are all emitting various cocktails of chemicals, if he lives anywhere near one of them.  Burning things produces these chemicals - maybe a faulty heating system in the house (but that's the wrong season for this problem).  Probably some more info about this student's immediate living situation would be in order.


Here's the other chemist showing up. Hydrogen sulfide is mostly noticable with some cars/gasoline mixes where the catalytic converter emits it (cars that have the "rotten egg" smell). Hydrogen sulfide is fairly toxic, but I don't know how many (if any) people could stand the smell at even those low levels. Other common household sources of sulfur (not necessariily H2S but other
sulfides that might have similar effects although not as dramatic as H2S—you did say a few months—H2S is instant or "diffusion limited") would be onions and garlic or maybe a wild skunk; less common would be a gas leak—n-butyl thiol is a sulfur compound that is put into natural gas so you smell the leak.-kby

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Re: Silver Tarnish

Trent, you are right about the silver tarnishing more when it's just left in the case.  I traded in an unused (left in the case since the horn was new) bocal about 5 years after it was new and was horribly embarrassed to see how tarnished it was when I finally took it out of its little clip in the case.

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