What’s the Difference Between Silver and Sterling Silver?

Based on archeological evidence, scientists say that humans may have started mining for silver as early as 3000 B.C in the areas of Turkey and Greece.

We’ve been using silver for a really long time, but sterling silver is somewhat new to us. But are you wondering, “What’s the difference between silver and sterling silver?”

Keep reading to find out what the differences are and how to tell which one you have.

Pure Silver

Pure silver is the type of silver that has been mined since ancient times. To sell something as “pure silver” means it has to have at least 99.9% of silver properties in it.

There isn’t any such thing as 100% silver, because even the purest silver has a few impurities in it. If you do have some jewelry made from real silver, it probably isn’t just all silver either.

Pure silver is too soft and breakable, so normally it’s mixed with other stronger metals to improve the life of it. That’s why it’s important to ask what percentage of silver it really is before you buy anything that looks silver.


Pure silver has many uses, but it is mainly used to mix with other metals to make jewelry. However, it was also used to make coins as well.

There aren’t many uses for pure silver because of how delicate and fragile it can be. But there are still some silver bars for sale (just like the gold bars you see all the time).


Just because pure silver is pure doesn’t mean that it can’t tarnish.

When exposed to the air, the silver will still react. Over time, it will start to fade and lose some of its color.

If you don’t keep up with cleaning it, you may also notice a dirty film or layer on top of it.

Sterling Silver

Now you may be wondering, what is sterling silver?

Unlike pure silver, sterling is silver is just a silver alloy. That means that it has a little bit of pure silver in it, but it’s mixed with copper. Because of how fragile pure silver is, this helps to make it stronger. Normally the mixture is made from copper because it’s cheaper, but any metal can be used.

Other common ones include zinc and nickel.

You might think that sterling silver might be more copper than silver, but it’s actually still 92.5% pure. This means that only about 7.5% of the mixture comes from other metals.

However, there are still many items that are sterling silver but coated with pure silver. That way they have the look of silver but the strength of a different metal. When selling an item like this, you shouldn’t market it as pure silver though since only the layer is and not the actual item.


Sterling silver actually has many more uses than pure silver because of how much stronger it is.

For example, many people use it to make cheap silver jewelry. It can also be used to make silverware, platters, coffee sets, and really anything that you can coat or plate with silver.

Some items are also made entirely of other different metals but coated with sterling silver instead of pure silver. These items are even cheaper and have even less pure silver in them. Sterling silver is much more durable than pure silver, which is another reason that people would choose to coat their items with that instead.


Just like pure silver, sterling silver can also tarnish. In fact, it might tarnish even more easily.

Sterling silver can tarnish more easily because the other metals (like copper, zinc, and nickel) aren’t as long-lasting. When you combine two metals that tarnish fairly quickly, it becomes an even bigger problem.

While sterling silver items might be cheaper to purchase, they likely won’t last as long because the metals simply don’t last as long.

How to Test the Silver

If you have several pieces of jewelry or silverware that look silver, you might be wondering how to tell what they really are. If you’ve bought them yourself, you may be able to check the receipt or ask the dealer.

However, if you don’t have the receipt or inherited the items, you may have no clue. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to tell.

To test the purity of the silver, many people use the acid test. To do this, you should take a small shaving of the silver from whatever item. Try to do it in a place that no one will really notice it.

Have a bowl or glass of acid, and then put that silver shaving in there. Next, pay attention to what the acid does.

If the acid changes colors, the purity of the silver is lower than 92.5%. If it doesn’t change colors, then you likely have a more purified form of silver.

There are many jewelers out there who will test it for you if you don’t want to deal with finding the acid. However, there are also several metal testing kits that you can purchase online.

Learn More About What’s the Difference Between Silver and Sterling Silver?

Hopefully, this helps to answer your question of, “What’s the difference between silver and sterling silver?”

However, with all the changing fashion styles, it can be difficult to know what silver jewelry is actually in right now or not.

Thankfully, we have you covered. If you enjoyed this article, make sure that you explore our website to find more just like this one!