Wire Resource: How to Use Liver of Sulfur

By on July 25, 2012
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by Rose Marion, Wire-Sculpture.com

Liver of sulfur, also spelled liver of sulphur or just LOS, is a quick and easy (although stinky!) way to patina copper and silver. Last week we discovered a recipe for green verdigris (check it out). Liver of sulfur, though, will give your copper and silver jewelry a beautiful antique look, like these pieces:

Quick Wired Bead Ring by Albina Manning

Quick Wired Bead Ring by Albina Manning

Silver Cotter Pin Link Bracelet by Albina Manning

Silver Cotter Pin Link Bracelet by Albina Manning

Note: there are 2 types of liver of sulfur available on the market: gel and “rock” or solid form. I highly recommend the gel form, available here: Liver of Sulphur Gel, because the gel dissolves in warm water much faster, making the process (and the smell!) faster than ever.

Here’s a little tutorial that will show you how easy it is to use liver of sulfur!

Materials needed:

  • Liver of Sulphur Gel
  • Water in a glass or plastic cup (I recommend disposable)
  • Paintbrush
  • Fine (#0000) Steel Wool and a Dust Mask
  • Paper towels and/or rags
  • Disposable Gloves that will keep your fingers dry
  • and of course, the pieces you want to patina!

Step 1. Clean your piece and set up your equipment. Plan ahead of time where you’ll process your jewelry, and remember that it will smell like eggs.  I set up out on the porch, with the house door closed.

Supplies for a liver of sulfur patina

A cup with water, Liver of Sulfur Gel, #0000 Steel Wool, Gloves, and a Paintbrush.

Step 2. Read the directions on your package. For the gel form of liver of sulfur. Typical directions will ask for warm, not hot water, that you can still put your finger in and not be burned. An easy way to do this is simply place the water in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. The amount of water you’ll need depends on how much jewelry you’ll be patina-ing, but a small cup with about 8 ounces of water will easily do dozens of earrings.

Step 3. Take the water out of the microwave and bring it to your work station. Remember, this should be outside or in a well-ventilated area! Now, put on gloves: you don’t want to touch liver of sulfur to your skin. Add your liver of sulfur to the water (check your directions for how much) and stir with your paintbrush. With just a small cup (about 8oz), about 5 drops of liver of sulfur is strong enough. You can always add more gel. If you aren’t using the gel form, you will have to allow time for the liver of sulfur to dissolve. It will be bright yellow when it’s ready.

Liver of Sulfur solution

Stir the Liver of Sulfur solution to mix it

Step 4. Here’s the fun part: in goes the jewelry!
It’s up to you to use tweezers or tongs, or to simply pull the jewelry out of the liver of sulfur solution with your gloved fingers. If you used a lot of liver of sulfur, the jewelry will turn black almost immediately. If you used less, you may have to let it sit in the solution for up to a minute.

Wire jewelry about to be dipped in liver of sulfur

Hint: If you have items you don’t want the liver of sulfur to touch, such as pearls, use a paintbrush (or even a q-tip) to only apply the liver of sulfur to the area of the piece you want to have patina.

Painting liver of sulfur on copper with a paintbrush

Step 5. Remove the blackened jewelry from the liver of sulfur. Let sit on a towel or rag to dry.

Copper wire jewelry blackened with liver of sulfur

Step 6. When dry, use #0000 fine steel wool to erase some of the blackened finish, revealing a lovely antique look.
Hint: Fine steel wool can “shed,” so do this over a work surface. I use a paper towel to hold the steel wool so I don’t get poked! Safety note: it’s a good idea to wear a dust mask while using steel wool.

Polishing liver of sulfur with steel wool

Step 7. Rinse with clean water, and let your piece dry. Leave as-is, or seal with wax like Renaissance Wax to protect your new patina. Now, admire your work!

Finished copper butterfly necklace with liver of sulfur finish

My finished copper butterfly necklace with a liver of sulfur finish.

To dispose of the liver of sulfur, simply pour it slowly down the drain with lots of running water. An even safer method is to shake baking soda into the liver of sulfur to neutralize it, then pour it down the drain (good for old pipes).

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16 Comments

  1. avatar

    Chris Bell

    July 25, 2012 at 5:54 am

    Hi there! I would like to patina some findings that are silver plated. I am worried that the steel wool will not only remove some of the patina, but also some of the plating. Is there another way to remove some patina that is less abrasive?

    • avatar

      Rose

      July 25, 2012 at 8:35 am

      Hi Chris, the only other thing I’ve tried is those green and yellow sponges for scrubbing, use the green scrubbie side… The downside is the plastic fuzzies tend to get caught in parts of the piece, like between wires, but you can go back over it with a toothbrush or your fingers and pick the fuzzies out after. I would probably test it a few times to see how it works on your silver plated findings – let us know what happens? :)

      • avatar

        Carlotta

        November 19, 2013 at 2:24 pm

        I have seen demos on using liver of sulfur that say to dip your art into baking soda with water to neutralize the liver of sulfur after your jewelry has darkened. If you don’t, the piece will get dark again over time. But if you are worried about damaging the jewelry when removing the excess patina, you can rub it off with backing soda and your fingers. I have used this method and it works well.

  2. avatar

    Carol Smith

    July 25, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Thank you so much! I have heard about Liver of Sulfur but thought it was compicated. Now I know differently. Great tip!

  3. avatar

    Val Bogdan

    July 25, 2012 at 6:55 am

    I have also tried adding a few drops of ammonia to the LOS for more blues and purples. It took a bit of experimenting with amounts of ammonia and how long to dip. I had a string attached and a clean glass of water and would dip and rinse until I got the hue I was looking for. It changes very quickly once it starts.

  4. avatar

    Kathy C.

    July 25, 2012 at 6:58 am

    If you are putting patina on sterling silver item, try making a weaker solution of liver of sulfer and then adding some household ammonia to the solution. Go slowly. Dip your piece for a few seconds, then take it out and look at it, dip again, etc. You can get the most beautiful colors on the way to black. Sometimes I get yellows, pinks, mauves, aquas! It is so much fun! When you are ready to stop, rinse the piece in water and dry it off. If you don’t rinse, the process continues on to a darker color. Supposedly, salt work with the liver of sulpher, too, but I’ve only tried the ammonia.

    • avatar

      Rose

      July 25, 2012 at 8:33 am

      Interesting, Kathy! Thanks!

  5. avatar

    Carol Praissman

    July 25, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Coming to silver wire jewelry from the stained glass field, I have many bottles of patina products. Classique makes an Antique Brass patina. JAX Makes a Copper Plating Solution for iron, steel, brass & solders. They also make a Brown Brass, Bronze & Copper Darkener. Plus a Green Patina for Copper, Brass & Bronze. All of these need to be well-ventilated. Some or all of these may be good for silver. I’ve used them on copper & have been very happy with the results!

  6. avatar

    Gina

    July 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I put a whole boiled egg in a baggie and smash it up and then put the piece I want to patina in the bag and let it set for a day or two. When it reaches the point I want I just rinse it off and throw away the baggie.

  7. avatar

    spiderwoman

    October 9, 2012 at 5:54 am

    we use baking soda dissolved in water to stop the process and keep the piece from darkening further. rinse off with water after and polish with soft cloth to bring out highlights

  8. avatar

    Terri

    October 9, 2012 at 9:31 am

    I made a long hook out of a piece of copper wire to retrieve my pieces. Keeps my hands out of the smelly stuff.

  9. avatar

    Linda

    October 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    I have used LOS to turn PMC silver 99.9% pure and have gotten a golden hue. I have been successfull several times with this. I used the rock LOS, I haven’t used the gel as of yet, but it’s on my shopping list. I also have some patina from stained glass that I haven’t tried.

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  12. avatar

    DeAnna

    July 25, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    If this patina can be polished or buffed off to reveal the undertones of the original metal surface, what prevents it from rubbing off as well on the skin when wore as jewelry while rubbing against your neck line all day or finger…wrist? i would assume that R wax recommended does not last given it’s wax based and that thin coating would wear off in time(it’s the curious encaustic artist in me)…so what do you do when a customer comes back within a year or so and wants to know why their skin is turning as well as their metals original color tones? I have tried to read up on this and have read that sealants are not long term solutions as well with the exception to permalacs..but wonder how that would look on jewelry…worried it might give it more of a art craft look..hmm questions questions!!!
    Bare with me, i am a newbie and learning…sigh

  13. avatar

    Annette

    December 20, 2014 at 11:01 am

    The Copper wire sold in the store, can it be antiqued with Liver of sulfur?

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