Have you stopped wearing a favorite piece of jewelry because the stones look dull or the metal is no longer shiny? A simple cleaning may be enough to make it sparkle again!
The photo shows the results of a quick dip in silver cleaner for some of my earrings (I don’t always keep up with my jewelry cleaning either!).
There are many options for cleaning jewelry, but not all methods are appropriate for all types of gems or metals. Heat, vibration, or chemicals can damage many types of gemstones. At the end of this post I’ve provided links to articles that can help you choose the best cleaning method for common gemstones.
Here are some common jewelry cleaning methods:
Dish Soap & Warm Water: This method is fine for virtually all gems (pearls need special care). Simply soak the jewelry in warm (not hot) water with a few drops of mild dish soap. Use a soft brush (I use a soft toothbrush) to remove dirt, paying attention to the backs and sides of settings, clasps, and between set stones or beads. Rinse with clean warm water and dry with a soft cloth. If you are cleaning your jewelry in a sink, be sure to close or block the drain first! This method will not remove tarnish from silver.
Liquid Jewelry Cleaners: There are any number of brands of liquid jewelry cleaners available but I don’t find that they work better than dish soap and warm water. However, they often come with handy strainers for dipping your jewelry into the cleaner and soft brushes for getting into crevices.
Polishing Cloths: There are many types available; some are impregnated with polishing compounds and are particularly useful for cleaning metals. There are also special cloths for cleaning gemstones (without any abrasives). I am personally fond of the Sunshine brand of polishing cloths and find them particularly useful for cleaning bezel settings, clasps and extender chains, and metal beads next to soft gemstones.
Silver Dips: Silver dips are a fast and easy way to remove tarnish (and what I used to clean the earrings shown in the picture above). They are great for getting into places that can be hard to reach with a cloth. These cleaners are not safe for use with soft stones (I’ve ruined both malachite and lapis lazuli in the past). Read any instructions carefully and check the resources below to see if chemical cleaners are safe for your jewelry. Be sure to rinse and dry jewelry thoroughly after using a chemical dip.
Jewelry Polishes: There are many types of polishes on the market including some specifically for sterling silver, and some with a wider range of applications. I have had very good luck using the Jewel Brite brand which cleans metals, removes tarnish from silver, and is safe for all gemstones. Always use soft cloths (not paper towels), and rinse and dry thoroughly. Read and follow the manufacturers directions carefully.
Ultrasonic Cleaners: Ultrasonic cleaners use high frequency sound waves that create tiny microscopic bubbles that actually implode (the action is called cavitation). This action loosens the dirt and oil on your jewelry. Ultrasonic cleaners come in sizes for both home and professional use. A cleaning solution is added to the water in the cleaner (you can buy specialty cleaners or just use mild dish soap). Professional models may include a water heater while most personal use machines do not. Be sure to check if your stone can handle the vibrations from an ultrasonic cleaner at one of the sources listed below. If you’re not sure, don’t do it. This method will not remove silver tarnish.
Steam Cleaners: These cleaners use blasts of high pressure steam to remove dirt and oils from jewelry. Steam cleaners are mostly used by jewelry professionals rather than consumers. They are very quick and effective but many gemstones are too delicate to be cleaned by this method.
Some other considerations:
* Whatever method you use, always be sure your jewelry is dry before placing it back into your jewelry box.
* With any of these methods, if you’re not sure if it will damage your jewelry, either don’t do it or find a spot that won’t be seen to test before cleaning the entire piece.
* Some jewelry may have been purposefully “blackened” to highlight a recessed design or for other artistic reasons. These items should be hand cleaned carefully so as not to remove the blackening agent.
* It is a good idea to examine your jewelry for loose or damaged stones or settings before using ultrasonic or steam cleaners. The force of the steam or vibrations from the ultrasonic can occasionally knock stones out of their settings.
* Fine gemstone jewelry should be taken to a jeweler once a year to have settings, such as prongs, inspected for damage or wear. Some jewelry stores may offer complementary jewelry cleaning for their customers.
* For jewelry you no longer enjoy wearing, please read my blog “8 Ways to Clean Out Jewelry Clutter“.
Jewelry and gemstone cleaning and care links:
The Gemological Society of America (GIA) has lots of information on care of gemstones. I really like their Gem Cleaning and Display Chart which you can download for free and includes information on heat and sunlight sensitivity of gems. Here’s a more general article titled “Tips on Caring for Jewelry“.
Here’s a Gemstone Cleaning Chart from Fire Mountain Gems.