Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Easy, Fast Solutions for Jewelry Cleaning

Jewelry is less fun when it's not at its shiny, sparkly best. I thought I would compile some ways to keep your jewelry as clean and bright as the day you got it.

Keep in mind that some sterling silver jewelry is designed to have a dark patina. I often patina my designs to bring out texture or make it look antiqued. Here are a few that I deliberately darkened.

Most of the cleaning methods I'll discuss will take off this deliberate patina and change the look of your jewelry. This is also important if you have antique jewelry. Taking of the patina might reduce the value of the item. Contact a professional jeweler or appraiser before you clean expensive antique jewelry.

Keeping sterling and copper jewelry in sealable plastic bags will help slow down tarnishing, and keep you from having to clean your jewelry as often.

For jewelry that is already tarnished, here's a inexpensive, fast way to remove tarnish from sterling silver or sturdy silver plated jewelry and other items without rubbing or scrubbing. It ingredients that are probably just sitting around in your kitchen. Here's what you need:
  • glass bowl, or other glass container - one with a flat bottom works the best
  • aluminum foil - cut to fit into the bottom of your glass container
  • baking soda - a few tablespoons, depending on how big your bowl is
  • liquid dish soap - just one or two drops
  • boiling or steaming hot water - enough to fill up your bowl
  1. Cut your aluminum foil to fit the bottom of your glass bowl
  2. Pour a few tablespoons of baking soda and a drop or two of dish soap on top of the foil
  3. Place your tarnished silver jewelry on the foil in the bowl (just a note, many gemstones are too delicate for this cleaning method. DON'T try this pearls, opals, emeralds or other soft gemstones. Also avoid anything you think might be glued together. This method works best for plain metal, or jewelry with tough stones like diamonds, CZ, or glass.)
  4. Pour the hot water on top of everything. The baking soda should fizz a little bit. The baking soda and salt are creating a mild chemical reaction that pulls the tarnish off the jewelry and deposits it on the foil. Stir and flip your jewelry with a toothpick or plastic fork every once and a while.
  5. Leave the jewelry in the water for a few minutes and then fish it out and dry it off on a soft cloth. The tarnish should be pretty much gone. 
Got copper jewelry that you want to make bright and shiny again? Here's an even easier solution - and I know all of you have done this with pennies when you were a kid - white vinegar. That's it. Soak the copper in a little white vinegar until it's bright again. But a note again... DON'T do this with pearls or soft gemstones. Really the only beads or stones that can handle this are, again, diamonds, CZ, or glass.

There are also commercial chemical cleaners that you can dip your jewelry in. This one is available at Target. All the jewelry needs is a quick dip in the jar and it comes out clean.


If you would rather step it up and go a little bit more professional with your jewelry cleaning, you can buy ultrasonic cleaners for pretty good prices. These cleaners use high pitched sound waves to agitate water and cleaning solution to shake and bubble dirt and grime off of jewelry. These work very well to clean skin cells and soap residue off jewelry, but don't really take tarnish off. Again, certain types of gemstones can't be cleaned with this method...
  • Big NO for: Amazonite, Amber, Aragonite, Emerald, Fluorite, Iolite, Kyanite, Labradorite, Lapis Lazuli, Malachite, Moonstone, Serpentine (marketed as "New Jade", "Olive Jade"), Opal, Pearl, Rhodochrosite, Sodalite, Sunstone, Tanzanite, Topaz, Tourmaline, and Turquoise. 
  • Risky/iffy for: Calcite, Coral, Diopside, Howlite, Peridot, Shell
  • Totally OK for: Alexandrite, Amethyst, Aquamarine, Carnelian, Citrine, CZ, Diamonds, Garnet, true genuine Jade (jadeite, nephrite - most inexpensive "Jade" you can buy is actually Serpentine, which is on the no list), Rhodonite, Ruby, Sapphire, and Spinel.
Cleaning pearls is a little trickier. Pearls actually stay more lustrous the more often they are worn; sitting in a drawer makes them dull (and lonely). However, pearls are very porous and chemicals will damage them, so keep them away from hairspray and cleaning chemicals (take off your pearl ring before doing the dishes... or make someone else do them...) Pearls smudged with fingerprints can be wiped down with a soft cloth.

But I'm sure you are wondering what the heck you can actually do with your tarnished, grimy sterling silver wire wrapped pearl bracelet since you can't dip it in chemicals or put it in a cleaner. A polish impregnated cloth - it has tiny microabrasives that rub the tarnish off metal. It will eventually damage the pearls, so concentrate your cleaning on the metal sections of the jewelry.


It takes a little bit of elbow grease, but these will polish tarnish off of copper as well. You can also buy silver polishing cloths in home goods stores - for polishing silver plated flatware - they work the same.

Hopefully these tips are helpful to keep your jewelry clean and shiny. Let me know any tips or tricks I may have missed.

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