There’s good news and there’s bad news when it comes to cleaning jewelry: The good news is that it’s actually very easy to clean jewelry of all kinds, from metals like gold and silver to gemstones like diamonds and even costume jewelry. Typically, cleaning jewelry takes only a few minutes and doesn’t require fancy equipment or specialty products — although fancy equipment and specialty products can be good choices for keeping your baubles looking their best!
The bad news is that, while cleaning jewelry is easy, there are things that can go wrong…and when things go wrong with jewelry, it can be a very, very expensive mistake. We’d hate to see you damage your precious fine jewelry!
To help you avoid a costly error, and to take the mystery out of cleaning different types of jewelry, we enlisted three experts — Kyle Chan, a celebrity jewelry designer; Don O’Connell, president & CEO of Charles & Colvard; and Kathleen Gray, vice president design service, repair and assembly for Kay Jewelers — to explain the dos and don’ts of maintaining your jewelry’s luster and cleanliness.
To keep silver jewelry looking its best, regular cleaning is key. Gray recommends cleaning sterling silver jewelry using a gentle soap and warm water, which will help to remove dirt and product buildup, and prevent tarnish from forming.
Foam jewelry cleaners are a good option for most jewelry, as they are safe to use on all metals, as well as almost all gemstones.
Gray points out a surprising source of dullness when it comes to jewelry: “Make sure to avoid products that include moisturizers,” she says, “as those ingredients may leave an unwanted film on your jewelry.”
Chan prefers a polishing cloth for cleaning silver jewelry, and offers a tip you might not have thought of when using a polishing cloth rather than a cream- or liquid-based cleanser: “After you polish [silver jewelry], clean it with hot water.”
When it comes to cleaning any sort of jewelry, what not to use is equally as important as what to use. “The most important thing to note about gold jewelry,” Gray says, “is that it should never be cleaned with anything harsh such as toothpaste, baking soda or any kind of powered cleaner. These types of products are known to scratch metals.”
Instead, use a liquid jewelry cleaning product like this option by Weiman, which will remove product buildup and environmental soils from metal.
If your everyday jewelry has an intricate setting or links, choose a liquid jewelry cleaner that comes with a small brush, which will help to gently scrub dirt and buildup from hard-to-reach places.
To really up the shine factor on freshly polished metal jewelry, O’Connell recommends buff-drying the jewelry after cleaning with a soft cloth.
Gray explains that tarnish occurs “when the surface of the metal goes through a chemical change, resulting in a discoloration.” While you can clean dirt and buildup that creates a dull appearance on metal jewelry using a mild soap and water, tarnish cannot be washed off.
To remove tarnish from jewelry, Gray recommends using a polishing cloth like the Sevenwell Jewelry Cleaning Cloths. These come in a pack of 50 for less than $10, to wipe away scratches and tarnish from jewelry.
For very tarnished metal, Gray suggests pairing a polishing cloth with a liquid or foam jewelry cleaning formula.
O’Connell says the best way to avoid tarnish is to regularly clean your metal jewelry, “For silver and other metals, we recommend polishing your pieces from time to time to avoid tarnishing. If your piece is already showing discoloration, giving it a good polish using a wipe will help give back its shine.”
Keeping diamonds and other gemstones like emeralds, rubies or sapphires looking sparkly can be done in a number of ways, but if you’re really serious about your gems, Chan recommends investing in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaning machine, which he says “are very affordable nowadays,” for at-home use.
Chan says that the models with heat options usually work best, like this option by Vcutech. It features a built-in removable cleaning basket, heating option with indicators and a degas function to protect your jewelry from being oxidized while giving your pieces a deep clean.
The Fosmon Professional Ultrasonic Cleaner is a more budget-friendly option to clean diamonds and gemstones. Chan likes the ultrasonic machines for cleaning diamonds and colored gemstones, but he cautions that not all gems can safely be cleaned using this method. “Look up the hardness of the gemstone [on the Mohs Hardness Scale],” he says, “to make sure they are over No. 8 in hardness.” Ultrasonic cleaning can break softer gemstones, and is absolutely not safe for pearls and opals, specifically. If you are unsure if a piece of jewelry can safely be cleaned in an ultrasonic machine, Chan says, “it is always better to bring it to a professional.”
If you’re not ready to invest in an ultrasonic cleaning machine, Gray recommends making a solution with warm water and dishwashing soap, then soaking diamonds or other hard gemstones for 20 to 40 minutes. After soaking, she says, “you’ll want to very gently brush the stones followed by a quick rinse under water.” However, she cautions, “you should never wash your jewelry over an open sink. Instead, use a small bowl completely away from your sink.”
Moissanite and morganite are increasingly popular choices for engagement rings, and while they’re softer than diamonds, they can generally be cleaned in the same way. “Moissanite and lab-grown diamonds can be cleaned the same way you would a natural diamond or any other fine gemstone,” O’Connell says.
He recommends using a commercial, nonacid-based jewelry cleaner, or using soap, warm water and a toothbrush to gently scrub the gem.
Pearls, opals, moonstones and other gems that are below 8 on the Mohs Hardness Scale require special handling.
Always check the manufacturer’s instructions on a jewelry cleaning product before using it on any precious stones, but this is especially true of pearls, opals and moonstones, which are best cleaned using a pearl-safe jewelry wipe, because they are so delicate.
Typically, liquid and foam jewelry cleaners are not safe to use on pearl and opal jewelry, though there are some available that are specifically formulated for use on soft gems like this Hagerty Pearl Clean. Gray also notes that because “pearls and opals are soft stones, soaking them in anything that uses alcohol as an ingredient, such as hand sanitizer, could dull the stone’s shine or even damage it. I always remove my soft stone rings before using hand sanitizer.”
Most costume jewelry can be cleaned the same way as fine jewelry, but there is one major exception: It is best to avoid hot water when soaking costume jewelry, because glue is often used to fuse individual parts to the setting, and hot water (or exposure to heat of other kinds) can melt the glue, loosening stones and causing them to fall out.
To clean costume jewelry, use a mild soap and a soft brush to gently scrub away dirt and buildup. Polishing cloths are also a good option for cleaning costume jewelry. This kit by Simple Shine includes everything you need to make your jewelry look like new.