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Whether you’re a fan of trendy jewelry or prefer the finer things in life, all accessory lovers can agree on one thing: Keeping jewelry clean can feel like an uphill battle.
Between air pollution, tarnish and daily wear, jewelry is subjected to plenty of harsh elements, and figuring out the proper way to clean it can be baffling.
Lucky for you, these jewelry experts have seen it all! And they’ve got a few tips for making sure your jewelry looks as good as new for years to come.
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Jewelry cleaning 101
Think of your jewelry like clothing: No two pieces are alike, and they all come with a unique set of cleaning guidelines. That means some of your jewelry can be cleaned at home, while others might require the attention of a professional.
“Gold and sterling silver can be cleaned at home, but more delicate metals, like platinum, can sustain small scratches more easily than its other metal counterparts. While many enjoy the unique matte look, if you prefer to maintain your piece’s lustrous appearance, a professional re-polish is best,” Kathryn Money, vice president of strategy and merchandising at jewelry brand Brilliant Earth, said.
In general, jewelry made of precious metals set with diamonds, sapphires and rubies is safe to clean yourself with most commercial jewelry cleaners. You can also clean this type of jewelry with a mild soap and warm water, according to Elizabeth Doyle, co-founder of jewelry brand Doyle & Doyle.
Opals, coral, turquoise and pearls, on the other hand, are gemstones you should always send to professionals. “Certain cleaners can damage them. Antique jewelry can also be tricky to clean. For example, jewelry with closed-backed mountings form the Georgian Era cannot get wet,” Doyle said.
Unsure how often you should clean your favorite jewelry pieces? Take a good look at them, for starters. If they’re beginning to lose their sparkle, that’s a clear sign it’s time to freshen them up. Frequency of wear and intricacy of design can also play a factor in how often cleaning is necessary.
“I tell clients to have their pieces professionally checked and cleaned every six months to a year to make sure all of the prongs are still in good condition and haven’t been snagged or moved out of place,” said Jane Berg, founder of the fine jewelry line Jane Berg Collection.
How do you clean your own jewelry?
It’s simply not practical to take every piece of jewelry for a professional cleaning every time you notice it’s looking a bit dull. But is it actually safe to clean your jewelry at home? And where do you even start?
For one thing, keep it simple!
Old standbys like soap and water can work wonders for clearing up minor wear and tear on jewelry, and it's safe to use on most of your favorite pieces. “For both fine jewelry and costume jewelry, you can use simple household items like warm water, mild dish soap and a soft bristle toothbrush to clean your jewelry, followed by drying the pieces with a soft cloth,” Money said.
If your jewelry is pretty dirty, you can leave it to soak for a bit to really loosen up that dirt. Afterward, make sure you pat it gently and lay on a clean, soft cloth to dry completely.
This method will work well for most of your diamond, precious and semi-precious gems (think sapphires) and gold jewelry. Or, Money suggests creating your own mild DIY solution of six parts water to one-part ammonia and apply it with a soft bristle brush. “Carefully rinse with lukewarm water and dry with a soft cloth,” she said.
- Diamond rings
Wondering how to treat those precious diamond rings? Use a mix of DIY treatments and thorough cleanings from professionals. "You can safely clean your good diamond jewelry using a toothbrush and mild liquid soap. I also find that just putting your diamond pieces in very hot water and letting them soak for a minute helps dissolve any built up oils from your skin or lotion," Berg said.
- Pearls and emeralds
Pearl and emerald jewelry, on the other hand, should be cleaned with a mild soap and water solution and then allowed to dry. Afterward, wipe your pearls with a soft, lint-free cloth.
- Antique jewelry
If you love antique jewelry, tread cautiously when it comes to cleaning and wearing it!
“I recommend special caution when wearing and caring for antique fine jewelry as they can be more delicate than today’s designs,” Money said. “Avoid wearing vintage fine jewelry when engaging in any strenuous activity, when around any harsh chemicals, or in the shower. Some antique rings can be cleaned with warm water, mild soap and a soft toothbrush, but some older pieces should not be submerged in water.”
Silver is gorgeous and sparkles brilliantly, but it also has a way of blatantly showing all its blemishes. To keep your silver jewelry clean, gently rub the piece with a jewelry-cleaning cloth. Then rinse the silver thoroughly in warm water and dry it carefully. Dealing with extensive tarnish? Try using liquid silver cleaner or sending it to a jeweler.
- White gold
White gold jewelry is typically plated with rhodium to provide a bright white finish, but daily wear can dull the sparkle over time and expose the natural, yellow-white tone of metal underneath. "Many people continue to wear white gold long after the rhodium plating has worn off, but you also have the option of having your jewelry professionally re-plated to return it to its bright white color," Money said.
Cleaning cloths are always a great option to keep your jewelry looking fresh! Looking for the perfect one? Try a chamois or microfiber cloth to wipe jewelry clean, and a polishing cloth to shine up metal.
Real jewelry versus costume jewelry
You might not be shelling out the same kind of money for costume jewelry pieces as you would for fine jewelry, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take proper care of them. Since they're not expertly made, costume jewelry has its own set of cleaning rules and should always be cleaned more sparingly and gently.
“Since the stones are most often glued in, too much cleaning can weaken the glue and cause stones to fall out. Costume jewelry is usually made of a base metal with a plating on top. Scrubbing a piece can cause the finish to wear over time," Doyle said. "Whenever possible, costume jewelry should just be wiped clean with a soft cloth. The piece should only be cleaned using a liquid cleaner when absolutely necessary and not often.”
Fine jewelry, on the other hand, can and should be cleaned more often. Whenever your pricier pieces look dirty or start to lose their sparkle, it’s time for a bit of TLC.
“When the stones look dull, that is a good indication that there is dirt and grease accumulating under the stone. Not only does this take away from your jewelry's beauty, but it is also not good for the setting or the stone. It can cause unnecessary wear and can even loosen prongs. Dirt accumulated under stones can also cause irritation to your skin,” Doyle said.
Everyday wear and tear can dull the sparkle of fine jewelry, so it’s important to pay attention to its condition and treat it when necessary.
“Basic jewelry care will protect and preserve your jewelry for years to come. The care of your pieces depends on their unique properties, including the metal and gemstones, which can become dulled and less brilliant over time.
Wear is also a factor: Everyday pieces are exposed to outside elements (air and dirt, for example) and trauma (scratching), while those you keep tucked away can tarnish if stored improperly,” Money said.
What should you expect at a professional cleaning?
Jewelry cleaning practices vary from shop to shop but, in general, it can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the piece.
"A typical cleaning includes an initial inspection to make sure all gemstones are present and tightly secured in the piece, then, depending on the type of materials, either a soak in an ultrasonic bath or, for more sensitive items, a light brushing with mild, soapy water before rinsing, drying and final inspection," Money said.
And Money recommends taking your jewelry back to the store you bought it from; some companies will only clean their own pieces.
Special pieces, including engagement rings, wedding bands and antique jewelry, should be brought to a professional every six months. "Not only does this keep jewelry looking its best, it is also a good opportunity to check for loose stones and any wear or damage that should be addressed," Doyle said.
During the cleaning, your engagement ring and wedding band will get soaked in a professional cleaning solution then put in an ultrasonic cleaner where all dirt and grease are vibrated free of the ring. The final step is a steam cleaning to make your stones shine like new!
"Professional cleanings are recommended as frequently as once a year, depending on how often you wear your jewelry. Between professional cleanings, you may use a gem and jewelry cleaner to clean your diamond and sapphire jewelry," Money said.
Not all gems are created equal. Some are softer and more porous and others are color treated, so ask your jeweler if your favorite pieces can be put in a sonic cleaner or if you can use jewelry cleaner on them. Pearls, for example, should never go in an ultrasonic cleanser.
Proper jewelry storage
We’ve all heard how important it is to store beauty products in a cool, dry place, but what about jewelry? It might not seem so important, but the way you store jewelry can effect the way it looks.
Try to avoid storing your jewelry in direct sunlight or excessive heat. “It is best to keep your jewelry in a clean, dry place, preferably in a holder lined with a soft material. Certain colored gems can be more sensitive to sunlight, like emeralds and tanzanite, for example. Other color-treated gems can also be more sensitive to prolonged direct sunlight,” Berg said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t store your jewelry out in the open, though. After all, fun, decorative trinket trays and jewelry holders are a great way to display your favorite pieces and keep them accessible. Just be prepared to regularly clean any jewelry you store in a trinket tray.
“As through regular wear, they leave your jewelry exposed to outside elements that may affect its appearance, so regular cleanings of both the jewelry and trinket receptacle itself (to eliminate dust, etc.) are recommended,” Money said.
For easy storage and less cleaning, consider keeping your jewelry in a box with individually lined compartments to keep your chains from tangling and your jewels from rubbing against or scratching each other.
“Jewelry boxes, jewelry bags or open trays should have separated areas for rings, earrings and soft bracelets. Hanging your necklaces will keep them from getting tangled. And for cuffs, you can have larger compartments to stand them in,” Berg said.