How to Care for Your Jewelry
Caution when Cleaning Jewelry and Gemstones
Jewelry care and recommendations for cleaning and storing your jewelry. This list is not all inclusive and only provides warnings for some of the most common improper practices used to clean jewelry.
To care for your jewelry and keep it clean and ready to wear, gently wipe off excess make-up and skin oils after each wearing. Use a nub free, 100% cotton cloth and gently wipe the piece clean using only the soft pads of your fingers. Store in jeweler’s tissue or a soft bag.
To help retard tarnish on sterling silver, wrap the piece in jeweler’s tissue paper and place it inside a plastic zip lock bag and seal.
When cleaning sterling silver remember that it is a very soft metal and can easily be marred by a fingernail or wadded piece of fabric pushed roughly against the metal surface. For this reason, use one of the following methods to clean heavier soils and tarnish:
To remove fingerprints, light grease or dirt, add a small amount of mild liquid soap to a half cup of warm water, soak 2-3 minutes, rinse thoroughly with clean water and dry completely before storing in an air tight plastic bag.
Be very careful when using any soaking method to clean jewelry that has soft stones such as amber, lapis lazuli, or turquoise. Extended soaking in any solution may harm the polish on the stone. Never use chlorine bleach to clean jewelry.
To remove excessive tarnish, polish with a 100% cotton cloth and a good nonabrasive metal cleaner. Be sure to remove any remnants of the cleaner from gemstones and rinse thoroughly with clean water. Never use toothpaste! (see more about this below).
Tips for Keeping your Jewelry Looking New and Shiny
When caring for your jewelry, never use anything but 100% cotton as a polishing cloth since paper, polyester, and coarse fabrics often contain wood fibers or synthetics. These materials may impart fine scratches in the metal, especially on sterling silver.
A polished appearance is the result of the metalsmith’s effort to file, sand and buff the metal to a perfectly flat surface. When even minor scratches occur, as seen under a microscope, the surface looks like the ragged edge of a saw blade and light is bounced in and around those scratches like a voice echoing in the Alps. An unmarred surface allows the light to be bounced back smoothly, with no echoes, and results in a highly reflective surface.
Important Warnings about the Care of Fine Jewelry!
Always remove your rings and fine jewelry before using any product that contains bleach! Bleach can cause gold and other metal alloys to breakdown leaving the metal irreparably damaged. This includes swimming pools and bathing in hot tubs as chlorine products are added to prevent bacteria growth. See Hoover & Strong article for more information and testing results.
If you normally use specially purchased jeweler’s cloths to keep your jewelry clean and shiny, be sure to use fresh cloths since the dirt and grit left on the cloth from a previous use will now leave scrapes and pits in the piece you are trying to clean and polish.
Never use toothpaste or other abrasives to clean metal or stones. You will find countless websites that recommend toothpaste as a cleaner, but this is not an accepted practice by fine jewelers. Although the abrasives in toothpaste are great for your teeth, they can damage the surface of the metal requiring the skill of a professional to buff and refinish. Toothpaste will also scuff the surface on amber, lapis, turquoise and other soft stones resulting in the fine polish which was produced by the skilled lapidary to be permanently marred.
Ultrasonic cleaners are great for cleaning some jewelry but they can damage many gemstones and the chemicals are not recommended for pearls and many other fine stones. Repeated use can also loosen the settings and you could lose your precious gems.
Other Common Chemicals and Solutions to Avoid
Besides chlorine bleach, denatured alcohol, turpentine, acetone, and ammonia can cause harm. These chemicals can dull or even pit the surface on softer gemstones. Petroleum based products can actually “melt” amber if allowed to remain on the stone and they can do significant damage to pearls.
Gems requiring special care
Opals require special care. Never use an ultrasonic, never use chemicals and avoid heat. Don’t put your opal ring on the window sill when washing your hands or the dishes as strong sunlight can dry out the water in opals which could cause hazing or color change.
Pearls. Protect from scratches; perfumes and household chemicals which can wear away the nacre or cause color change.
Soft stones like lapis, malachite, turquoise, amber and opals can easily be scratched by pin stems and the edges of other jewelry. Protect pieces with these gemstones by wrapping them in jeweler’s tissue and storing separately.
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