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Cleaning and caring for your gold & silver jewelry

How to care for and clean your gold, silver and gemstone jewelry

Let me guess: you've got a collection of gemstone, gold and sterling silver jewelry that's tarnished or just not looking as sparkly as it once was and you need some advice about cleaning it. Or perhaps you just want to know about caring for your new jewelry pieces to keep them looking beautiful.

So how do you go about caring for and safely cleaning your jewelry at home?

You're in just the right place to find out: here is our comprehensive guide to help you best care for and clean your sterling silver, gold and gemstone jewelry to keep it in great condition well into the future.

You can also check out our handy 10 quick tips to clean your jewelry article for some quick and not so dirty jewelry cleaning tips.

Let's get started ...

General jewelry care

This is obvious, but it's worth always bearing in mind that all jewelry is delicate to some degree.

Jewelry pieces should not rub up against each other, other types of metal or any harsh surfaces as they will scratch and wear. Nor should they ever take too much weight or force. You should also avoid harsh chemicals from coming into contact with your jewelry. 

It's a great idea to store your precious jewelry in small boxes or pouches when not being worn to help keep it clean and prevent it from being scratched. All jewelry purchased from our online jewelry shop comes in small gift boxes which are perfect for this.

Metal tarnish

Mandala pendant in sterling silver and a lapis lazuli gemstone.

Tarnishing is a natural process which is caused by oxygen and moisture coming into contact with various types of metal. If your once shiny metal has turned dark, this is likely to be the reason why. Understanding tarnish is a key part of cleaning your jewelry.

All precious metals can tarnish to some degree. Platinum and pure gold are the most tarnish-resistant metals and will show minimal if any tarnish over many years.

By contrast, sterling silver jewelry will tarnish relatively easily, meaning it will turn a brown, grey or black color over time. You may have read that pure or fine silver won't tarnish, but that isn’t true: it does, just more slowly and in a less noticeable way than sterling silver. Pure silver can be cleaned in the same way as sterling silver.

The reason sterling silver jewelry tarnishes more easily is because pure silver has been alloyed with copper, which has the benefit of making the metal harder and much more suitable for making jewelry than pure silver, which is too soft for many uses.

Preventing tarnish on silver:

Wearing your sterling silver jewelry regularly can help to slow down the process of tarnishing as the metal moving against your skin and itself will help to keep it clean.

It's also important to keep pieces out of flowing air and humidity when not being worn. In particular it's not a good idea to store your jewelry in your bathroom.

If you live in a humid place you should take extra care to protect your jewelry from humidity. Keeping a humidity absorber near where you store your jewelry can help.

You should also avoid wearing your jewelry in swimming pools or when swimming at the beach as the salts and chlorine can damage the precious metal.

If your gold jewelry is turning black or green

Gold jewelry of 14k or over shouldn't show any tarnish or discoloration in most circumstances. If the discoloration is just grime on the surface it should wash off with soap, water and a soft brush - and it shouldn't affect the metal underneath.

If that doesn't work then you should question whether your jewelry really is gold or if it's made of brass instead (especially if it's turning green). If your gold colored jewelry was inexpensive then it's extremely unlikely to be solid gold, which is a very costly metal. If the metal is stamped as being gold yet shows signs of tarnish you should take it to a local jeweler to have it tested as you may have been mislead.

Cleaning your jewelry

Cleaning your jewelry can be done as needed using suitable tarnish removers, along with warm soapy water to remove dirt and grime. Read on to learn more.

Precious metal polishing cloths:

Polishing cloth for sterling silver, gold and other metals.

Good quality polishing cloths for silver are impregnated with chemicals which remove tarnish and are soft enough to not scratch the metal. You can use these cloths until they are black, when you should replace them. These cloths shouldn't be washed.

These are generally the safest option to remove tarnish from your sterling silver jewelry. To remove tarnish rub your jewelry gently with a polishing cloth, doing your best to get into crevices. You'll find the cloth getting black marks on it as the tarnish is removed.

While polishing cloths are great for cleaning tarnish from sterling silver and other metals, they may not remove general grime and dirt from hard to reach crevices. Soap, water and either a soft cloth or soft brush are you friends for this sort of cleaning.

Check out our quality sterling silver polishing cloths.

Silver dip:

For many silver jewelry designs you can instead use silver dip which will very quickly and easily remove tarnish, including in hard to reach spots.

However, this is a riskier option for some designs, so read below for exceptions.

When using silver dip make sure you follow the instructions carefully and that you rinse your piece thoroughly and dry it after dipping.

Our 'Yeah, Science!' cleaning method:

Unique and contemporary handmade sterling silver chain for women in our online jewelry store.

This is an eco-friendly and low-tech jewelry cleaning method and it will help to remove tarnish. Best of all, you should have all the ingredients in your cupboard. Yay!

Cut a piece of aluminium foil which covers the bottom of a small bowl. Then pour a cup of hot water into the bowl and mix in the following:

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon of baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon dish washing detergent

Put the items to be cleaned into the bowl so they sit on top of the foil and are covered by the solution.

After 5 to 10 minutes you can rinse your jewelry in cool water and dry it with a soft cloth. Discard the solution and the foil, which may have turned a grey color. Repeat if necessary.

This method can also help to remove scorch marks on silver.

Ultrasonic cleaners:

An ultrasonic cleaner will more easily remove dirt and grime from gemstones and crevices than other jewelry cleaning methods, but they will not remove tarnish. However, ultrasonic cleaners may also be a risky option in some circumstances, so read the exceptions below first.

If appropriate use a domestic ultrasonic cleaner with warm water and a small amount of detergent.

Other cleansers:

To remove dirt and grime from your jewelry you can just use a gentle liquid soap and water with a soft brush or cloth. However, this won't remove tarnish.

Bicarbonate or baking soda, toothpaste and other harsh cleansers which are rubbed against metal are never recommended for cleaning jewelry. Such cleansers will remove precious metal from the surface, causing scratches and over time will deplete the precious metal content. Seriously: don't use them.

Exceptions & special considerations

Blackened or colored jewelry:

Unique handmade Japanese pendant with etched and blackened leaves and flowers design available in our online jewelry boutique.

Sometimes a chemical solution is used to blacken or color part or all of a piece of jewelry, such as our Japanese etched pendant, which has been blackened in the recessed areas.

Other designs may use an acrylic or wax to add color to jewelry. Silver dip, ultrasonic cleaners and harsh cleansers are not recommended for use on areas which are blackened or colored as part of the design. These cleaning methods may damage or remove the finish.

Always take care when polishing or cleaning such designs to avoid damaging the finish.

Plated, gilded, gold filled or vermeil finishes:

Butterfly wing earrings in gold vermeil.

Plating, gilding, gold filled and vermeil are different ways of applying (usually) gold to other metals. All of these gold jewelry finishes are delicate to some degree and should be cleaned carefully.

The gold surfaces can wear over time, so treat them with care to protect them. Avoid polishing them too vigorously or using harsh cleansers.

Silver dip is generally safe to use with these gold finishes, keeping in mind any other exceptions for gemstones and colouring.

Gemstones:

Handmade gemstone rings in sterling silver and 14k gold in our online jewelry store.

Cleaning gemstone jewelry can be done warm water and a gentle, colorless detergent to remove dirt and grime. You can also use a soft brush or cloth.

Jewelry with hard gemstones such as diamonds, rubies and sapphires are generally safe to clean in an ultrasonic cleaner, but other softer gemstones may not be. If you're not sure, avoid using an ultrasonic with gemstones.

Never use silver dip or ultrasonic cleaners with pearls, turquoise, opal, lapis lazuli and other soft gemstones as they are porous.

Pearls in particular can be discoloured by soap, perfume and make up, so take extra care with them.

Natural silk:

Necklaces made from natural silk thread, such as our very popular forget-me-nots necklace, can be hand-washed with warm soapy water, taking care to rinse thoroughly.

If a silk necklace is laid flat or hung up it will dry straight. It can also be ironed using the silk setting.

Glass beads:

Generally speaking glass beads can be cleaned with gentle soap and water, then rinsed and dried thoroughly.

Glass beads shouldn't need any special care and unless they have a superficial pearlescent finish they should be safe to use with silver dip and ultrasonic cleaners.

Snake chain:

This chain should be stored flat and never be bent beyond its natural curve.

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