How to Keep Your Jewelry Radiant (Even if it Rarely Sees the Light of Day)

Have you ever had one of your rings cleaned for free at a jewelry store or an expo and been amazed at how much better it looked? Perhaps even more surprised by how grungy, therefore, it must have been?

Whether you wear a favorite piece of jewelry every day or take it out only for special occasions, it’s easy to be unaware of the gradual decline in luster jewelry naturally exhibits between cleanings.

Which is why it’s important to clean ALL your jewelry regularly, whether you wear it often or not. You never know when you might want to slip on a piece, take it in for an appraisal or even see about selling it, so you’ll want to keep it looking dazzling.

But what’s the safest, best way to do it? Do methods vary depending on type? Do the pros really do it better?

We’ll begin by stating the obvious . . .

The best way to keep your jewelry clean is to take it to a professional. Not only do they have the best solutions, equipment, and methods, but they’ll be able to check your pieces both before and after cleaning for loose settings, cracks or anything else that should be called to your attention.

But we know it’s not always possible or feasible to get to a jeweler that often, much less take in every piece you own, so we’ve compiled some acceptable (and unacceptable) alternatives.

First, a word about pearls.

As one of the softer, more porous gemstones, pearls require extra-special care and handling. Here are a few hard and fast pearl rules:

  • Pearls should be last to put on, first to take off. Since they’re extremely absorbent, they should have limited exposure to makeup, hairspray, lotions, sweat, etc.
  • Wipe down with clean, soft cloth with every wear.
  • If visibly stained or lackluster, wipe down gently with a soft cloth dampened with warm, soapy water.
  • Never use jewelry cleaner or any sort of chemical on pearls.
  • Never submerge pearls, as it can weaken the string that holds them.
  • Make sure to let pearls dry completely before storing.
  • Store flat, never hanging, as it can weaken the string and hurt elasticity.
  • Make sure your storage environment isn’t too dry, as pearls need some humidity and can begin to break down without it.
  • Take pearls to a jeweler at least once a year for a proper cleaning and string check.

Everything but pearls . . .

The professional consensus on at-home cleaning for everything besides pearls involves warm, soapy water and a soft-bristled toothbrush.

This method should suffice for regular cleaning or, if you’ve gotten dirt, hair gel, cake batter, etc, on your bling, you can soak it in soapy water first, and then brush. If it’s dirtier than that, it should have professional care.

It’s dirty, but you can’t get to a jeweler before you need to wear it.

You can purchase jewelry cleaner to use at home, but should only buy it from a professional and only use on pieces you know it’s safe for (e.g., jewelry cleaner should not be used on opals or pearls.)

If you’ve got harder stones to clean (e.g., diamonds, sapphires, rubies), but no jewelry cleaner, it’s OK to use a homemade ammonia solution, but only with care and not as your go-to cleaning method, since prolonged use of ammonia can cause some metals to become discolored.

It’s best to check with a jeweler when in doubt about whether a particular piece can handle ammonia, but if you get the go-ahead, mix six parts cold water to one part ammonia and soak the jewelry anywhere from one to thirty minutes, followed by gentle brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush.

Ammonia, even diluted, should not be used on softer stones like opals, emeralds, turquoise, etc., since these stones are more porous and can be damaged by ammonia or any other harsh chemical. Again, always ask a professional when in doubt.

Wive’s tales, myths and other no-nos . . .

Toothpaste – In spite of what you may have heard (or even witnessed) it is not a good idea to clean your jewelry with toothpaste. Of course, many who have tried it say that it does make everything shinier, but what they’re not seeing are the miniscule scratches, caused by toothpaste abrasives, that will eventually dull softer metals and gemstones.

Boiling Water – Jewelry owners sometimes make the mistake of assuming that, since professionals use steam as part of their cleaning process, it’s OK to boil their pieces.

However, extreme heat can cause metal to expand and, therefore, loose stones to fall out. Or worse, thermal shock can cause softer gemstones to fracture. Because of this, cleaning with extreme temps is best left to experts.

Alcohol – Often lauded for its ability to do away with grease, alcohol can leave a film of its own on metal and gemstones, as well as dry softer gemstones out and cause them to crack.

At-Home Ultrasonic Cleaner – Non-professional jewelry aficionados sometimes like to go all out and purchase their own “professional” ultrasonic or steam cleaner, but the quality of these cleaners can vary greatly.

Those who do spend the money for professional-grade equipment, but aren’t using it with professional-grade knowledge, could end up with permanently damaged jewelry.

For instance, even though diamonds are the hardest stones, ultrasound vibrations can enlarge inclusions or even cause breakage (especially in lower-clarity diamonds). Also, brittle gemstones or stones that have been heat-treated shouldn’t be ultrasound-cleaned by an amateur.

Most metals, besides tungsten, are safe in ultrasonic cleaners, but it’s always good to ask a professional and read the literature that comes with your cleaner carefully before using.

Honestly, only a professional can judge a piece of jewelry’s ability to stand up to the vibrations and extreme temperatures of ultrasonic and steam cleaning and only a professional can quickly and easily spot and repair damage incurred by such cleaning.

What to remember . . .

Any time you purchase a piece of jewelry, be sure to inquire about care instructions. Also, it’s a good idea to invest in a cleaning/polishing cloth specially made for jewelry (often included with purchase) and be sure to never use paper towels or anything with fibers that could scratch surfaces.

Keeping your jewelry clean won’t only make it look more brilliant when you wear it, but will bring out its finest qualities in the event you want to have it appraised for sale. Pieces that haven’t been allowed to tarnish, break apart, gather layers of film, etc. will undoubtedly bring a higher price.

If you have questions about the proper cleaning, storage or even sale of a particular piece of jewelry, please don’t hesitate to contact Southwest Jewelry Buyers. We have an A+ Better Business Bureau Rating, the best reviews in the area and a courteous, professional team of certified gemologists waiting to assist you.