Let me guess: you've got a collection of gemstone, gold and sterling silver jewellery 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 jewellery pieces to keep them looking beautiful.
So how do you go about safely cleaning and caring for your jewellery?
You're in just the right place: here is our comprehensive guide to help you best care for and clean your sterling silver, gold and gemstone jewellery to keep it in great condition well into the future.
Let's get started ...
General jewellery care
Always keep in mind that most jewellery is delicate to some degree. Jewellery 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 jewellery.
It's a great idea to store your precious jewellery in small boxes or pouches when not being worn to help keep it clean and prevent it from being scratched. All jewellery purchased from our online jewellery shop comes in small gift boxes which are perfect for this.
Sterling silver tarnish
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 key to cleaning your jewellery.
All precious metals can tarnish to some degree. Platinum and pure gold are the most tarnish-resistant metals and will show very minimal (if any) tarnish over many years.
By contrast, sterling silver jewellery will tarnish relatively easily, meaning it will turn a brown, grey or black colour 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 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 jewellery than pure silver, which is too soft for many uses.
Preventing tarnish on silver:
Wearing your silver jewellery 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 jewellery in your bathroom.
If you live in a humid place you should take extra care to protect your jewellery from humidity. Keeping a humidity absorber near where you store your jewellery can help.
Gold jewellery turning black or green
Gold jewellery of 14ct or over shouldn't show any tarnish or discolouration with regular use and care. If the discolouration 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 jewellery really is gold or if it's made of brass instead - especially if it's turning green. If your gold coloured jewellery was relatively 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 jeweller to have it tested.
Jewellery and water
Aside from the potential risk of losing pieces down the drain when showering, you'll find that your earrings, necklaces and gemstone rings are likely to get gummed up by the residue from shampoos, conditioners and soaps over time. If you do keep some pieces on when you shower, then make sure you take them off occasionally to give them a good clean: earrings especially.
You should especially avoid wearing opals or pearls in the shower as repeated contact with water and chemicals can permanently damage the stones.
If you're going for a swim, you should leave your precious jewels safely at home: swimming in pools or the sea while wearing precious metal jewellery is never recommended.
Chlorine used in pools or jacuzzis can discolour silver and many gemstones - and it can even potentially weaken gold. As for salt water, it can dull even diamonds and erode soldered parts in metal jewellery.
Cleaning your jewellery
Your jewellery cleaning can be done as needed using tarnish removers, along with warm soapy water to remove dirt and grime. Read on to learn more.
Precious metal polishing cloths:
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 - they shouldn't be washed.
These are generally the safest option to remove tarnish from your precious metal jewellery. To remove tarnish rub your jewellery 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 your jewellery, they may not remove general grime and dirt from hard to reach crevices. Soap, water and either a soft cloth or brush are your friends for this sort of cleaning.
Check out our quality precious metal polishing cloths.
For many silver jewellery 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:
This is an eco-friendly and low tech jewellery cleaning method and it will help to remove tarnish. Best of all, you should have all the ingredients in your cupboard.
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 jewellery to be cleaned into the bowl so it sits on top of the foil and is covered by the solution.
After 5 to 10 minutes you can rinse your jewellery in cool water and dry it with a soft cloth. Discard the solution and the foil, which is likely to have turned a grey colour. Repeat if necessary.
This method can also help to remove scorch marks on silver.
An ultrasonic cleaner will more easily remove dirt and grime from gemstones and crevices than other jewellery cleaning methods, but they will not remove tarnish. However, it may also be a risky option in some circumstances, so read the exceptions below first.
Use a domestic ultrasonic cleaner with warm water and a small amount of detergent.
To remove dirt and grime from your jewellery you can just use soap and water with a soft brush or cloth. However, this won't remove tarnish.
Bicarb soda, toothpaste and other harsh cleansers which are rubbed against metal are never recommended for cleaning jewellery. 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 coloured jewellery:
Sometimes a chemical solution is used to blacken or colour part or all of a piece of jewellery, such as this Japanese etched pendant, which has been blackened in the recessed areas.
Other designs may use an acrylic or wax to add colour to jewellery, for instance this geometric pendant with gold pigment.
Silver dip, ultrasonic cleaners and harsh cleansers are not recommended for use on areas which are blackened or coloured 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:
Plating, gilding, gold filled and vermeil are different ways of applying (usually) gold to other metals. All of these gold jewellery 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.
Gilded finishes in particular are thin and delicate, so take care when polishing. Ultrasonic cleaners should not be used with gilded jewellery.
Silver dip is generally safe to use with these gold finishes, keeping in mind any other exceptions for gemstones and colouring.
Cleaning gemstone jewellery can be done warm water and a gentle colourless detergent to remove dirt and grime. You can also use a soft brush or cloth.
Jewellery 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 can be discoloured by soap, perfume and make up, so take extra care. Avoid wearing pearls and opals in the shower as repeated exposure to water and cleaning chemicals can permanently damage the stones.
Necklaces made from natural silk thread, such as our very popular forget-me-not 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.
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.
This chain should be stored flat and never be bent beyond its natural curve.
- Sterling silver - Wikipedia
- Sterling silver and pure silver: what's the difference? - Jewelry Notes
- Gold - Wikipedia