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How to Clean Jewelry: The Right Methods for Every Type of Metal or Stone

How to Clean Jewelry
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updated: July 20, 2023

Millions of people wear at least one piece of jewelry every day and chances are, those people aren’t living inside those sterile glass cases from whence the jewelry came. That is to say, jewelry gets dirty, but the good news is that it’s easy to keep your favorite pieces of jewelry shiny, sparkling, and earning oohs and ahhs. Here, we’re sharing the easiest and most effective strategies for cleaning every type of jewelry.

How to clean gold jewelry

The best way to clean gold jewelry is to use a mixture of some mild dish detergent and warm (but not hot) water. If your piece is looking particularly dull, you can soak it in the mixture for a few minutes prior to removing it, then scrub it with a soft toothbrush to remove any dirt and grime. Once you feel like it’s clean, rinse it with clean water and dry it with a soft polishing cloth or microfiber towel.

How to clean silver jewelry

Sterling silver jewelry is quite durable, which is a good thing because it also gets dirty and tarnishes quite easily. To clean your silver jewelry, start with the dish detergent and warm water method described above for cleaning gold. If your piece is still visibly dirty, you can soak it in a mixture of vinegar and baking soda (about one part baking soda to four parts vinegar) for an hour or so before rinsing and polishing with a cloth. You can also try scrubbing it with a soft toothbrush and a tiny amount of non-whitening toothpaste, though you should not use this method on silver-plated jewelry, as you risk removing the finish.

How to clean gold-plated jewelry

Since the layer of gold on gold-plated jewelry is so thin, you want to avoid harsh cleaning and scrubbing as much as possible to keep it looking shiny and radiant. That’s why we suggest giving your gold-plated chain a quick wipe with a polishing cloth or cotton ball after each wear to keep too much dirt from building up on the surface. Likewise, try to avoid it coming into contact with any beauty products or other items that can build up on the gold. If you do need to do a deeper clean, use the same strategy as above for gold jewelry—just skip the scrubbing step and go straight from soak to rinse and dry.

How to clean tarnished jewelry

In general, a firm wipe-down with a soft polishing cloth should be enough to remove tarnish, according to Rony Vardi, founder of the New York-based jewelry company Catbird. “But we have a few extra tips and tricks up our sleeves, depending on the metal,” she adds. 

Silver is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to tarnish. “Silver does tarnish quite quickly when it comes into contact with oxygen or sulfur, but natural skin oils actually help prevent this, so we recommend wearing your silver jewelry often and storing in an airtight plastic bag when you’re not wearing it,” says Vardi. This second step is key, as it will limit the piece’s exposure to oxygen when you’re not wearing it (if you’ve ever dug a silver bracelet out of your jewelry box to discover it’s completely black and tarnished, you know how important this is).

“For brass and bronze, a commercial brass cleaner like JAX should restore these pieces to their original shine,” Vardi adds. “But a couple DIY remedies including soaking in Coca-Cola for a few minutes or using a soft toothbrush and toothpaste to polish.” 

How to clean costume jewelry

To clean costume jewelry, we recommend our go-to method: Soaking in a mixture of dish detergent and warm water, scrubbing with a soft toothbrush, then rinsing and drying with a soft cloth. The difference here is in the timing: Where you’re likely cleaning your everyday jewelry on an as-needed basis when you notice its luster beginning to dim, we recommend cleaning your costume jewelry immediately after you wear it. Especially if you’re getting dressed up or attending an event, you’re much more likely to have a layer of hairspray or perfume or a sprinkle of makeup on your earrings or bracelet. Cleaning them before you put them away will ensure this doesn’t sit on the piece and lead to tarnish.

How to clean jewelry with diamonds

“For diamonds, we recommend letting the piece sit for a few minutes in a mixture of warm water and mild dish detergent, then drying with a soft polishing cloth,” says Vardi. “To keep them their most sparkly, you can also bring them to a reputable jeweler for a cleaning in their ultrasonic cleanser, or purchase a small at-home device for a modest investment.” You can find one of these machines for under $100, though most of the time, the former strategy should do the trick.

How to clean jewelry with gemstones

Gemstones get a similar treatment to most of the other jewelry on this list, AKA the dish detergent, toothbrush scrub, rinse and dry approach. What you do need to be aware of with gemstones is the type of material the bigger piece is made from. For example, while a gemstone might benefit from a good scrub, if it’s in a gold-plated ring or necklace, you’ll want to avoid scrubbing the band or chain, simply soaking and rinsing it instead.

How to clean jewelry with pearls

Pearls and opals are much more delicate than diamonds and other gemstones, notes Vardi, and need to be treated accordingly. “We recommend avoiding water, chlorine, and chemicals such as cosmetics and household cleaners,” she says. In other words, try to avoid any situations that would get your pearls dirty as much as possible. “If they need to be cleaned,” Vardi adds, “we recommend a soft cloth.” 

How to clean copper jewelry

Copper jewelry is prone to blackening over time and you’ll likely need a slightly more abrasive cleaner to return it to its original shine. That said, we suggest trying the same mixture of detergent and warm water followed by a polish with a soft cloth first, to see if that does the trick. If it doesn’t, try a combination of an acid and a mild abrasive, e.g., dipping a cloth in a vinegar and salt mixture, or making a paste from lemon juice and baking soda and using that to clean the piece. Some people even use ketchup to clean copper jewelry, slathering it over the bracelet and then using a soft cloth or toothbrush to scrub before rinsing it off.

How to clean brass jewelry

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, with copper making up the majority of the piece, so the strategies we mentioned above for cleaning copper jewelry can also be used to clean brass. That means starting with the gentle detergent approach before moving on to an acid plus abrasive.

How often to clean your jewelry

“We recommend only as needed,” Vardi says. While it can only help to give your jewelry a quick polish with a soft cloth on a regular basis or after each wear, you don’t want to overdo it with the soaps and other products. Even though the strategies we recommend here are safe on an as-needed basis, we suggest leaving your jewelry alone as much as you can. if you think it's time for a replacement you should check out our best online jewelry store recommendations.

Additional jewelry care tips

If you’re spending time stressing about how you’re going to keep your jewelry clean and sparkly, you’re missing the point, according to Vardi: “We believe jewelry is meant to be worn every day. Just wear and enjoy!” That said, there are a few additional steps you can take to maintain the luster of your favorite pieces. Put on your jewelry last, after applying makeup, hair products, and perfume, to avoid getting any of these on your jewelry. Vardi also suggests removing jewelry when swimming, as both the water and the chlorine in a pool can be damaging. Finally, leave your favorite pieces in their box if you’re doing anything particularly physical or messy, like camping, gardening, or cooking a large meal.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is a natural way to clean jewelry?

The most natural way to clean jewelry is to polish it regularly with a soft polishing cloth. Doing so can help you avoid tarnish and grime so you never have to add any soap or other solution.

Is vinegar safe for jewelry?

It depends on the jewelry. Some of the harder metals like sterling silver, copper, and brass can benefit from cleaning with a gentle acid like vinegar, whereas a mild dish soap is safer on softer metals like gold.

What is the best thing to clean fake jewelry with?

You can use many of the same methods for cleaning “fake” jewelry as you would for pieces that are real gold and silver. The difference is that you’ll want to be a little gentler and avoid too much scrubbing, as this could potentially ruin the finish, depending on how thin it is.

Is it okay to clean jewelry with baking soda?

We suggest taking the same approach with baking soda as you do with vinegar. For some metals it can be just the thing to restore their shine, but for others it’s not gentle enough.

Can you clean jewelry with just soap and water?

“Soap and water can be damaging to certain metals and stones, so we don’t recommend this across the board,” says Vardi. The jewelry you wear on a daily basis is likely pretty durable, so leaving your engagement ring on while you wash your hands with antibacterial soap isn’t a problem. But if you’re going to do a deeper clean, we recommend one of the other methods above.

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