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How To Clean Jewelry


It’s all about the “bling”!

Whether you wear costume jewelry or fine diamonds, we have tips to make your favorite jewelry sparkle.

USU Consumer Educator, Teresa Hunsaker, says common cleaning methods can harm jewelry. She shares safe, sure-fire ways to restore lustre and shine.

Have you ever stopped to consider all that “bling” we love to wear may need to be cleaned up and polished every now and then…it, like everything else, will get dirty, dingy, and grimy after a while.

First let’s talk about general care of our jewelry. When wearing jewelry try to avoid having jewelry come in contact with harsh chemicals, such as hair spray or perfumes…this goes for common household cleaners as well, so don’t wear jewelry when cleaning. These chemicals will often tarnish metals and ruin the finish on some stones, whether they are simulated stones or semiprecious stones. Try to avoid wearing jewelry when working out, or sweating, as this can also cause grimy buildup on the jewelry.

Also, always try to store jewelry in jewelry boxes, jewelry bags, or original package or box. Try to not allow your jewelry to be crowded or all thrown into a big pile or mess in your jewelry box, the pieces can tangle, mar, and scratch each other.

For fine jewelry, be sure to have the posts, prongs, and settings tightened and checked by a professional jeweler at least once a year. Worn prongs, loose settings, and general wear and tear can cause the gemstones to fall out and the prongs or clasps broken.


Gold comes in many different colors, strengths, and types, but the care and cleaning of almost all gold is about the same. Gold is easily and safely cleaned in a mild detergent and water with a little rubbing alcohol added, then rinsed. Using a soft bristle brush (even an old soft toothbrush) can be used to gently clean around and under the jewelry piece. Then, simply rinse with warm water and let dry.

Here is the recipe for a simple cleaning solution:

1 cup warm water

1 tsp liquid hand dishwashing detergent (like Dawn or Joy or Palmolive)

2 tsp rubbing alcohol

If you jewelry is set with gemstones be sure to consider what type of stone and whether it can handle this same method. A gold and diamond setting would be just fine using this method, but other gemstones may not be.

Caution: Do not wear gold jewelry when being exposed to chlorine, either in cleaning or in a pool or hot tub. Chlorine can cause discoloration of the gold and pose a problem for many gemstones.


Each gemstone is a little different and has its own properties that need to be taken into consideration for cleaning and care. Some, like emeralds, cannot be exposed to heat. Others, like opals, jade, coral, turquoise, amber, white topaz, and pearls, cannot have any chemicals on them without damaging the surface luster and finish. Still others are fine with ammonia, detergents, or rubbing alcohol. It is better not expose your gemstones to salt water or bleach as well. Consulting a good jeweler for the cleaning of your particular gemstone is recommended. They will take into account not only the stone, but the setting and metal type.


Because of the very delicate nature of a cultured pearl particular care should be taken. Cosmetics, hairspray, and perfumes should always be in place before putting on your cultured pearl. Wipe the pearls down with a soft clean cloth after wearing. Be sure to place them in a soft bag or fabric lined box for storage, and never toss them into a box with other jewelry as they can easily be marred and scratched by metals and other stones. Pearls can be washed periodically in a mild detergent and water solution then rinsed. No other chemicals should ever be used around cultured pearls. If you have a string of cultured pearls you may want to consider having them restrung periodically. Check with your jeweler.


Sterling silver, like other metals, can tarnish when exposed to air. Store silver jewelry in bags or wrapped in silver storage cloths. That will help slow down the tarnishing.

Sterling too, can be cleaned in a mild detergent and water solution for general cleaning. This will not however take off all of the tarnishing.

One home remedy for cleaning up the tarnish build up off sterling silver (no gemstones set in it), such as silver bracelets, candlesticks, and solid rings is:

2 cups very hot (not boiling) water

2 TBS baking soda

1 tsp table salt

Aluminum foil

Deep glass bowl

Cut a couple of pieces of foil and crumple a bit and place in the bottom of the glass bowl. Sprinkle with the soda and salt then add the sterling silver pieces and stir in the hot water. Let the jewelry sit in the solution for 5-10 minutes. Rinse and polish with a soft cloth.


Many pieces of costume jewelry are made with brass or copper. These can be cleaned using warm water, lemon juice, and salt in a solution. Let them soak for a few minutes in the solution to brighten them up—unless you like the tarnished “old” or antiqued look to the jewelry. Some are purposely finished with the antiqued patina and can be destroyed with chemicals, so be careful if you want to maintain that look. Good old detergent and water would be your best choice.

Also, some costume jewelry have the stones glued in place, not set with prongs, and these glues can easily be weakened with water and chemicals, so again, a quick cleaning of detergent and water may be the way to go. They dry quickly—perhaps even with a blow dryer on a low warm setting, not hot.


· Jewelry polishing cloths and even appropriate cleaning solutions are available at most fine jewelry stores. Many of these stores will also service and clean your jewelry, even if you did not buy it from them.

· Even the jewelry department of many stores like Target, Macy’s, and Kohl’s have a commercial cleaner available.

· For cleaning fine jewelry always double check with your local jewelry store.

· Ultrasonic cleaning devices are not recommended for all jewelry, but may be just great for others…such as a diamond ring…they work great.

· Steam cleaning is an option for some jewelry as well, but must be used with caution.

· Toothpaste is not recommended for most jewelry—it is too abrasive for most types. Some costume jewelry may be OK using toothpaste.

If you have any questions, contact Teresa Hunsaker at the Family and Consumer Science Education Department at the Weber County USU Extension office at (801) 399-8203 or online at

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