Jewelry Cleaning

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Home Jewelry Information Jewelry Cleaning

You’d be amazed (and chagrined) at what your jewelry appraiser sees through the microscope. Soap scum, grease, garden dirt, skin cells, little hairs, and living flora and fauna will collect in crevasses and pack themselves into the pockets beneath gemstones unless the owner carries out a disciplined cleaning program. Over time, this accumulation can cause a stubborn rash on the finger. Inherited or other pre-owned jewelry should be thoroughly cleaned and inspected for repair before being worn by its new owner.

Your jewelry must be clean to be truly beautiful. Diamonds, in particular, derive their beauty solely from the way they refract, reflect and disperse light. The least bit of film from skin oil, soap, or hand lotion will change the refractive index from that of diamond to that of grease, and most of the brilliance will be lost. Diamonds, in particular, have a natural affinity for grease, and need to be cleaned every day.

The world of jewelry is a big one, and there are some items that you just should not attempt to clean at all. Those would include hair jewelry (popular in the Victorian era), jewelry set with real scarabs, butterflies and other delicate materials, jewelry with foil-backed stones, and jewelry whose materials are in doubt. In addition, there may be a natural patina (as opposed to dirt) on antique jewelry that should not be removed, and some modern jewelry may have applied finishes that could be damaged if not handled with care. When in doubt be conservative. We cannot accept responsibility for any damage that may befall your jewelry in your attempts to clean it.

The vast majority of jewelry, however, can be cleaned to a greater or lesser extent. We will examine the various methods, starting with the most gentle and continuing to the more vigorous. Please consult the Jewels by Stacy Gem Care Chart for a summary of proper cleaning techniques.

  • Use a safe environment
    Guard against losing a stone during the cleaning! Often, especially on jewelry that has been worn a lot, or pieces with very lightweight settings, the build-up of grime may actually be all that is keeping a stone in its setting! Cleaning off the grime could dislodge the stone. While this would be inconvenient, it is a lot better than having the stone fall out in an uncontrolled environment! Carry out the cleaning in a small bowl, and check carefully for missing stones before pouring out the solution.

Invisibly set jewelry is very popular. These gems are cut to fit together, held from beneath by grooves cut into the mounting. Be very careful cleaning this type of jewelry. Press you finger against the tops of the stones while brushing from beneath, and be gentle!

  • Wipe with damp cloth
    For the most delicate jewelry. This method can be used with most jewelry. Dampen a soft flannel cloth with warm water and wipe the jewelry. Use this method for cleaning pearl strands, amber, jet, ivory and other delicate organic gems.
  • Clean gently with warm soapy water
    Same as above, but soak jewelry for a few minutes in a small bowl of warm water with a little dishwashing liquid added. You might brush gently, using a soft facial brush, or a cosmetic brush such as used to apply eye shadow. This would be a good method for cleaning a pearl ring, and jewelry set with turquoise, lapis lazuli, malachite, coral, and similar stones
  • Brush with ammonia, rinse & dry
    If very dirty, dip jewelry in alcohol to cut any grease. Use a child’s soft-bristle toothbrush. Dip the brush in sudsy household ammonia and brush the stones on all sides, especially the bottoms and sides. Brush the mounting and rinse. If the back of the stone is difficult to reach, a tiny inter-dental brush (used to clean between the teeth and available at most large grocers) may do the trick. Use a soft flannel cloth to wipe any remaining film off the metal, especially the inside of ring shanks. This is a safe way to clean emerald-set jewelry and opals with accent diamonds that need cleaning. Also useful for cleaning jewelry where the stones may be glued in.
  • Soak in ammonia, brush & rinse
    Soak from a few minutes to overnight, depending on dirt build-up, in sudsy household ammonia. I recommend soaking your diamond ring every day, either overnight or in the morning while getting ready for the day. Brush around and under the stones, using a soft-bristled child’s toothbrush, and/or an inter-dental brush (see above). Wipe the mounting with a soft flannel cloth to remove any remaining film. Safe for diamonds and all faceted colored stones, except those such as emerald that might be filled with oil. Do not use this, or any of the methods listed below, for any jewelry that may have foil-back stones, or stones that may be glued into the mountings as is the case with many earrings.
  • Sonic cleaning
    Department stores and mail-order catalogue sell small vibrating ‘sonic’ jewelry cleaners for home use. These are gentler than the powerful ultrasonic cleaners used by jewelers, and can be safely used for diamonds and all faceted colored stones. Usually safe for emerald (that might be filled with oil) if left in for only a few minutes. Also good for chains and other gold jewelry.
  • Clean with Water-Pik
    A very useful tool for cleaning your jewelry as well as your teeth! It is the only way I can get my invisibly set wedding ring really clean. Do this after you have used the "soak and brush" method to soften the grime. The water jet can be messy, so I work inside a plastic bag. Set the pulse on "medium" and direct the jet under and around the stones. With invisibly set jewelry, clean the stones first from the top, then from the bottom while pressing your finger against the stones from the top. I have found this method very effective for cleaning emerald jewelry (skipping the ‘soaking’ step.)

    If you use a detergent in the water tank, be sure to rinse thoroughly and run a tank of clear water through the unit when finished.
  • Boil gently, cool slowly
    Restrict this method of cleaning to jewelry that just won’t clean up by other methods. Even though boiling is listed as safe for several stones on the accompanying Gem Cleaning Chart, I strongly suggest you restrict this method to Rubies, Diamonds and Sapphires (the colors of the American Flag). Follow the directions carefully, making sure to avoid "thermal shock" (sudden and extreme temperature change) that can fracture a stone. In other words, do not drop the jewelry in water that is already boiling!

    You will need a pan of room-temperature water, and a strainer that will keep the jewelry off the bottom of the pan. A screen-like strainer will work, as will a tea strainer. Use a small amount of laundry or dishwashing detergent in the water. Put the jewelry in the strainer, and suspend in the pan. Slowly bring the pot of water to a boil, and boil for 10-20 minutes. Watch carefully, and do not leave the jewelry unattended! Do not add cold water if the water level falls: that could cause thermal shock! Remove the pan from the burner, and let cool slowly. Once the water is back to room temperature, you may give the jewelry a final brushing, rinse and dry. Your jewelry should be sparkling clean! (Remember to check for missing stones.)
  • Ultrasonic cleaning
    These cleaners send ultrasonic waves through a cleaning solution to remove dirt. These are much stronger than the sonic cleaners used at home, and can fracture some delicate gems. They can also shake out stones that are insecurely set.

    The red, white and blue rule works well here. Rubies, diamonds and sapphires are usually safe in the ultrasonic. One exception may be certain diamonds that have been clarity enhanced by filling fractures with a colorless substance. Some of these fillings may be removed by the ultrasonic cleaner. They can also be damaged by the jeweler’s torch during repairs. If you own such a stone, be sure to inform anyone attempting to clean or repair you jewelry. The treatment is not easily detectable and could be overlooked. (Should the filling be damaged or removed, the diamond can be re-treated.)

    You probably will never use an ultrasonic machine at home, but your jeweler may use one to give your jewelry a good cleaning. If you own a delicate gemstone such as Tanzanite or Peridot, be sure that an inexperienced sales person does not mistakenly try to clean it in the ultrasonic!
  • Cleaning supplies:
    • Soft flannel cloth
    • Soft brush: child’s soft-bristled toothbrush, complexion brush
    • Inter-dental brush
    • Eye shadow or similar small brush
    • Water-PikŪ
    • Sonic vibrating cleaner
    • Pan with screen-type strainer that will hold jewelry below water level, or tea strainer that will hang below the water but stay off the pan bottom.
    • Ivory liquid or similar dishwashing liquid

Once you have you jewelry sparkling clean, it should be easy to keep up with daily care. One caution: it is dangerous to remove your rings while outside the house. Carry a tiny bag where you can put earrings if they are removed at the hairdressers, etc. Never wrap jewelry in a facial tissue, which can be accidentally discarded! If you are away from home and remove a ring while washing your hands or applying hand lotion, I recommend holding it between your teeth. Too many rings have been lost in public restrooms!