How to Clean Jewellery – Various Maintenance Techniques

updated: 22/09/2023

Cleaning and Maintaining Jewellery

You may have inherited yours from a relative. You may have received it as a gift (an engagement or wedding ring is the most prized type, in this case). You may have bought it for yourself. One way or another, you are now the proud owner of a piece of jewellery. To make it shine the way it was supposed to, you are going to need to clean it because if you wear jewellery, it’s going to collect skin flakes and similar grime (and even if you don’t wear it, it’ll collect dust).

No doubt you’ve heard that the best method for cleaning jewellery is toothpaste and an old toothbrush. Well, Grandma was right; it’s still the best way, but did you know that different gemstones react differently to perfumes, dyes, and the elements? Learn not only how to clean your jewellery, but how to wear it for optimal longevity, as well.

First of all, you need to think about what sort of jewellery you have, as different things are cleaned in different ways. Is your piece of jewellery set with harder stones (not just the obvious diamonds, sapphires and rubies, but also cubic zirconia, amethyst, topaz and rhinestones), softer stones (and stone-like substances) such as turquoise, opal, lapis lazuli, coral and amber, or is it a string of pearls? Each of these needs to be cleaned in a different way.

Jewellery involving harder stones (or no stones) is the easiest to clean. Treat them like you would your teeth: in other words, scrub them with toothpaste using a soft toothbrush. The soft toothbrush prevents any scratching (of the metal, that is. Diamond, being the hardest of all substances, is unlikely to be scratched by some puny piece of plastic. Gold, however, is pretty soft). A toothbrush can also reach into all the little nooks and crannies – chains, claws, filigree… Toothpaste rinses off in plain water very easily, leaving no residue behind, as well as being an excellent cleaner. Some people like to use an ammonia solution or dishwashing liquid, but toothpaste doesn’t have the fumes and is gentler on your skin. The only real precaution you should take when cleaning this type of jewellery is to remember to do it in a bowl rather than in the sink, where the plug lurks like a black hole ready to swallow your precious engagement ring.

Jewellery involving softer stones and stone-like substances should not be cleaned with ammonia or soap, and probably shouldn’t be cleaned with toothpaste, either. This is because they absorb water and other substances very easily. In case you’re not sure which the softer jewels are, here’s a quick list: amber, coral, lapis lazuli, malachite, opal (my favourite), turquoise and organic substances like bone and shell.  These should be cleaned with a soft damp cloth with just water. The same applies to anything that involves glue. If you have a ring set with any of these gems, you should also remove the rings before doing anything wet or messy. Put the rings in a special dish near the sink – in fact, that’s good advice for any ring. If you ask your domestic cleaner to clean your precious gems and stones for you, make sure she knows how to handle each individual type of jewellery. Detailed written instructions work best.

Keep’em Dry

Cleaning Jewellery At Home

Always use a soft cloth to dry after cleaning jewellery, and a soft toothbrush with toothpaste, not tooth gel or anything fancy, to clean your gemstones, silver, and gold. Don’t use a paper towel unless you fancy picking bits of paper out of a claw setting.

Bar soap and even some toothpaste can leave a dull coating on diamonds. You can soak these all you want, but use a light mixture of baking soda and water to help dissolve any buildup and keep them sparkling.

Ultrasonic commercial gem cleaners are supposed to be the easy and economical way to clean jewellery, but they can actually crack softer gems like pearls, agates, or amber. If you own a commercial container for cleaning jewellery, use it for hard stones like diamonds only.

Cleaning Pearls

Pearls should be cleaned as little as possible. In fact, wearing pearls seems to make them shinier rather than duller – maybe living, breathing human skin works like chamois leather on them. If your pearls really are grubby (or if they’ve got sweat on them), then use a mild saline (salt) solution. Never spray perfume on pearls or use ammonia – this will stain the pearls. Pearls are porous and can absorb perfumes and hair dye, so always put on your pearls after you have spritzed yourself with the evening perfume, and try not to wear pearls if you’ve recently had your hair dyed, wait for at least four shampoos just to be on the safe side. Never use a solution to soak your pearls, simply scrub them lightly with the toothbrush and rinse, using a soft cloth to pat them dry.

Be Gentle With Your Opals

Opals tend to get greasy. They are formed from silicon dioxide and water, hardening over a long period of time, so they can crack easily and collect dust from the oils on your skin. You can achieve this jewellery cleaning by simply wiping them off with warm water and –if they are very dirty–mild soap. Typically only warm water is needed. The important thing to remember about keeping opals nice is how you store them. Because they are very vulnerable to temperature changes, keeping your opals in a temperature-controlled environment, such as a fabric bag where they will not be exposed to extreme hot or cold, or be knocked around next to your other jewellery, is the best storage choice.

Old And Heavily Tarnished Pieces

Heavily tarnished silver jewellery can be cleaned with commercial silver cleaner, but only use it sparingly and wipe it off immediately. Most silver jewellery doesn’t need that intense cleaning, though, and you can use a mild soap and soft cloth. To keep silver jewellery from tarnishing, store it in a sealed plastic bag–like a Ziploc bag–between wearing.

Cleaning Gold

The pricier the gold, the softer it is. Cleaning gold jewellery by using a soft cloth and very mild soap is the best way, although the best part of gold is that it doesn’t tarnish. You’ll only have to clean gold jewellery once in a while, as in the wedding ring you wear every day and is exposed to the dirt and grime that your hands are in. As soft as it is, gold is extremely resilient.

If in doubt about any piece of jewellery, then ask your jeweller about the best way to clean and care for it. Even if you didn’t buy your gems off them (e.g. if you inherited Great Aunt Margaret’s emerald earrings), ask anyway – they’ll probably be happy to establish a relationship with you, as you may one day need to re-set the jewels – or even buy more.

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.