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GENERAL JEWELRY SAFE CLEANING TECHNIQUES

Non-Precious Gemstones Cleaning List

General Information on Jewelry Cleaners
For Gemstone Jewelry in Gold and Platinum - Exceptions
For Fashion and Costume Jewelry
For Oxidized Jewelry
For Silver Jewelry

For Electroplate Jewelry


 

GENERAL INFORMATION ON JEWELRY CLEANERS

First let me say that just for taking a few minutes to browse in their store, most any jeweler would be happy to clean your jewelry properly while you wait. They will also happily give it a quick polish, which a home cleaning can't provide, and to check your prongs to ensure the safety of your stones. It is probably better to have karat gold and precious metal gemstone jewelry cleaned by a professional jeweler at least once every six months to ensure the safety of your gemstones and to take advantage of the professional polish. Otherwise, home cleaning is a great way to keep your jewelry in like-new condition.

Types: There are many different kinds of commercial jewelry cleaners, which are made for different metals and gemstones. Be sure your cleaner is meant for the type of jewelry or gemstone you are cleaning. For instance, most Black Onyx, Turquoise, Pearl, Shell and soft gemstones like Emerald and Opal should not be cleaned with a generic jewelry cleaner. Always follow the directions that come with your jewelry cleaner.

Use: Do not use a cleaner meant for one kind of jewelry cleaner on another without the advice of the manufacturer or your local jeweler. If you have an ultrasonic cleaner and you run out of the commercial cleaner, a mild dishwashing detergent and lukewarm (never hot!) water (1 tsp. to 1 quart water) will do the trick.

Storage: Always follow the directions for any particular cleaning product and maintain the freshness of the cleaner by storing it in a tightly-sealed container. Stale or contaminated cleaners could be ineffective or even damage your jewelry so check to see if your jewelry cleaner indicates an expiration date or the shelf-life.

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FOR GEMSTONE JEWELRY IN GOLD AND PLATINUM

MATERIALS

  • A clean bowl (better NOT to use a sink basin for washing)
  • Lukewarm water (never hot water)
  • Mild dishwashing liquid or a mild jewelry cleaning solution which is safe for the specific jewelry you are cleaning
  • A very fine mesh plastic or stainless steel strainer for items with gemstones
  • Soft, clean, dry cloth (note: any dust or dirt on the cloth may scratch the piece)
  • Small, unused soft bristled toothbrush or brush (toothpaste residue will scratch jewelry)
  • Toothpicks

 

PREP: For older items with gemstones, check the setting to make sure that stones are secure. Dirt and residue can fool you and act as a "cement," keeping the stone in place even if the setting has been rendered weak from wear. If this is the case, when the residue is removed during cleaning, the loose stone may fall out. If working over or near a sink, plug the drain.

CLEAN: If using a mild jewelry cleaning solution, pour the solution into a clean bowl. You can also make your own solution by combining lukewarm water and mild dishwashing liquid. (2 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid to 1 quart of water) For items with gemstones, place the piece in a strainer and sit the strainer on top of the bowl so that the solution comes through the strainer and completely surrounds the piece. The strainer will catch any stones that might possibly fall out so be sure the holes in the strainer are smaller than your smallest stones.

For other items, simply place the piece in the bowl. Soak the item for 10 to 20 minutes. (It is important to soak the piece long enough to soften and loosen any residue and dirt.)

For items with gemstones, remove the strainer to a large towel and inspect your jewelry to make sure that all the stones are in place and cannot be shifted or rotated in their settings.* Thoroughly, but gently, brush the top, sides and bottom of the piece with a soft brush to remove the softened residue. For gemstones, you should also brush the underside of the stone. If you are afraid of popping out a stone, put the the piece and the brush in a ziplock bag and close it as best you can. Use a toothpick to reach crevices and other hard-to-reach areas.

(*One trick I use is to clean and dry the piece, and then place it in a sealed ziplock bag to catch the stones, and then hold it upright or place it against the washing machine when it is on spin. In good light you can see which stones are jumping or rotating in their prongs and some may pop right out into the bag.)


RINSE AND DRY: Rinse with clean water. Thoroughly dry with a cloth that is soft, dry and clean. If you are to store the piece immediately after cleaning, you should leave the piece on a dry towel for an extended period of time to ensure that it is completely dry before you enclose it in a box, jewelry box or armoire.

If all the residue has not been removed, repeat the above steps as needed, taking extra care to avoid losing small gemstones.

PRECIOUS GEMSTONES EXCEPTIONS: See Non-Precious Gemstone Cleaning and note those exceptions below.

EMERALD, AQUAMARINE, TANZANITE, IOLITE AND OTHER HIGH RISK GEMSTONE JEWELRY:

How to Clean: Special Care:
Although this gemstone is durable, its unique internal components require extra-special care. Use the same cleaning method as outlined for Gemstone Jewelry in Gold and Platinum. HOWEVER, please use cool water instead of lukewarm water and soak briefly for no more than 5 minutes. Air dry on a towel to ensure complete dryness. Do not use hot water, an ultrasonic cleaner or a steamer.
Do not expose to heavy pressure or extreme heat.
Do not expose to harsh or concentrated cleaning solutions and if using a mild cleaning solution, always dilute the solutions in water.

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FOR FASHION AND COSTUME JEWELRY: Costume jewelry, also known as fashion jewelry, can be made with designs that allow you to wear your jewelry for any occasion. However, because jeweler's cement is often used to create those designs, it is important that you take special precautions when cleaning your costume/fashion jewelry.

How to Clean: Special Care:
Wipe gently with a damp cloth that is soft and clean. Do not soak or use jewelry cleaner. Dry with a soft, clean, absorbent cloth. Air dry on a dry, soft towel to ensure it is completely dry before storing it. Do not use hot water, a steamer or an ultrasonic cleaner.
Do not soak in water.
Do not expose to cleaning agents or other chemicals.
Do not expose to extreme heat.


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FOR OXIDIZED JEWELRY: Oxidized jewelry is usually silver with an attractive dark patina as a background to a raised motif.

How to Clean: Special Care:

Unless the jewelry is in a closed-back setting, use the method above but do not brush.

If the entire surface of the piece is intentionally accented with oxidization, do not use any tarnish-remover product, such as silver polish, paste, or dip, on the piece as it could remove the accented finish. Instead, use a treated polishing cloth made specifically for jewelry with gentle strokes, making sure to avoid the darkened oxidized areas.

If the piece is only partially accented and oxidized, you can use tarnish-remover on the unaccented areas. However, make sure that the tarnish-remover does not come in contact with any dark oxidized finish. Use a cotton swab which is lightly moistened to get more control of where the tarnish remover goes.

Do not use hot water to clean. Do not use a steamer or an ultrasonic cleaner to clean.

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FOR SILVER JEWELRY WITH OR WITHOUT GEMSTONES

"Silver" is a relative term in jewelry. Sometimes it means a silver finish covered with a shiny coating of rhodium, or in the case of coins and some older jewelry, a grade of silver more pure than is generally used for jewelry. Cleaning silver can be tricky. Test your cleaning technique on a less-visible surface of the item to be sure how it will affect your piece of jewelry.

In general, I find it better to quickly wash off the piece in lukewarm soapy water, dry thoroughly with a dry soft cloth, and then use a new, gentle jewelry polishing cloth. Be very careful not to scratch the surface with existing grit on either the jewelry or the cloth. You can also use a very mild tarnish remover which indicates it is safe for all silver finishes. If you use the technique for gold and platinum jewelry, do not soak the jewelry unattended unless you are using a tarnish remover after cleaning as some silver will tarnish quickly in jewelry cleaners or if soaked a long time. I recommend you use the detergent mixture (2 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid to 1 quart of water) instead of a general jewelry cleaner.

If you are still unsure of cleaning your silver items, ask your local jeweler to clean them or to advise you of the proper method.

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ELECTROPLATE JEWELRY: Some hollow jewelry is made by adding layers of karat gold or silver over an extremely thin wax or plastic shell, and this wax or plastic is contained within the jewelry during its lifetime. This process creates a light weight piece, and is usually reserved for earrings, pendants and pins in order to keep them cost effective.

Never clean lightweight or hollow jewelry, such as electroplate jewelry, in an ultrasonic cleaner or in hot water. This shell can be compromised and actually leak from the piece (possibly ruining it and gunking up the ultrasonic) if not cleaned properly. Even polishing on a motorized jewelers polishing machine can cause enough heat to affect the piece. Use a mild soap solution (2 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid to 1 quart of water)and then a polishing cloth method as used for silver (see above) for electroplate jewelry.

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