How to Clean Tarnished Jewelry: Tips and Tricks
If you’ve ever noticed that your fine jewelry looks foggy, you may have wondered what causes this. If it’s sterling silver—it’s just tarnished, and it’s easy to remove tarnish.
But what metals tarnish, and which metals don’t tarnish? If your luxurious platinum rings aren’t shiny anymore, are they tarnished? Depending on the metal type, your jewelry may have tarnish, corrosion, or patina.
Knowing how to clean jewelry at home is a great way to prevent jewelry tarnish, or remove tarnish or patina when it occurs. Knowing the right jewelry cleaning recipe for your type of metal can help you get rid of tarnish and restore the eye-catching brilliance to your fine jewelry.
Here’s our DIY guide on how to clean tarnished jewelry, along with jewelry cleaning tips for determining why your sterling silver ring is foggy, why your gold necklace is looking dull, or why your platinum lost its luster—and how to fix it.
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- Tarnish vs.Patina vs. Corrosion
- How Often Should You Clean Sterling Silver and Gold Jewelry?
- How Often Should You Clean Jewelry Professionally?
- What You Will Need to Clean Your Jewelry
- Things to Avoid When Cleaning Jewelry
- Six Ways to Clean Tarnished Jewelry
- Tips for Preventing Tarnish
- Keepin’ it Clean
Tarnish vs. Patina vs. Corrosion
What does it mean if your jewelry looks foggy? Many people will call this tarnish no matter the metal type, but there are different types of corrosion for different metals.
Appearance & Metals
Corrosion is the disintegration of materials (either metals or non-metallic substances) caused by contact with chemicals or other elements. Factors, such as air, water, oxygen, salt, or any number of gases cause corrosion, which makes the metal react to forms a compound.
Copper, bronze, brass, zinc, and others corrode when exposed to moisture and air.
Gold alloys (i.e. 10K, 14K, etc) can also develop a thin film due to corrosion of its alloy mix.
Tarnish is a type of corrosion caused by a chemical reaction between the metal and atmospheric elements. The main cause of sterling silver tarnishing is a trace of hydrogen sulfide gas in the air. This gas is particularly present in smoke from coal or oil and in polluted air.
Sterling silver develops tarnish, which appears as a dull, pale/dark coating (blackish, greyish, yellowish).
Patina is a thin layer that forms on the surface of certain metals, stones, or wood through oxidation, age, wear, polishing, or other chemical processes.
Platinum patina appears as a frosty finish on platinum jewelry that develops over age and regular wear.
Brass, nickel, zinc, bronze, etc develop a patina that’s different from platinum—it often appears as a green residue.
While precious metals—such as silver, gold, and platinum—are corrosion-resistant, they are mixed with other metals in an alloy to strengthen them. These metals react with elements in the air or on your skin to produce a thin film that dulls the jewelry.
This is easy to clean, and fortunately, the precious metal itself is not affected. To help avoid these types of corrosion, you can remove your jewelry often and use an absorbent powder, free of zinc oxide, on the areas of your skin that come into contact with your jewelry.
How Often Should You Clean Sterling Silver and Gold Jewelry?
How often you clean your jewelry will depend on how regularly you wear it, what its design is like, and what your lifestyle and daily conditions are like
When to clean your silver and gold jewelry:
- We recommend cleaning silver, gold, and platinum jewelry at least once a month.
- Clean your jewelry at home as soon as possible whenever it gets exposed to chemicals or other substances.
- Clean your jewelry if you haven’t been wearing it for a while without properly storing it.
Cleaning your jewelry regularly whenever it’s exposed to sweat, fragrances, oils, etc will prevent residue from building up between professional cleaning. If you’ve invested a good amount in any silver, gold, or platinum jewelry piece, you’ll want to take it to a jeweler for annual cleaning.
How Often Should You Clean Jewelry Professionally?
It is recommended to have your fine gold jewelry professionally cleaned every six months for preventative care, especially if it has gemstones, such as diamonds, rubies, sapphires, opal, or mother-of-pearl.
A jeweler will be able to not only buff and polish the jewelry to get rid of scratches, but also examine it closely to check all the settings, links, clasps, etc so that they can fix it before it becomes a risk.
If you fail to notice a loose prong setting on your diamond earrings or gemstone ring or a bent link on your gold chain necklace, you could end up losing the gem or necklace. The jeweler will be able to tell you what preventative measures you should take each year so you can rest easy.
What You Will Need to Clean Your Jewelry
You probably already have all the simple items you will require right at home, so let’s go over them. You will need the following materials to clean tarnished or dull precious jewelry:
- A bowl
- A mild dishwashing soap (such as Dawn)
- Warm water
- A soft cloth or microfiber cloth
- A soft bristle toothbrush (such as a children’s soft toothbrush)
This is very important; please be sure to only use a soft brush because you can scratch your valuable jewelry.
Also: this method will only apply to gold and platinum diamond jewelry, and later on we will briefly mention how to clean some of your other items.
Things to Avoid When Cleaning Jewelry
Here are some jewelry cleaning tips on things to avoid when cleaning tarnished jewelry.
- Never use any harsh or abrasive products like bleach or chlorine or toothpaste!
- Make sure if you’re using a cleaning solution from cleaning kits, that it’s safe for your metal type and gemstones.
- Never use cleaning methods that can harm your gemstone or metal types.
- If you have a gold-plated or gold-filled diamond or gemstone necklace, such as gold-filled or gold-plated, or fake gold, do not soak it in water. You should use a damp cloth to wipe down the necklace instead. This is because if the gold plating wears off and water gets trapped in the setting, it may rust, and you could lose your gemstones.
- Don’t settle for rough cloths or brushes. No matter how dirty your gold necklace gets, if you don’t have the proper materials, wait to clean it until you do. Don’t use chemicals that you’re uncertain about. Always follow the gold jewelry cleaning guidelines exactly to avoid damaging your diamonds or gold links.
- Don’t rely on ultrasonic cleaners. avoid just throwing your gold necklace in an ultrasonic cleaner—this does not always work thoroughly, and if your chain has diamonds, it could disrupt the gemstone from its setting.
Furthermore, only use soap as needed. If your jewelry is tarnished, cleaning with soap is a good idea. However, when cleaning it regularly to remove regular residue, you don’t always need soap.
Six Ways to Clean Tarnished Jewelry
For method one, here’s how to clean tarnished precious metal jewelry without delicate gemstones. If your tarnished jewelry has pearls, opals, or soft gems, look below for how to clean it.
Method #1: Soap and Water for Regular Jewelry
- Put your jewelry in the bowl, followed by a small amount of gentle dish soap, and pour warm water on top until your jewelry is fully submerged.
- Let it soak in the soapy water for about 30-40 minutes to break down some of the dirt and make it easier to gently brush the remaining dirt off with your soft toothbrush.
- Brush the jewelry with a soft brush. Be sure to get into the hard-to-reach places, such as the setting behind diamonds where dirt and oil love to accumulate.
- Rinse it under clean tap water until all the soap is off of it.
- Dry the jewelry with your microfiber cloth and let it dry out.
This is an easy way to remove tarnish from jewelry. The cleaning process will be different for organic gemstones or other soft gems.
Method #2: Damp Cloth for Organic Gemstone Jewelry
If you purchased one of our beautiful pieces of gemstones jewelry or have jewelry with organic gems (i.e. pearls, opals) you must take even more care when cleaning it.
Never submerge softer gems in water (especially hot water) or leave them there for any extended periods of time! This can cause some stones to crack and break. Have brittle and delicate jewels (such as opals) serviced by professionals annually and follow these simple instructions to keep them clean in the meantime:
- Prepare two lint-free cloths and a bowl of our mild soap and warm water solution.
- Dip one of the cloths into the warm, soapy water and wipe down the jewelry.
- Clean the soap and water off of it with the second, dry cloth. Do not use really hot water, brushes, toothpaste, vinegar, or any hard detergents.
These cleaning methods will work with any fragile jewelry or organic gems. For information specifically on how to clean tarnished pearl jewelry, we will go over this below.
Method #3: How to Clean Pearl Jewelry
Pearls are beautiful and classic, they are also very delicate and require proper care to always look their best. Pearls are organic and consist of elastic silk strands and because of this, they can scratch.
For this reason always keep your pearls in a dry, soft fabric pouch. They can also stretch and elongate, so we recommend that you keep them laying flat instead of hanging them.
Pearls like to be hydrated but never wet or moist. Wear your pearls often and always remember to wipe them with a soft, clean cloth before putting them away. Only clean with a damp cloth dipped in mild soap and warm water solution when necessary.
Never submerge them in water and always remember to dry them out before storing them. Once a year, take them to your jeweler so that they can give them proper cleaning and check for their integrity. Take a look through our stunning and classy pearl jewelry collection if you’re fond of this organic gemstone—which is really in style right now.
Method #4: Ammonia Cleaning Method for Gold and Diamond Jewelry
If your gold jewelry is still cloudy, or your diamonds aren’t as brilliant as they used to be, you can make your own jewelry cleaning solution using ammonia, or use the solutions found in jewelry cleaning kits. ***Avoid using this method with fake gold such as gold-plated or gold-filled jewelry. This would be a fine method to use on something like a solid gold rope chain, a hollow-gold necklace, iced-out gold chains, a diamond pendant necklace, etc.
- Mix ¼ cup of ammonia with 1 cup of water in a bowl.
Add one cup of ammonia (this includes Windex or other window cleaners—read the ingredients to see if it’s ammonia. DON’T use other harsh chemicals, such as bleach, chlorine, or acetone) to one cup of lukewarm water.
After mixing the ammonia and water solution, simply place the piece of diamond jewelry or gold necklace into the bowl to soak in the solution for 20–30 minutes.
- Brush gently, rinse, soak, and dry
After the necklace has soaked in the ammonia solution for 20–30 minutes, brush it with a soft toothbrush to dislodge any trapped dirt.
When brushing the diamonds, make sure to avoid brushing too vigorously to prevent the gems from becoming dislodged from their setting.
- Rinse off the solution until there is no remaining residue or dirt. Then, soak it in plain water for about 20 minutes.
- Then, dry the gold necklace with a soft cloth thoroughly.
If you have diamonds on your necklace, do not let it air-dry or you may need to start over to get rid of those pesky spots.
Method #5: Vinegar for Sterling Silver Diamond Jewelry
How do you clean sterling silver diamond rings and other jewelry to remove tarnish and make the diamond shine? Use an easy method at home involving white vinegar and baking soda.
How to clean a sterling silver ring with vinegar and baking soda:
- Mix ½ cup of white vinegar with 2 tablespoons of baking soda (not baking powder) in a bowl or cup.
- Put the diamond ring in the solution and leave it there for two or three hours.
- Take it out and rinse the ring under cold water.
- Dry with a lint-free cloth.
You can also create a paste of baking soda and water, brush it onto the jewelry and gently scrub with the brush. Then wipe the jewelry with a cloth.
Method #6: Ultrasonic Cleaner
These days there are also various models of consumer Ultrasonic Cleaners available for purchase. These things are great for cleaning your gold or platinum diamond jewelry. They work by sending ultrasonic waves through the jewelry submerged in cleaning liquid, shaking off all the dirt from your jewelry.
You can purchase the cleaning liquid used for these machines or make your own by using a jewelry cleaning solution of warm water mixed with mild dish soap and a tablespoon of ammonia.
Once the cleaning cycle is finished you should wait for the dirt to settle to the bottom, take out the jewelry, rinse under warm, clean water, and dry with a microfiber cloth. Because of the nature of these units, you have to make sure that all your stones are secure or they may be shaken loose and may fall out.
You should also be really careful about not putting other types of gemstones or organic jewelry such as pearls, corals, or amber into the ultrasonic cleaner, or you will damage them irreversibly!
Tips for Preventing Tarnish
Let’s get the seemingly obvious out of the way first—most people don’t keep up with cleaning their jewelry regularly.
When you get used to wearing your favorite piece of jewelry frequently or daily, it feels almost like a part of you. This makes it easy to forget about and go about your daily business. Even if you’re very careful, your jewelry can get dirty from just everyday wear and handling as it comes in contact with oil from your skin.
Here are some tips for preventing jewelry tarnish:
- Don’t wear metal jewelry in the swimming pool, a hot tub, or an ocean. Chlorinated water and salt water can damage gold, silver, platinum, and gemstones. It can weaken the setting and cause your gem to come loose. Furthermore, your finger size can expand in warm water or shrink in cold water, causing the ring to become stuck or fall off and become lost.
- Avoid getting sweat on your jewelry. It’s a good idea to take off your jewelry before working out, doing physical activity, or going out in the heat for an extended amount of time. If you do get really sweaty while wearing jewelry, you’ll want to rinse it in water or clean it as soon as possible to prevent sweat residue buildup, which can cause tarnish.
- Don’t expose your jewelry to harsh chemicals. Know when to take off your jewelry—take it off before cleaning your house, washing your hands with anything harsh, doing dishes, using bleach, or using any other chemicals. Basic handsoap and dish soap are fine.
- Avoid exposing jewelry to perfume, cologne, lotions, etc. These products can build up on your jewelry, especially if you don’t clean it often. This will make it lose its luster quicker, and require more frequent cleaning.
- Store your jewelry properly. Knowing how to store your silver, platinum, and gold jewelry will prevent it from getting dull when you’re not wearing it. Here’s how to properly store precious metal jewelry:
- After you’re done wearing and cleaning your jewelry for the day, put it somewhere safe, such as a jewelry box.
- A clean, dry, fabric-lined jewelry box is the best option for storing gold and silver jewelry.
- If you don’t have a jewelry box, use a phone screen cloth or other soft cloth and tear it if needed. Wrap each piece of your jewelry individually and place them somewhere safe.
- If you store more than one piece of jewelry in a jewelry box, wrap each piece in a soft cloth. Store all pieces of jewelry separately: this prevents necklaces from tangling or scratching each other. This is especially important with diamond jewelry, as diamonds can easily scratch gold and other metals.
If you follow these measures of precaution, you will save yourself time. The more you can limit exposing your jewelry to substances that cause tarnish, the longer it will remain shiny, and the less you will have to clean it.
Keepin’ it Clean
Your jewelry is not only a fashion accessory, a conversation piece, or a celebration of a momentous occasion in your life, but also a statement of who you are and what you have accomplished.
If you purchase one of our pieces of fine gold, sterling silver, and gemstone jewelry from ItsHot.com, you’ll want to wear and display your special piece proudly and you always want it to look its best. This is why it’s important to take proper care of your jewelry, helping it keep its shine and brilliance for years and years to come.