How to Use a Jewelry Cleaner

A good jewelry cleaner can breathe new life into your favorite pieces, but it’s important to understand what kind of materials you’re dealing with. Different kinds of metals and gemstones require different care, from porous organic gems like coral and pearl to scratch-prone precious metals. There’s also a difference between the kind of discoloration a cleaning will lift (oil and skin buildup, mild tarnish) versus stains that have more serious causes.

You’ll want to avoid harsh, acidic or abrasive cleansers and soaking solutions because they can damage your jewelry. Even if you’re just trying to remove a little tarnish, it’s best to leave that job to a professional jeweler who can safely use high-powered steam and polishing wheels to restore your piece to its original condition.

If you’re looking for an easy DIY solution, try adding some soap to warm water. Just be sure to add a gentle soap that doesn’t contain any abrasive chemicals. Toothpaste, for instance, can be abrasive and is corrosive to gold. Also avoid lemon juice—it’s too acidic and can damage or dull your jewelry.

Instead, opt for a warm-water soak in a small bowl. Add a few drops of soap and allow your jewelry to sit for about 10 minutes. While it’s soaking, give your pieces a quick brush with an old soft toothbrush—especially underneath the stones. After rinsing, pat your jewelry dry with a soft cloth.

You can also try a specialized nontoxic jewelry cleaner. This abrasive-free and ammonia-free cleaner can be used daily and is safe for most metals, including sterling silver. It’s also great for restoring your jewelry to its original condition, according to the manufacturer. This nontoxic cleaner is safe for most gemstones, too—but be careful with soft ones like opals and pearls.

Other jewelry cleaners can also be effective. A nontoxic ionic cleaner turns grease, oil and grime into soap right on the surface of your jewelry. This ionic action sequesters and rinses away the grease, oil and grime leaving your jewelry absolutely clean. This is the same technology that jewelers use during their sonic cleaning process.

It’s also a good idea to clean your jewelry regularly to prevent oxidation, which can dull your pieces and cause them to look old before their time. You can buy commercial sonic cleaners or make your own at home by lineing the bottom of a small bowl with aluminum foil, adding hot water, salt and baking soda, and placing your jewelry inside. Let the jewelry soak for a few minutes before gently brushing it with a soft-bristled toothbrush and rinsing it. This method is safe for most jewelry but is not recommended for opals, pearls, emeralds or other soft gemstones. Also be sure to avoid bleach or chlorine, which can erode and etch jewelry.