Cleaning Jewelry

by Rena Klingenberg.

Cleaning jewelry to an incredible sparkle definitely enhances its value in the eyes of your customer. Fingerprints, skin oils, dust, and tarnish dull the beauty of jewelry and prevent it from shimmering with that gorgeous, high-quality aura.

Keeping your jewelry clean is a good strategy for increasing your sales and being able to charge higher prices.

Look in any jewelry store showcase. Notice the almost unreal sparkle of metals, stones, and all other elements of the jewelry on display? That sparkle is one of the main reasons stores are able to sell a good volume of jewelry, for fairly high prices.

Cleaning jewelry and keeping it tarnish free should be a main goal for all handmade jewelry businesses.

In addition, cleaning your customers’ other jewelry is a nice bonus service that helps you build a good relationship with them. It makes customers feel pampered, and enhances your reputation as a jewelry expert.

Safely Clean Delicate Jewelry

However, be careful when cleaning jewelry, ESPECIALLY when cleaning jewelry that belongs to customers!

Before cleaning by any method, check the piece of jewelry to be sure it’s sound and in good repair. Check for loose stones and anything else that seems weak or not in good shape.

And don’t ever use anything for cleaning jewelry that has abrasives or bleach. Both of these damage silver and many stones! That includes toothpaste (especially tooth-whitening toothpastes), scouring powder, baking soda, or creamy opaque jewelry cleaners.

And although it’s sometimes helpful to use a small brush for cleaning jewelry, I don’t recommend using an old toothbrush. It’s likely to have a tiny residue of toothpaste on it, which may scratch your metal and stones. Use a brand-new toothbrush, and keep it just for scrubbing jewelry!

Cleaning Gemstone Jewelry

Delicate Gemstones Caution
Be careful when cleaning jewelry with these stones that are notoriously delicate:


  • Amber
  • Coral
  • Drusy
  • Emeralds
  • Foil-backed glass stones
  • Malachite
  • Mother of pearl
  • Opals
  • Pearls
  • Peridot
  • Unstabilized turquoise

These delicate gems need VERY gentle cleaning. They should not be exposed to ammonia, hot solutions, ultrasonic cleaning, or any abrasives.

The best jewelry cleaner for these delicate items is usually an ionic jewelry cleaner such as the SpeedBrite, which is considered generally safe for all metals and stones.

Ionic jewelry cleaners do not use heat, sound waves, or abrasives, and they do an excellent job of removing tarnish and dirt very quickly. Ionic jewelry cleaners are available from many sources on the Internet; shop carefully because prices can vary widely.

Drusy Stone Caution
I’ve heard that drusy stones should not be cleaned in an ionic cleaner because of their delicate crystal structure.

I haven’t tested that theory, but I don’t recommend ionic cleaning of drusy unless you can first test a small piece of it that you don’t mind messing up if it gets damaged.

Homemade Jewelry Cleaner

Homemade Jewelry Cleaner
This homemade jewelry cleaner recipe is a big hit with Debbie Sosa’s customers. Try the recipe for yourself – and see how Debbie uses it to remind customers of her business every time they use it.

How to Clean Brass

And here’s a page on How to Clean Brass – using items you already have in your kitchen.

Removing Sterling Silver Tarnish

For plain sterling silver jewelry (with no stones), you can also get good results using commercial silver dip liquid, polish paste, or polish cloth. I wouldn’t use these products on jewelry containing gemstones, though.

Windex is often used to shine up silver and gold jewelry, including some gemstones (but not the delicate stones listed above; also don’t use Windex or any other ammonia solution on oxidized sterling silver, since the ammonia can damage the oxidized finish). Spray Windex on the jewelry, wait a few moments, rinse, and wipe clean with a soft, dry cloth.

There’s also an easy method for removing tarnish from sterling silver using a few items you already have in your kitchen. See How to Clean Tarnished Silver Jewelry for using this method.

And again, you can also use an ionic cleaner to remove tarnish and quickly get sterling silver sparkling like new.

Steam and other hot methods of cleaning are safe for metals and all but the delicate stones listed above. To steam clean jewelry at home, slowly boil a solution of trisodium phosphate and water in a saucepan. Hang the jewelry in the pan – being very careful not to get burned by the steam!–on a small wire hooked over the edge of the pan. Don’t let the jewelry touch the bottom of the pan.

Ultrasonic cleaners are safe to use on most jewelry EXCEPT the delicate stones listed above. Small home models of ultrasonic cleaners are available in many stores.

Preventing Tarnish

Okay, after cleaning jewelry, how do you keep it from tarnishing and becoming dull again?

I store my jewelry covered with anti-tarnish cloth (sometimes also called Pacific Cloth), available by the yard at most fabric stores. I cut this anti-tarnish cloth to fit over my trays that are filled with jewelry, and to wrap around my loaded jewelry displays. It really makes a huge difference in preventing tarnish and reducing the time you spend cleaning jewelry.

Another method I recommend is keeping jewelry tightly sealed in ziplock jewelry bags with no-tarnish strips (available from most jewelry suppliers) inside with the jewelry. Change the no-tarnish strips every 3 to 6 months, depending on where you live and how fast jewelry tends to tarnish.

For jewelry you store on display racks or in trays or cases, place the rack and several no-tarnish strips inside a large plastic trash bag and close the bag up tightly with a twist-tie. Change the no-tarnish strips every 3 to 6 months. Every time I change my no-tarnish strips I write a quick note on my calendar 3 months from the date I change them, reminding myself it’s time to change them again!

Some jewelers use ordinary blackboard chalk in place of the no-tarnish strips. Although I haven’t tried that myself, many report excellent results using it! I suggest that if you choose chalk, you might want to stock up on it in August during the back-to-school sales.

More About
Preventing Jewelry from Tarnishing

Prevent Tarnish on Your Jewelry Inventory
I would much rather prevent tarnish on my jewelry than have to clean each piece before every showing! Using even one of these tarnish prevention tips will mean less jewelry cleaning.

Cleaning Argentium Sterling Silver Jewelry

Its germanium content makes Argentium sterling silver more tarnish resistant – but you’ll still need to clean it from time to time to keep it at its brightest and shiniest.

Here’s How to Clean Argentium Sterling Silver Jewelry.

Keeping Your Jewelry Clean at Shows

Finally, how do you keep your jewelry sparkling and fingerprint-free during shows? I recommend keeping a sunshine cloth or other jewelry polishing cloth handy to wipe and polish your pieces often during shows. It also makes a favorable impression to customers when they see you cleaning jewelry!

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  • Kathleen says:

    Before using a “dip” style of silver cleaner, consider whether some tarnish adds to the look of the piece. Tarnish in hollows can add depth to the design. Use a cloth cleaner for these pieces. I received this tip when buying silver jewelry at a consignment shop. As others have noted, non-experts do not always know how to keep and safely clean the jewelry they just bought. So giving them these tips provides a valuable Service and creates loyalty.

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