Jewelry can be as questionable on how to clean as your delicate garments, so it is important to know the proper way to care for each item. It is important to evaluate which method of cleaning is appropriate for each item based on the metals and gems that it is made of. I will cover how to clean jewelry with gems and pearls in another article. This one is just about metal jewelry.
Plain precious metal jewelry rarely requires any cleaning at all if it is well taken care of on a regular basis. A simple wipe with a soft cloth to buff it every now and then and to remove the oils left by skin will keep your gold and silver looking good as new. Metals can scratch easily, so be careful that the cloth you use is clean and non-abrasive. Do not use paper towels which can scratch. You may want to invest in a jewelry polishing cloth for this purpose. They are a soft cloth that has been impregnated with special chemical cleansing agents and non-scratching micro-abrasives or jeweler’s rouge.
If your metal jewelry has a dark oxidized patina and you like it that way, then you are all set. No further care is required other than an occasional wipe with clean soft cloth. Do not use jewelry cleaning cloths on oxidized items or it will remove the dark patina.
When metal jewelry has been neglected, more aggressive cleaning methods may be required. In the case of sterling, brass or copper items, oxidation or tarnish may develop if they are exposed to the elements when stored. It is easier to prevent tarnish than it is to remove it. Gold can eventually tarnish, so you may want to follow these tips for your gold as well.
There are two easy steps to keeping your shiny clean jewelry from oxidizing. First, wear them often. The simple act of brushing against your skin and clothing will keep them polished if you wear them often enough. When you are done wearing them, simply wipe them with a soft cloth and place in an airtight container for storage. A zip close plastic bag works great for this use.
When cleaning plated items, be very careful and gentle with buffing those items. Aggressive and repeated rubbing will remove the plating over time, even with a soft cloth.
If you feel your metals need additional cleaning due to a build up of lotions, soaps and dirt, it is always best to try the least aggressive methods first. First, mix up a solution of warm water and a mild dishwashing liquid. Soak the jewelry for 15 minutes then use a soft toothbrush to loosen any grime that is trapped in crevices. Use a new toothbrush for this purpose. An old one may have toothpaste residue in it which could scratch. Rinse in clear water and dry with a clean soft cloth. Do not store the item until you are sure it is dry.
To remove light tarnish on silver, rub gently with a jewelry cleaning cloth. For heavier tarnish, rub with a silver cleaning fluid or paste made specifically for jewelry and follow manufacturers’ instructions. Don’t use toothpaste or other abrasive cleansers that will scratch the surface. Brass and copper also have special cleaners that are made just for them and are available for purchase where silver cleaners are sold.
Homemade cleaners, such as baking soda and water for silver and lemon juice and salt or ketchup for brass or copper have been reported as useful, but I think they are a waste of time and have found that they don’t work that well.
Finally, an ultrasonic jewelry cleaning system uses only water (sometimes a cleaning solution) and ultrasonic energy which is transmitted into vibrating energy waves. Make sure that you select a model that uses an ultrasonic transducer as some units call themselves ultrasonic cleaners but only have a motor that causes vibrations. The motion of the ultrasonic waves creates millions of microscopic bubbles in the water or cleaning solution. When the bubbles bump into the jewelry, they gently penetrate the crevices and clean them out. This method is safe to use on all metals.