It is vital that jewellery is cleaned regularly but many people don’t realise this. Perhaps because it is made of metal and not fabric people don’t think of it as holding dirt but jewellery, particularly stone set pieces, watches and chains have spaces where dirt and sweat can accumulate. Not only will cleaning your jewellery regularly be better for your health but it will make your precious possessions look their best. Things like hand cream can build up inside the settings on rings and make a gemstone which was once vibrant look dull and flat and even toxins in the air can cause precious metals to tarnish. The good news is that it is cheap and easy to clean your jewellery so here’s a quick guide for which cleaner to use to clean your jewellery.
One of the properties of silver is that it turns black when exposed to a flame or to certain chemicals. This reaction in the metal is called oxidisation. Some designers use this property in the metal for decorative effect, as I do with my Hero collection but if your silver is not supposed to be black it is easy to restore it back to its original white colour. If you have silver jewellery and it doesn’t go black then it is either not silver or it has been treated with a coating that prevents the surface of the metal coming in contact with the air. There is a process in the jewellery trade that creates an invisible thin coating on the metal, almost like clear nail varnish, used by companies who mass produce jewellery. You might ask why all jewellers don’t use this but the problem with this is that the coating wears off over time in an uneven way that means that patches of tarnish appear and it’s not easy to get someone who will recoat the jewellery. We don’t use this process because jewellery should be cleaned regularly for hygiene reasons and a process that means you don’t have to clean it isn't a good idea, in our opinion. Another process used in the jewellery trade to stop silver jewellery tarnishing is to plate it with rhodium as is done with white gold. This makes the surface of the metal a cooler grey colour rather than the warm white of silver but it is more expensive to replate it when it wears than it is to clean it regularly.
The type of cleaner you should use on silver depends on the finish on the metal and the shape of it. If the piece of jewellery you want to clean is highly polished you should use a silver cloth. A silver cloth is a small cleaning cloth impregnated with polish. You rub the surface of the metal gently and the oxidisation, which is the discolouration sitting on the surface, will come off leaving it shiny and bright. If you have a matt piece of jewellery, you don’t want to use a silver cloth as this will polish the silver up removing the matt finish. For matt jewellery I recommend using a silver dip. This is a liquid that you immerse the piece of jewellery in for a few seconds, up to couple of minutes and the tarnish is removed. You simple rinse it under the tap after soaking it and dry it on a soft cloth and it will look like new. Silver dips are great for chains too as the liquid gets in between the links and it is much quicker to clean it this way than to polish each link with a cloth.
Another way to remove tarnish is actually to wear the jewellery regularly. The friction that happens during wear can stop the tarnish building up. This isn’t cleaning your jewellery but it explains why jewellery you wear often doesn’t tarnish whereas jewellery left in a jewellery box unworn does. There is a substance in the air called hydrogen sulfide and it reacts with silver causing it to oxidise and this is another reason why silver will tarnish. If you have silver jewellery that you keep in a jewellery box it is best to put each piece in a small airtight bag and this will help to prevent it tarnishing in storage.
Silver will also oxidise quicker in places where there is bright sunlight and high humidity which is why your silver jewellery might be more likely to tarnish when you are on holiday.
There are a lot of nasty chemicals in perfume so it is best to try to avoid getting any on your jewellery. It will help if you spray your perfume before putting your jewellery on and if you can put it on areas where you jewellery won’t touch. For example in the crook of your elbow rather than your wrist and in the hollow between your collar bones rather than on your neck and ears.
The worst thing you can do to your silver jewellery is to swim in it or to go in hot tubs. These places use very harsh chemicals that will turn your silver jewellery black and the tarnish is very difficult to remove unless you are a professional jewellery so always remember to take them off before swimming or going to a spa.
There are lots of silver cloths and cleaners for sale but our favourite is Town Talk. They have a silver cleaner called Silver Sparkle and they also have silver cloths. Many of the other jewellery cleaners just don’t work as well as this brand’s products do. You can buy Town Talk products at John Lewis, Argos and Amazon
There are certain stones you should never put in a silver cleaner and they will be listed on the instructions but generally any porous gemstone such as pearls or opals should not be immersed in silver cleaning solutions.
Pure gold doesn’t tarnish. However gold used in jewellery is not pure gold but an alloy of gold with other metals. 9ct gold is one third gold and two thirds other metal. 18ct gold is two thirds gold and one third other metals. Gold jewellery tarnishes because the other metals in the alloy react with chemicals as silver does but many people won’t be as aware that their gold jewellery is tarnished because it doesn’t go black as silver does. Gold tarnish will only slightly change the shade of the colour of the gold making it a little more red or brown in tone. It is often difficult to see this unless a piece of tarnished gold jewellery is placed next to a new piece. Following the same principles as listed above for silver jewellery is a good idea, such as avoiding contact with chemicals where possible and storing jewellery in airtight bags.
Gold is simpler to clean than silver and doesn’t require any specialist products. Warm soapy water and a soft baby toothbrush is all you need. Soak your item of jewellery in a dish of warm water with a little dish soap and gently brush the surface and the baby toothbrush, especially in the settings around stones and between chain links. Rinse under clean water and dry with a soft cloth.
Gold, particularly 9ct, does not react well to alcohol. Using things like hand sanitiser or other products high in alcohol can cause the metal to become brittle resulting in something called stress corrosion. Stress corrosion can cause claws on a ring to sheer off so it is very important to take your rings off before applying hand sanitiser or using any other products with alcohol in them.
Platinum is also an alloy but unlike gold platinum is 95% pure. You are unlikely to see any tarnish on platinum jewellery but it is a good idea to avoid any harsh chemicals such as bleach or chlorine. Clean platinum as recommended for gold jewellery using a baby toothbrush and warm soapy water.
Pearls are often strung on thread so it is really important not to immerse them in any liquid as this will cause the thread to rot. Pearls are best wiped down with a soft cloth after wearing them. Avoid wearing any perfume with pearls as the surface is porous and the chemicals in perfume will eat into the surface destroying them. The best time for pearls to be deep cleaned is when they are restrung. The pearls are removed from the thread and then cleaned with cold salt water, as they would be in nature, dried and then restrung on new clean thread. It is a good idea to have your pearls restrung once a year to avoid a strand breaking accidentally and losing any pearls. There are some great youtube videos on how to learn to restring pearls but most people who have tried it find it very time consuming to do and prefer to get a professional to do this for them. Pearl earrings can be cleaned in salt water and if they are set in silver you can use a silver cloth gently to clean any tarnish on the silver, avoiding touching the pearl.
Cleaning your jewellery regularly and storing it correctly will help to keep your valuable treasures looking their best. It is an investment of your time but it is also an investment in your health.
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