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Guide: Cleaning Jewellery at Home
I quite often get asked about the ready-made cleaning solutions that you can purchase for maintaining your jewellery at home, and aside from removing tarnishing from sterling silver, you can easily clean your jewellery more sufficiently without specially purchased solutions.
To maintain a piece of jewellery for brilliance, a simple warm water ‘bath’ in your sink or in a small container with a splash of regular dish soap does the trick. A splash of windex in addition, and then use an old toothbrush to ‘scrub’ around the gemstones and the intricacy of the metal design.
You want to use a solution that has a slippery texture to it, so that the solution easily rinses off the metal and stones. A lot of times I hear people asking about using toothpaste, but because toothpaste is an abrasive compound that cakes onto metal or gemstones, it actually does more harm than good.
You need to be fully aware of what kind of gemstone/mixed media jewellery you are washing. Certain gemstones, like emerald, pearls and opals are not suitable to be washed with any chemical solution, but best washed under luke-warm water only.
The reason for not washing your jewellery under a running tap in an un-plugged sink is simply to keep any possible loose gemstones or decorative elements in your jewellery from coming out of their setting and going down the drain. Warm water expands precious metal in a minuscule way, but it can be enough to loosen up a micro-pave set stone enough to wiggle itself out of a setting; particularly if you are washing your ring in an ultra-sonic cleaner that you have purchased for cleaning jewellery at home, or if there is one that you are using at your work-place (dentist, medical offices).
In my workshop I use an ultra-sonic, which is ideal for cleaning behind channel set diamonds, that quite often get caked with client’s hand-lotion, cookie doe and skin cells, but for regular maintenance I often just brush rings with a toothbrush and dish-soap and gently dry them with a kleenex. (Tissue fibres often remain on the jewellery, so I simply blow the fibres off with my mouth, which also helps drying behind gemstones, to avoid water drops drying and forming stains on your gemstones)
If you have an ultra-sonic at home or at work that you use to clean your jewellery in, you need to pay attention to what kind of stones are suitable to wash in an ultra-sonic. The effect of industry grade ultra-sonic cleaners is a lot stronger than you may think, and therefore you can only really leave diamonds rubies and sapphires in an ultra-sonic for a longer period of time. With gemstones such as tourmaline, zircons, peridot or citirines you need to use caution and preferably only dip the stones briefly into the cleaner; some of the stones may be able to endure more time in the cleaner than others. I would ask for advice from your jeweller about the suitability of certain gemstones and cleaning them in an ultra-sonic. Needless to say, emeralds, tanzanites, pearls and opals can not take the vibration that the ultra-sonic generates. Should you have a cracked or damaged stone that you put into an ultra-sonic, the vibration can generate more cracking and harm to the stone, and ultimately break it.
If you have pearl jewellery that you would like to clean, a damp soft cloth is the most appropriate tool to use. A pearl necklace will remain its lustre and keep the pearls ‘healthier’ for longer, if on occasion wiped down with a damp cloth. The oils that we emit through our skin can dampen and damage the lustre as well as eventually discolour and lessen the durability of the silk or nylon cord that the pearls are strung on; which leads to needing to have the pearls restrung -a common procedure that may occur every few to 10 years depending on how often you wear your pearls.
Emerald jewellery needs extra care simply because they are not very hard gemstones and due to how emeralds are treated. More often than not emeralds are oiled as part of their lustre and compound treatment. Washing your hands often with soaps or hand sanitizers while wearing an emerald ring will eventually draw out all the oil and lessen the lustre as well as the look and strength of the emerald. It is good practice to take any ring with a coloured gemstone off your hand when washing your hands, using hand sanitizer or hand-cream; just don’t forget it on the sink counter if you are away from your home.
As for silver jewellery cleaning solutions, be aware of what kind of gemstones or mixed materials are in your silver jewellery before submerging it into a harsh chemical solution. Ideally you should put the solution on a q-tip and treat only the silver surfaces that you need to remove tarnishing from. Avoid for the solution to touch especially pearls as it may damage the pearl.
Chlorine automatically blackens silver, so if you have worn silver jewellery in a pool, hot tub or while cleaning you may notice that the silver isn’t as bright nor white as it was before. Silver cleaning solutions can remove the blackness, and if you are unable to remove it yourself at home, bring it in to a jeweller to do it.
After you have treated your silver jewellery with silver cleaner, you should rinse it under warm water with preferably some dish soap to not allow the chemical residue any possible exposure to your skin. If you are cleaning your silver jewellery or silverware more vigorously than with a q-tip you should wear rubber gloves and for your own comfort even a face mask.
Note that whatever material (cloth, cotton wool or duster) you use to clean your silver with may generate rubbing marks that will be visible on a highly polished surface. Choose something with an even and smooth surface and texture to it, to minimize dulling down a mirror finish on your polished silver. Also note that silver cleaning solutions are not appropriate to use on anything else than what listed on the back of the bottle or jar.
I often come across people who struggle to get their rings off and their first instinct is to put saliva on their finger to get the ring off. As much as this does work as a lubricant it isn’t very graceful; not to mention the amount of bacteria you are possible putting into your mouth. If you have windex handy you should spray that on the ring (not emerald, pearl or opal ring) and the ring will slip off easily. The same goes for dish soap or regular soap, which will require a little bit of rinsing off after the fact. The simple act of just rinsing your hand under cold water will also shrink your finger and allow for the water to work as a lubricant; so not only do you get that snug ring off your finger, but you also clean it at the same time.
Repair and maintenance
Should something not look right or have come loose while cleaning your jewellery at home, collect the pieces and put it into a ziploc and bring it into your jeweller for repair and maintenance. Most jewellers are more than happy to clean your jewellery for free, particularly if it was purchased through them -simply because they would be aware of any extra caution that needs to be taken with the specific piece.
If you live in Calgary with area and without anyone that you can ask about your jewellery needs and questions, feel free to send me an email or book an appointment with me and I will be happy to offer you advice and the jewellery care you are looking for; whether it is regarding purchasing an ultra-sonic for home use, having your pearls re-strung or getting your jewellery professionally cleaned and maintained.