Cleaning

This poses a real challenge for a lot of people. What to clean? How? How often? There are so many choices out there, from rouge cloths to ultra-sonic machines that it can be overwhelming. Here’s what works for me:    

  • Metal – I love a good rouge cloth. They are inexpensive and do a beautiful job on sterling, brass, copper and gold. If the metal work has become dirty try washing it in warm water with a touch of dishwashing soap or baby shampoo, something mild. Using a very soft toothbrush, gently rub in a circular motion to release soil. Be aware that sterling is soft and hard scrubbing will leave brush marks. I believe that nothing cleans jewelry like ocean water and whenever I’m at the sea I try to wear all of my rings at least once to get them clean and shiny. It’s also the perfect way to recharge your stones’ energy.   
  •  Pearls – Never ever wash pearls with soap. You will dull the nacre and can even ruin your pearls. Don’t use commercial cleaners, either. When you take your pearls off, use your soft cloth and wipe them to remove pollutants. Never rub them with a rouge cloth as they will absorb the rouge and will scratch. If, for some reason, your pearls get sticky or are genuinely dirty, soak them in warm water for five or ten minutes. Hold them under cool running water to rinse them and then immediately dry them with a soft cloth.    
  • Soft surfaces – These are stones and surfaces that are easily scratched  like turquoise, coral, opals, pearls, mother-of-pearl, wood, amber and lapis lazuli. You must not wash these with soaps. These soft surfaces will dull and cloud almost immediately if they are subjected to chemicals. When you wash your hands, take your rings off to keep harsh commercial soaps from touching the stones. (Put them in your pocket so that you don’t leave them on the back of the sink! I know it’s happened to more than one person. . .) If the stones look dull or cloudy, it may already be too late. Take them into a professional gemologist and ask what can be done. If the setting is getting grungy, soak in warm water, rinse in cool running water and then pat dry with a soft cotton cloth. Again, the best cleaner is ocean water, so if you have access to it, all the better. (On your next trip to the sea, consider bringing home some sea water to wash your jewelry with.) The most susceptible stone here to damage is opals. Soap will almost always cloud the fire of an opal, so guard it carefully when washing your hands. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t rub any of these with a rouge cloth as they will absorb the rouge and be stained.    
  • Hard Surfaces – These are the stones that measure 6 or harder on the scale. Some of the commercial cleaners can be quite good, as can the ultra-sonic cleaners. However, some of them are not so great and some can actually damage your jewelry. I always recommend that you talk to a local jeweler or gemologist. You can also ask a reputable gemologist online what they use. Most professionals don’t mind answering questions like that and can be a treasure trove of information for you. After trying many different solutions myself, I have settled on warm water with a small amount of baby shampoo and a very soft toothbrush. I soak the piece for five minutes or so, then rub gently with the brush. Then rinse under cool running water and pat dry. Then I go over the metal work with a rouge cloth to bring up the shine.    
  • Copper – A little note here on copper. I often am asked about copper’s patina, the little problem with it turning your skin green and keeping copper shiny. Unlike the purity scale for gold and silver, copper doesn’t seem to be graded. Pure copper is fairly soft, so a small amount of nickel or tin can be added to harden it slightly. Probably the most important factor is your own body chemistry. Some people cannot wear silver, some are allergic to gold. It stands to reason that some folks can’t wear copper. The copper that I use to forge earring wires is covered in a thin sheath of plastic to keep it from tarnishing and that should keep the metal from contact with your skin. I have a copper necklace that I have had since I was four years old. I don’t do anything to it to preserve it and it has a slight patina that I find very attractive. It has never turned my skin green. I have a pair of earrings that I bought from an artist in Bisbee,  AZ and they turned my ears green in five minutes. I dealt with that by putting a light coat of clear nail polish over the wires, a trick recommended by many jewelers. Problem solved. To shine it up, use your trusty rouge cloth and remember to store it properly. And enjoy the beauty of copper! It’s an ancient metal that has been used for adornment and power for thousands of years.  

A final thought -- I highly recommend professional cleaning for pronged setting, very high end pieces, and for heirloom or vintage pieces. It's far better to be safe than sorry. 

For a link to the article on Hardness of Stones -- Moh's scale -- click here.