If you were to ask me why I love making precious jewellery so much, one of the (many) reasons I'd give you is that you can just put it on and forget about it!
Because if it's well made, it will last for years and years and will demand very little attention. It kind of goes everywhere with you, just sitting there, doing its thing, looking gorgeous and brightening up your day.
But even the least demanding of relationships need tending to on occasion, so please excuse me when I ask...
When was the last time you cleaned your jewellery?
Now, there's zero judgment here; I'm a jeweller and have got a few suspect-looking pieces lurking around at home that are crying out for a good clean. Because let's be real, it's easy to let tarnish and dirt build up over time and not really notice, isn't it?
And yes, I may have access to a fancy jewellery cleaner in my workshop, but that doesn't mean that you can't do a great job at home with just a few simple household ingredients.
So trust me when I say you'll be thrilled that you took just 10 minutes out of your day - yes, that really is all it'll take - to give your treasured pieces a clean. The difference will be so obvious that you'll fall in love with them all over again.
So without further ado, I'm going to show you how to remedy that lack lustre silver bracelet or diamond engagement ring so that they are restored to their former glory, using two tried and tested methods.
I'll tell you which method is best depending on what your jewellery is made from and some extra aftercare tips to keep it looking great for longer!
Method One - How to clean silver jewellery
Aah, beautiful silver!
There's just something about its shimmering whiteness, making it easy to see why it's such a popular metal to make jewellery from. That combined with its relatively affordable price tag and I'd bet my last Rolo that you own at least one piece of silver jewellery.
However, it can be prone to heavier tarnishing than other precious metals, and this is a natural occurrence. Think of silver as that slightly high-maintenance friend that you love; it just needs an extra bit of special care to get the most out of the relationship.
The following method should:
- Only be used to clean silver items that do not contain gemstones. Want to clean gold or platinum, or jewellery with gemstones? Jump down to Method Two for this.
- Not be used to clean silver jewellery that has elements of purposefully oxidised (blackened) colouring on it as this will most likely be adversely affected.
- I have found this method to be fine for cleaning silver that has details of gold plating on it, but not for fully gold-plated silver items.
Here's what you'll need:
- A container to put your jewellery in
- Tin foil
- 1 cup (approx. 250ml) of hot water
- 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda (also called baking soda)
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- Disposable/rubber gloves (optional - I use them to prevent any skin irritation)
WARNING: It can give off a bit of an eggy smell (I explain why below), so you may wish to open up the window before you start.
1. Line your container with a sheet of tin foil (shiny side up)
2. Place silver jewellery directly on top of the foil (so that it is touching the foil).
3. Sprinkle on the bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and salt.
4. Pour the hot water (that's either been boiled and allowed to cool slightly or heated in a microwave for a few minutes) all over the jewellery.
5. The bicarbonate of soda and salt will dissolve and quickly get to work, lifting the oxide and tarnish build up off your jewellery!
6. Leave for a MAXIMUM of 10 minutes, remove the jewellery and rinse thoroughly under a tap. Dry using a soft, clean towel.
The tarnished silver bangles that you can see below visibly lightened before my eyes as soon as the hot water was added!
After they were dried off, I wanted to give them an extra lift, which I did by rubbing them with a silver cloth. Something like this silver cloth* is great to help bring up the shine. They don't cost much and will last for quite some time.
Using a silver cloth alone will not remove heavy tarnish, that's why I gave the jewellery a little bath first. If you don't have a silver cloth, go to Method Two to give your pieces a final spruce-up if you like.
* This isn't an affiliate link, just a cloth that I've used and rated!
How does this method work?
(Feel free to skip the quick chemistry lesson if you so wish!)
This method makes use of the chemical process known as ion exchange.
The dull layer that you can see on tarnished silver is caused by a chemical reaction between the silver and sulphide. Sulphide is present both in the air and also is transferred to the silver through touch.
When the tarnish (silver sulphide) comes into contact with aluminium (the tinfoil), sulphur atoms are transferred from the silver to the aluminium, forming aluminium sulphide. This then hydrolyses, forming hydrogen sulphide - which is the reason for the unattractive (eggy!) smell created.
The salt and baking soda are electrolytes and they improve the ease at which the electrons move between the silver and aluminium.
Using hot water speeds up this reaction. You could do it in cold water but it would take a whole lot longer.
Method Two - How to clean all other jewellery
This method can be used for all other items of jewellery - silver, gold, platinum, pieces with gemstones, gold plating and oxidised detailing.
It is a very gentle, but effective, way to clean jewellery and helps you get into all the nooks and crannies where there may be a build-up of soap, hand cream and general life gunk.
It is perfectly safe for jewellery that contains gemstones - so an ideal way to safely clean your engagement or eternity ring. There are a few exceptions to bear in mind for pearls, emeralds and opals which I explain below.
Here's what you'll need:
- A cup/container to submerge your jewellery in
- Hot water
- Washing up liquid
1. Make a soapy solution with the washing up liquid and hot water. Submerge your jewellery in it and leave for 10 minutes. This allows it to have a good soak and softens any dirt you are trying to remove.
2. Dip the toothbrush in the soapy water and vigorously brush all around the item(s), paying particular attention to the underside of gemstones/settings, earring posts and scrolls and any other hard-to-reach places.
3. If you have used Method One to clean silver items, this is a good way of giving them an extra boost if you don't have a silver cloth.
4. Rinse under a tap and gently pat dry with a soft cloth.
5. You might like to then use a silver cloth to brighten up even more!
TIP: You don't need to buy a separate silver and gold cleaning cloth - a silver cloth will do the job effectively for all precious metals. It's what we use here in the workshop!
Remember I mentioned there are some exceptions that need to be treated with extra care? Here they are:
This method can be used to clean pearl jewellery, but do not submerge the whole piece in the water. Use mild soap only (no other cleaning solution) in lukewarm water and rather than a toothbrush (which could actually damage the pearl due to their softness), use a very soft cloth to both clean and to dry them off.
Most emeralds are 'oiled' as part of the finishing process. This is so that even the tiniest of imperfections toward the surface of the gemstone can be made to seemingly disappear. This happens due to the oil's almost identical refractive index to that of the emerald.
For this reason, never submerge jewellery containing emeralds in soapy water for any length of time as this can disturb the oil and may alter the look of your gemstone.
They can still be cleaned in this way, just don't soak them!
Changes in temperature can damage opals, so use only room-temperature water, with mild soap (no other cleaners). Do not submerge or soak either as this can affect the structure of the opal.
How to keep your jewellery cleaner for longer
Not wanting that cleaning to go to waste, here are some tips on how to keep your jewellery looking good for longer:
- Silver really dislikes chlorine, to the point that the chemical can turn it a very unattractive dark colour, very quickly.
- Do not swim in silver jewellery, and remember to remove it when using hot tubs/Jacuzzis too.
- When it's not being worn, keep it in a jewellery storage box. If it is exposed to the air (and those pesky sulphides we talked about earlier) it will tarnish much more quickly.
- Try to store items so they are not lying on top of each other. This can cause scratching, tangling and kinking of chains.
- As necklaces can tangle easily, store them separately to each other.
- Snake chains (shown below) can be prone to kinking, so it's best for them to be stored loosely coiled or hanging up (if they are being worn frequently).
- Humidity can tarnish jewellery, so store it in areas of your home that are dry and cool. Avoid storing in areas that are hot or exposed to direct sunlight.
Snake chains (like the one above) can be susceptible to kinking. It's best for them to be stored loosely coiled.
When to ask the professionals
The cleaning methods I've described are great for overall cleaning and a general spruce up of your jewellery. However, there are occasions when it's best to take it to a trained jeweller if more in depth or specialised help is needed.
This may be if your jewellery is in need of:
- Re-polishing - to remove scratches and knocks and to bring back its original high polish.
- Re-oxidising - if the purposely dark areas on your silver jewellery have faded.
- Gemstones checking over for wear of the setting/any loose settings.
- Specialised finishes re-applying - such as our frosted finish or texture satin finish you can see below:
The frosted finish on this gold ring (above) is applied using a specialist tool in our workshop. Over the course of a few years it may need re-applying, which we can do for free.
The textured satin finish on this bespoke ring (above) is expertly applied in our workshop. It may need re-doing during the course of its wear, which we will happily do free of charge.
Free re-finishing service at Kate Smith Jewellery
Any item of jewellery by us that's in need of a little TLC can be posted/dropped into our Birmingham workshop for a check over, clean and re-finish.
This is a free-of-charge service we offer for the lifetime of your Kate Smith Jewellery. Repairs and alterations will be quoted for accordingly. Get in touch to arrange.
And there we have it...
Hopefully, this guide has given you a little more confidence to clean your own jewellery successfully at home, with just a few household ingredients.
And I bet you didn't expect a chemistry lesson from me today!