Today I'm going to talk about cleaning jewellery, and show you a really simple and easy method of cleaning your own jewellery at home. At Dear Rose, With Love, as you can imagine, we clean a LOT of jewellery! All well loved and worn jewellery will accumulate dirt and tarnish with wear, and vintage gems often have a few more years of dirt under their belts when they arrive to us. A huge part of the buying experience that we offer at Dear Rose, With Love is the treat of buying a vintage item with a beautiful history and interesting past, but with the reassurance of the item being in a good, clean, and wearable condition.
I avoid using harsh chemicals when cleaning our jewellery, partly through personal choice, and partly because vintage jewellery is often delicate and intricate, and must be gently cleaned with care. As I have to clean large volumes of jewellery, I have a small ultrasonic jewellery cleaner to help me along, which I will mention in this guide. If you do not have an ultrasonic jewellery cleaner (most people don't need one when they are just cleaning small amounts of their own jewellery collection) then do not worry, as this guide will still offer you advice and the cleaning method used does not rely on the jewellery cleaner.Here is a list of the items I used to clean the jewellery in this tutorial. You might not have, or need, all of them - but if you do then that's great.
- Ultrasonic Jewellery Cleaner - a small container which we fill with water, when turned on it gently vibrates and helps to shake dirt away from the jewellery inside
- Anti-bacterial soap - we use anti-bacterial soap because we clean a large number of earrings. However, you can use a different kind of soap if you prefer.
- A Toothbrush - for lightly brushing your jewellery when wet, to help remove dirt stuck in small areas and joins.
- A soft towel or cloth - to dry your jewellery with and to buff away dirt
- A treated silver polishing cloth - Only to be used as a finishing touch for sterling silver and gold items, not for costume jewellery.
- A safety pin or tooth pick - to help you to remove dirt from tiny corners, or stubborn dirt underneath stones.
Remember, it is always best to only submerge your jewellery in water if it really needs it. Try dry methods of cleaning before, as these are the safest cleaning methods for vintage jewellery. Of course, sometimes dry cleaning isn't enough, and that's what this guide is for!
Let's start! Here's some photos of the jewellery I'm going to clean. This jewellery was all in this condition on arrival at Dear Rose, With Love. It is high on the 'dirty' scale, and we picked these pieces for the tutorial to best show you techniques for cleaning them. All of the items we are cleaning are sterling silver. The rings are set with amethyst, onyx and abalone shell, while the earrings are set with pearls.
First of all we have got out our anti-bacterial soap and our ultrasonic jewellery cleaner. If you do not have a jewellery cleaner, then any small dish or container will do and you will still be able to achieve great results, it just might take a little more elbow grease than with the jewellery cleaner. We purchased our jewellery cleaner online and it only cost around £6, they are surprisingly cheap, ours runs on AA batteries. A great investment even for an individual.
We need to fill the jewellery cleaner, or dish, with warm water and a little soap. I start by putting around 4 small dots of soap in the bottom of the container. I run the hot tap until the water is running warm but not too hot, and fill the container about 2/3 full - enough to just cover the jewellery. You can pop your jewellery in before or after you have added the water, it's just personal preference. For this guide I added the jewellery prior to the water, so you can see it in the photos.
Once the soap and water is in your container you want to swirl it around with your hand a little, to ensure that the soap and water have mixed well. This should create a slight bubbly surface. You don't need lots of soap or bubbles, less is usually more. Also, be very careful not to put your jewellery in water that is too hot or boiling, as this can cause severe damage to your jewellery such as cracking stones.
Once your jewellery is in, you want to secure the lid on your jewellery cleaner and turn it on. Our cleaner has two cycles and takes about 30 minutes to complete. If you are using a dish or container, cover it if you can, and leave the jewellery to soak for around 30 minutes. If your jewellery is not to dirty, you can remove it early, and if it is dirtier you can leave it a little longer. Avoid leaving the jewellery in the water for long periods of time, such as overnight. The soap and water will not harm your jewellery, however if any parts of your jewellery have glue holding them together than please be aware that soaking in warm water can cause the glue to loosen and stones/crystals might fall out after. We have had this happen a few times, and are able to professionally re-glue the pieces, however you might want to avoid this happening at home unless you are confident in how to re-glue the pieces.
Some items of jewellery are best not submerged in water. In this case you want to follow the same procedure however instead of submerging your items in the water, dip your soft toothbrush in and use the solution on the toothbrush to very gently brush and clean your jewellery by hand. Be particularly careful with these types of jewellery:
- Jewellery with glued on parts or stones (mentioned above)
- Crystals or Rhinestones with foil backs (It is common in vintage jewellery for some crystals to have their colours accented by securing bright foil to the underside of them, this typically looks gold or silver when viewed from underneath). Do not immerse foil backed gems in water, or the foil will come off.
- Antique Jewellery - if your jewellery is near or over 100 years old, you should be particularly careful when cleaning it. Do not submerge it in water. If particularly dirty, seek a professional jewellery cleaner who has full insurance and experience in cleaning antique items.
- String pearls - pearls typically thrive with a water bath, however the string holding together your pearl necklace might not. The string can take a long time to dry and can be weakened by submerging in water.
- Enamel - enamel is typically durable and can be washed with success, but be careful to treat it gently to void cracking.
- Butterfly wing jewellery / hair jewellery - some vintage jewellery is made with real butterfly wings or hair inside, water will harm these so avoid submerging these pieces in water.
- Cameos - cameos are best not submerged in water but can be cleaned with a soft toothbrush and a little soapy warm water.
- Gemstones - most gemstones can handle a gentle warm soapy bath, but if in doubt research your gemstone a little first.
Once the cycle has finished, or you have soaked the jewellery for your desired amount of time, then you can remove it from the water. Drain the soapy water, and rinse under a little running water to make sure all of the soap has been removed. You can do this by holding the container under the water and allow it to overflow until it runs clear with no bubbles, or you can take each item and gently rinse it individually. Sometimes you will need to rinse a few times, especially if you used more soap to begin with. Here are our pieces straight out of the jewellery cleaner.
Do not leave your jewellery to air dry, while it is wet is the best time for further cleaning to remove dirt, you can clean a little more with a soft damp toothbrush. Drying with a soft towel or cloth will help to buff your item for a nicer finish. Rings and earrings tend to get dirtier with wear quicker than bracelets and necklaces do, our onyx ring is particularly dirty with a large dirt build behind the stone.
For this ring, we used a pin to help ease away the dirt from behind the stone (a cocktail stick can work too). Be very careful using a pin so as not to scratch the stone, carefully extract the dirt little by little and rinse often in water. Look at the debris in the water after we cleaned this ring, yuck!
Once your jewellery is clean and dry, you want to focus on the finish of the jewellery, achieved by polishing. Non-precious metals can be polished with a soft untreated cloth, but for sterling silver and gold items you can get great results from a treated cloth. We use 'Goddard's Long Term Silver Polish Cloth', which is available to buy in most local supermarkets and is typically priced at around £2.50 (bargain!). In this photo the cloth is folded into quarters, it's a nice large cloth for the price tag. As you can see by the tarnish marks all over ours, we use it a LOT!
Some people use a 'silver dip', which is a sterling silver cleaning solution that you submerge the item into to remove the tarnish. Personally, I do not recommend this. The solution is strong and very chemical smelling, it is harsh on the jewellery, and the jewellery often still needs further polishing after anyway - which defeats the purpose a bit! I highly recommend that you 'skip the dip' and trust your own hands to gently work a nice shine onto your pieces with a cloth instead.
Buff your jewellery pieces individually with the cloth, take some time to do this for the best finish, it's a great therapeutic task to do on an evening in front of the TV!
Our pearl earrings provided a great chance to show you a direct contrast between polished and unpolished silver jewellery, I fully polished one earring and left the other unpolished to take a comparison photo. Do not underestimate what a difference polishing can make, you'll be amazed!
Wasn't that easy? After you have polished your jewellery you are done, you can sit back and enjoy your beautiful clean and sparkly pieces. Are you ready to see the result of the pieces I worked on?
This guide has been written based on experience, and based on the jewellery cleaning technique which we use daily at Dear Rose, With Love. We believe this method of jewellery cleaning is one of the safest and gentlest there is, and we have cleaned hundreds of items of jewellery this way without fatalities happening - however this does not mean that this method is fool proof or guaranteed. We cannot take responsibility for any damage or ill effects caused to your jewellery if cleaned following this guide. Please do specific research before cleaning your jewellery based on it's metal type and gemstones, and if in doubt ask an expert for an opinion.