So THAT'S How Often You're Supposed To Clean Your Jewelry

Keeping jewelry in rotation for a long time requires proper care, and it's in your best interest to give it the longest lifespan possible.
Irina Marwan via Getty Images

There’s nothing like some shiny bling to polish off your look. Whether you’re into silver or gold, fine jewelry or cheap fashion jewelry, keeping jewelry in rotation for a long time requires proper care ― and a lot of us aren’t doing so well in that department.

We spoke to jewelry experts to find out everything you need to know about caring for your jewelry, including how to avoid damage, keeping it clean and when you should seek help from a professional.

First, know your jewelry

You’d be surprised how many people have no idea what their favorite pieces of jewelry are made of.

Rachel Akmakjian, the director of jeweler relations at BriteCo, said, “Jewelry might be the only thing that you can literally wear every single day and if it’s properly taken care of, will be the same as it was the day it was purchased.” But proper care varies based on the material.

Fine jewelry is usually made of sterling silver, gold or platinum. These pieces are usually more expensive than fashion jewelry, and durable enough to last decades and be passed down to future generations ― but not without some care. Sterling silver contains copper, which can turn green if it’s exposed to chemicals, alcohols and sulfates found in common skin products like perfumes, oils, lotions and sunscreens. Gold itself won’t corrode, but if it’s mixed with copper, silver, palladium, zinc or any other alloy (as most clasps are, regardless of how pure the chain is), it can lead to damage.

Fine jewelry that features precious and semi-precious stones also need some love. Karina Brez, a third-generation jeweler, warns us that buildup can be bad for these gems. “Some gemstones can be damaged by perfumes and lotions. For example, opals can craze (create cracks that mimic a spider web) and the nacre (inner layer) of pearls can be worn away.”

Fashion jewelry, on the other hand, is made of cheaper base metals like brass and steel, making them much more sensitive and prone to tarnishing. Gold-plated pieces (base metals covered in a thin layer of gold finish) and gold vermeil (covered in a thicker, more durable layer of 18K gold) fall in this category, since it doesn’t take much to remove that thin layer of gold.

The most common causes of damage to jewelry

Surprisingly, some of your everyday activities could be detrimental to the shelf life of your pieces. If you’re the type who never removes your jewelry, you might want to reconsider.

Showering

A shower in regular water is OK for fine jewelry, but submerging a fashion piece in water is enough to make it tarnish, which is irreversible for these extremely fragile pieces.

Lotions and perfumes

After your shower, don’t rush to put those pieces on too soon! According to Jennifer Gandia, the co-owner of Greenwich St. Jewelers, when getting dressed, fashion jewelry should be the “last thing on, first thing off” since scented lotions and perfumes can contain alcohols that cause tarnishing.

Fine jewelry can withstand much more, but you still need to be intentional with care.

Swimming

Brez suggests keeping your jewelry home when you go for a swim. We all know chlorine wreaks havoc on our hair, but she says we should be similarly wary of its effect on our jewels, especially anything with a clasp. Brez explains that even if the piece is made of 18k gold or platinum, “Those clasps can be a different metal and start rusting.” If your jewels do join you in chlorine or salt water, she highly suggests rinsing it immediately afterward to reduce the chances your clasp will rust or start jamming.

Sleep

Even sleep can be rough on your bling. Akmakjian warns that body sweat can cling to our jewelry, causing it to tarnish ― and tossing and turning might make stones snag and loosen. “Sheets can pull the prongs away from the stones that they’re holding. It’s best to just take them off at nighttime and put them in a secured and safe location.”

Sweat and exercise

Sweat can affect both your jewels and your skin. According to Brez, “Sweat is acidic in nature and can cause a reaction to metal — such as color change and tarnish.” She notes you’ll mostly see these effects in your fashion or sterling silver jewelry. You’re less likely to have an issue with “high grade materials, such as solid 18K gold, which have a higher concentration of pure gold and are less likely to cause a chemical reaction with sweat.”

The best ways to keep your jewelry clean and sparkling

When your jewelry isn’t on your body, Brez suggesting storing it in a soft storage solution like a velvet or leather tray. She cautions against glass, especially if you have a gemstone, because “depending on the stone glass can scratch it or vice versa.”

To maintain its bright appearance, your fine jewelry probably needs more cleaning than you realize. A monthly cleaning for everyday pieces is ideal, but there’s no harm in cleaning daily if you think it’s necessary. Gandia suggests “The best way to know when it needs to be cleaned is typically to look at it.”

Special occasion fine jewelry pieces can be cleaned less frequently, since they likely aren’t exposed to any damage when they’re properly stored.

Gandia says you can clean your fine jewelry by soaking it in warm water and Dawn detergent for 5-10 minutes, to help loosen dirt and debris (one piece at a time, so the pieces don’t scratch each other). Gently scrub with a soft toothbrush to remove debris, then rinse with clean water.

Gandia told us to avoid submerging fashion jewelry in water, since it can lead to tarnishing. Instead, a toothbrush will help remove debris, and a slightly wet soft cloth, like an old T-shirt or microfiber towel, can be used for light buffing.

Akmakjian says microfiber polishing cloths are safe for most pieces, but other polishing cloths made of similar material are treated with “a type of a polishing rouge set within the cloth that can help buff out some of those fine, minor scratches.” If you choose this method, make sure you have the right cloth for the type of jewelry. Akmakjian notes, “There would be a different one for gold than there would be for silver.”

Even with a solid DIY cleaning regimen, it’s still wise to take fine jewelry to a professional annually for what Gandia calls a “spa treatment.” Gandia explains that professionals use hot steam and “put it into an ultrasonic cleaner, which will use a special solution and a vibration” for a deeper clean you can’t achieve at home. They can view your bling under a microscope to confirm the metal and make sure any stones are tight within their mounting.

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