4 Quick & Easy Ways to Clean Jewelry At Home

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While being quarantined at home for the past six months or so, I’ve been almost obsessively cleaning and organizing my tiny California apartment – partly out of boredom, and partly because I just can’t function when I’m surrounded by chaos and clutter.  I must have donated around 3 huge bags of clothes to thredUP after tackling my closet.  I also tossed a bunch of my old makeup (stay tuned for a post on my current faves soon), and rejuvenated some of my old jewelry pieces, which brings to today post…

I honestly can’t believe I let some of my favorite pieces tarnish and sit neglected in a drawer for so long without attempting to clean them.  For the longest time, I thought a special jewelry cleaner was required to get them sparkling again, and while that may still be the best option, I discovered a few simple tricks online – using regular household products – that got some of my jewelry looking brand new.  Keep reading for a few of my favorite new tricks.

*Disclaimer:  I used these methods on my less expensive, fashion jewelry.  For finer jewelry and pieces with real gemstones, opals, and pearls, I’d suggest visiting a jewelers for their recommendations on how to properly treat them.

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How to Clean Silver Jewelry

For a super quick fix, use toothpaste.  Take a pea sized amount of toothpaste mixed with warm water, and very gently rub it into the silver using your fingers until all the tarnish disappears.  Use a cotton ball or Q-tip to get into tighter nooks and crannies.  Once the piece is looking shiny, rinse it in warm water and pat dry.

Toothpaste is considered safe for satin or matte silver, but avoid using it on pure silver, highly-polished silver, or anything that is silver-plated.  That’s for two reasons: For one, since tarnish is the result of silver reacting with hydrogen sulfide to form silver sulfide (1), when you physically remove the silver sulfide, you’re removing some of the silver too.  And two, these items tend to be very soft and can be easily scratched by the toothpaste. The best way to clean these more delicate pieces is to buff them with a silver polishing cloth.

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Sometimes it can take a couple of applications to remove the tarnish completely. You can see it beginning to disappear here. 

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Before & after (Key pendant necklace from Stella & Dot; similar styles here.)

While toothpaste is probably the easiest way to clean silver jewelry and remove tarnish, often times the formulas contain flavors and other ingredients that can leave a residue on your jewelry, so make sure to rinse thoroughly.  Alternatively, you could use baking soda in its place.  Just mix it with a little water until it forms a paste, then very gently massage it into your silver jewelry using your fingers.  Rinse off the piece, then pat dry.

Break out the chemistry set.  Another way of to clean silver is to chemically reduce the silver sulfide (tarnish) back to silver, rather they physically removing it.  Start by lining a bowl with aluminum foil.  Then place the jewelry directly on top of the aluminum foil so that the silver is touching the aluminum.  Next, boil some water and then add baking soda (about 1 TBS for every cup of water).  The mixture will froth a bit.  Immediately pour the baking soda and water mixture into the bowl, and completely cover the silver piece.  Let your jewelry sit in the solution for up to 10 minutes, then remove, rinse, and pat dry.  If this doesn’t completely remove the tarnish, pour out the old baking soda and water mixture and make a new one, then pour it over the piece and let it sit for another 5-10 minutes.  Repeat if needed, then give your piece a rinse in clean, warm water and pat dry.

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How to Clean Gold Jewelry

Like silver, gold pieces can tarnish too.  Unless your piece is pure gold (i.e. 24-karat), it likely has other metals mixed in – the lesser the karats, the higher the presence of other metals.  When moisture mixes with oxygen and the sulfur compounds in these other metals, corrosion takes place on the surface and results in the tarnished look.

Not matter the karat count, always be careful when cleaning gold.  Why?  Because gold is a very soft metal.  It can be easily scratched by abrasive toothpastes and baking soda, as well as toothbrushes, sponges, and even tissues (which contain small wood fibers).  Worse yet, it’s possible to completely remove the finish on gold plated pieces (which I quickly discovered while experimenting on my own!).

So instead, give your gold jewelry a gentle ‘bath’ every week or so.  This will help remove build-up from perfume, lotions, sunscreen, sweat, and other things that can speed up the tarnishing process.  Here are two gentle methods…

Mix a mild dish detergent in warm (not hot!) water to create a sudsy solution. Soak the gold in the soapy water for a few minutes, just long enough to allow the solution to begin to work.  Rub gently with cotton balls or your fingers.  Rinse the item thoroughly to remove the soap residue and let it air dry. For tougher jobs, add a little ammonia to the water and let it sit for another few minutes.

Put the piece into a small bowl with white vinegar and let it sit for ~5-10 minutes.  Every few minutes, gently rub the piece with your fingers to agitate it. Remove, rinse, and let it air dry.  If this doesn’t do the job, empty the bowl out, place your jewelry in the bowl, and then cover it with a layer of baking soda.  Then pour white vintage over top and let everything sit for another 5-10 minutes.  Finally remove, rinse, and let it air dry.

If you’re unable to remove the tarnish using the methods above, it’s probably best to bring it to a professional jeweler. Resist the urge to try anything that could scratch or damage it!

How to Store Jewelry So It Doesn’t Tarnish

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Once you’ve cleaned your jewelry, store your pieces in a closed jewelry box or a simple storage tray with a lid.  You can also pop in a silica gel packet (the kind that comes in most shoe and electronics boxes).  The silica will absorb moisture, helping to keep your jewelry tarnish-free longer.

For pieces that are particularly prone to tarnishing, store them in an anti-tarnish jewelry bag or sealed plastic pouch to reduce their exposure to oxygen.

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What are you favorite methods or tricks for keeping your jewelry looking new?


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