Cleaning Jewellery

The following information relates purely to the cleaning of solid precious metal chains and charms WITHOUT settings of gem stones, pearls or opals etc. In other words the entire piece is composed  ONLY of precious metal.

This information is not appropriate for items of jewellery set with stones or other gems. Pearls, opals and many other gem stones require special procedures so as not to cause damage to them.
Please consult a jeweller regarding the correct cleaning instructions for these pieces.

See also: Tumblers, Ultrasonic & Ionic Cleaners

General Information

When rinsing items in a sink, it is quite possible to lose your grip and for smaller items to ‘go down the plug hole’. Ensure the sink plug is firmly fitted, and rinse the piece over a large kitchen sieve placed into a large bowl or saucepan. Storing your jewellery correctly and avoiding chlorine and bleaches is described in more detail below. This may help to reduce the need for cleaning.

Never rub any piece of jewellery with anything abrasive, this includes toothpaste, paper towels or tissues and a paste made of baking soda or similar. With the exception of specialty jewellery cleaning products, you should use nothing other than warm water and a mild detergent.

Store jewellery in its original packing, velvet pouch or jewellery box. This helps to prevent damage from scratching or bending delicate pieces.

Chlorine will damage the non-gold metal content of jewellery. Remember that nearly all gold jewellery is an alloy of gold and other metals. 9ct is 37.5% gold, 18ct is 75% gold.

Do not wear jewellery in swimming pools or spas that are chlorinated (this includes salt water pools). The warmer the water, the more quickly damage will occur. Many cleaning products, especially  bleaches, contain chlorine, avoid wearing jewellery when using these products.

Apply cosmetics, hair spray and perfume before you put on your jewellery, the chemicals in these products can damage the finish of the metal.

Specialist cleaners are available for your jewellery or you can use warm water, a mild soap and a soft bristled toothbrush. Rinse and dry well.

Not wearing jewellery while performing labour intensive tasks such as gardening will help to prevent damage from bumps and scratches.

Cleaning Gold Chain Jewellery & Charms

Pure gold is extremely resistant to reacting with any chemicals. In fact it takes a mixture of 2 acids called aqua regia (1 part concentrated nitric acid and 3 parts concentrated hydrochloric acid) to dissolve it, strangely neither acid alone can. However, almost all gold jewellery is made from gold alloyed with other metals, often silver and copper. Exposing gold alloys to chlorine based chemicals  can in fact damage the alloy.

Always avoid wearing gold jewellery in pools and spas and whilst using bleaches and household or industrial cleaning products.

Cleaning gold jewellery is usually just a case of removing a build up of soaps, lotions, dirt and grime. Swishing it around in warm water with a few drops of a gentle detergent and a rub with a soft cotton  cloth is normally all that is needed to bring back the shine. Rinse well in warm water and dry thoroughly with a soft cotton cloth. If your jewellery still doesn’t shine then using one our gold polishing cloths may be required. If the results are still not up to your expectations then you will need to seek professional advice from a jeweller.

Cleaning Silver Chain Jewellery & Charms

Cleaning sterling silver jewellery is similar to cleaning gold jewellery as described above and the instructions are the same: Swishing it around in warm water with a few drops of a gentle detergent and a  rub with a soft cotton cloth is normally all that is needed to bring back the shine. Rinse well in warm water and dry thoroughly with a soft cotton cloth.

If your jewellery still doesn’t shine then using one our silver polishing cloths may be required. These cloths will also remove light to medium levels of tarnish.

Heavier tarnish requires the use of a ‘dip’ cleaner (follow the manufacturer’s instructions) and rinse thoroughly also making sure you completely dry the piece before storing it. You may prefer to have the  piece cleaned professionally by a jeweller.

Ultrasonic Cleaners

ultrasonic cleaner

Ultrasonic cleaning machines vibrate a solution (usually warm water and mild detergent) at high frequencies that cause very small bubbles to form and then implode. The force  created by these microscopic bubbles bursting acts upon the surface of the piece being cleaned blowing away dirt and particles stuck to it. As these bubbles are very small they can get into the smallest crevices and spaces and are much more efficient than cleaning by hand.

Ultrasonic cleaning will not remove tarnish from silver as it is not grime or dirt stuck to the jewellery, rather it is silver sulphide.

How do they work?

Ultrasonic cleaners use high frequency sound waves to agitate a solution, quite often tap water. This creates thousands of tiny bubbles that collapse and release an enormous amount of energy. As  these bubbles are so small the force they place on the items in the solution is only enough to remove surface contaminants such as dirt, grease, fungus, polishing compounds and oils.

To help reduce surface tension in a water solution a small amount of detergent is usually added. The water temperature is normally quite warm, 50 to 60 degrees Celsius. Some units have a built in  heater.

Cleaning Jewellery

Ultrasonic cleaning of solid precious metal jewellery is quite common and should not damage the items being cleaned. The advantages of ultrasonic waves is that they get into tiny cracks and crevices  where regular cleaning techniques can not. This includes inside clasps and the areas where the links of a chain touch.

Dangers of Ultrasonic Cleaning

Some jewellery is not suitable to be cleaned in this manner. Porous items such as opals, amber and pearls should never be cleaned ultrasonically. Jewellery with stones attached to the base with glues  should not be cleaned ultrasonically. Jewellery with loose or broken settings should not be cleaned ultrasonically.

What else can I clean?

Common items that are cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner include: watches (waterproof), eye glasses, coins, lenses, dental and medical instruments, car parts… the list goes on and on. As with everything  in life, if you are not sure whether your type of jewellery is suitable for cleaning ultrasonically, ask someone who knows!

Tumbling Jewellery

tumbling machine for jewellery

Tumblers are machines that rotate a barrel filled with soap flakes and water and stainless steel shot as well as the items to be polished.

The inside of the barrel is not round but has protrusions to help agitate the contents.

For polishing precious metal jewellery the shot is normally stainless steel in several different shapes and sizes. These include balls, pins, ovals and ellipses.

The tumbler is normally filled to about one third with the shot and the jewellery is then added. Water is added until the contents of the barrel are submerged and then about 5-10mm extra. A small amount of soap flakes are added and the barrel is sealed. The drum (barrel) is placed on the motor driven rollers and the machine is run for an hour or so, depending upon the size of the machine and  the amount of cleaning required.

Tumbling precious metal will give it a beautiful shine as well as hardening the metal.

In Summary

Don’t use anything abrasive, don’t use anything abrasive, and, don’t use anything abrasive. Make sure you thoroughly dry your jewellery before storing it. Consult a jeweller if you have any doubts, especially for expensive or antique jewellery.