When it comes to cleaning jewelry, using the wrong products can damage your precious metals, gems, and stones. While it may seem harmless to use regular household cleaners, many common ingredients are too harsh for delicate jewelry. Knowing what not to use is just as important as knowing what’s safe. Avoid potential jewelry damage by steering clear of these unsuitable cleaning agents.
Avoid Vinegar for Cleaning Jewelry
Vinegar is a popular household cleaner known for its antibacterial properties and acidity. However, you should avoid using vinegar to clean your jewelry. The acetic acid in vinegar can damage certain gemstones like pearls, opals, and turquoise. The acidity also eats away at the luster of metals over time. Vinegar should only be used cautiously for cleaning costume jewelry, but even then, it’s risky. Stick to gentler jewelry cleaners to be safe.
Don’t Use Toothpaste on Jewelry
Toothpaste may seem like a convenient jewelry cleaner you already have at home. However, most toothpastes contain ingredients too abrasive for fine jewelry. The gritty texture in whitening toothpastes can lead to scratched stones and metals. While toothpaste may temporarily add shine, it slowly erodes the smooth surface of jewelry. It’s better to use a specialty jewelry polish for a bright finish without damage.
Avoid Ammonia-Based Cleaners
Household cleaners like window and bathroom sprays often contain ammonia. While ammonia cuts through grease and dirt, it’s too harsh for most jewelry. Ammonia can strip metals of their oxidized coating, leading to tarnishing and corrosion over time. It can also erode softer stones like amber, coral, and turquoise. Check cleaning product ingredients before use and opt for an ammonia-free jewelry cleaner instead.
Don’t Use Bleach on Jewelry
Never attempt to clean jewelry with regular household bleach. The chlorine is far too damaging. Even small exposures can pit gold, discolor silver, and corrode base metals like brass. Prolonged bleach soaking can also dissolve glue in jewelry like pearl strands. For thorough disinfecting, seek out a specialty jewelry cleaner formulated with mild bleach alternatives. Store-bought bleach has no place in jewelry care.
Avoid Soaking Jewelry in Water
While rinsing jewelry after cleaning is fine, avoid soaking pieces in water for an extended period. Submerging jewelry can loosen glue between stones and settings over time. For more porous stones like turquoise and opal, soaking can lead to irreversible damage. Soft pearls are also prone to disintegration when soaked. Limit any water exposure to quick rinses and dry pieces immediately after washing.
Don’t Use Rubbing Alcohol on Jewelry
Some use rubbing alcohol as an economical cleaner and polish for jewelry. However, be wary of repeatedly using alcohol on your valuables. Rubbing alcohol can dry out leather jewelry elements and fade painted enamel over time. The alcohol can also seep into gemstone cracks and cause discoloration. Use rubbing alcohol only minimally on costume pieces to avoid long-term jewelry damage.
Avoid Most Household Cleaners
When in doubt, it’s wise to avoid using most common household cleaners on jewelry. Abrasive kitchen scrubbers, soapy detergents, and caustic chemical sprays often contain ingredients too harsh for fine jewelry. Even citrus or scented cleaners have acids that can erode metals and stones. For thorough jewelry cleaning, your safest bet is a specialty cleaner formulated for delicate jewelry.
Don’t Use Boiling Water
While steeping jewelry in hot water may help loosen dried-on debris, boiling water can crack gemstones. Exposing jewelry to such extreme temperature changes can create inclusions or fractures within stones. This damage reduces clarity and strength over time. Also avoid using boiling water to clean silver, as it can compromise structural integrity. Warm water is sufficient for most jewelry cleaning needs.
Avoid Pressure Washers and Sandblasting
Home improvement tools like pressure washers and sandblasters should never be used on jewelry. The intense water pressure can chip gemstones and warp thinner pieces. Sand particles will pit and scratch both stones and metals, causing irreversible damage. Leave any intensive cleaning methods to professional jewelers only. DIY pressure washing or sandblasting will ruin fine jewelry.
Don’t Use Ultrasonic Cleaners Casually
Ultrasonic cleaners use waves of intense vibration to deeply clean jewelry. However, casual or improper ultrasonic cleaning can also damage stones and beads. The intense agitation can jostle prongs and glue, leading to lost stones over time. Ultrasonics can also shatter brittle materials like coral, amber, and enamel. Get expert guidance before attempting ultrasonic cleaning yourself.
Avoid Exposing Jewelry to Chlorinated Water
Repeated swimming or hot tubbing while wearing your jewelry exposes it to chlorinated water. The chemicals in pools, spas, and hot tubs can pit and discolor many jewelry metals and stones. Moisture trapped under jewelry while swimming can also promote corrosion and mildew buildup. These risks make fine jewelry and chlorinated water a bad mix. Remove valuables before taking a dip.
Don’t Mix Jewelry While Cleaning
Always clean fine jewelry pieces separately from one another. Different metals and stones require unique care, so mixing can lead to damage. For example, using a coral cleaner on pearls within the same bath can harm the pearls. Diamonds can also scratch softer gems if cleaned together. Take care to gently clean each piece individually.
Avoid Cleaning Jewelry Too Frequently
While regular jewelry cleaning is important, over-cleaning can also take its toll. Metals like gold are soft and will show excessive wear when cleaned too vigorously or often. Even gentle cleaners can erode metals, stones, and finishes over time. Clean fine jewelry only when visibly dirty. For everyday wear, simply wipe down with a soft, dry cloth.
Don’t Use Paper Towels or Tissues to Dry
After washing jewelry, never roughly dry with paper towels or tissues. The wood fibers in paper are highly abrasive and can scratch even glass and crystals. Rough wiping can also catch prongs and loosen stones from their settings. Instead, pat jewelry dry with a designated microfiber cloth. Air drying on a soft surface also works.
Avoid All Jewelry Cleaners that Contain Ammonia
As mentioned previously, ammonia is too harsh for most jewelry types. Yet many commercial cleaners still rely on ammonia for heavy-duty cleaning power. Always check ingredient labels before purchasing a jewelry cleaning product. Pass on cleaners containing ammonia, even if advertised as safe for certain stone and metal types.
Don’t Use Jewelry Cleaners Past Expiration
Over time, the ingredients and potency in liquid jewelry cleaners gradually break down. Using expired cleaning solutions can lead to lackluster results and potential damage. The chemicals are no longer balanced or effective. Read all jewelry cleaner labels and be mindful of expiration dates. When in doubt, throw outdated cleaner out.
Avoid Cleaning Plated Jewelry as Solid Metal
When cleaning more affordable plated jewelry, remember that it has a base metal beneath the plating. Don’t make the mistake of cleaning gold or silver-plated pieces as you would solid karat gold or sterling silver. The harsher chemicals and scrubbing can prematurely strip off plating. Treat plated jewelry as you would the base metal.
Don’t Use Jewelry Cleaner on Pearls or Opals
Most jewelry cleaners, even the gentlest ones, are still too harsh for very soft gems like pearls and opals. The chemicals and wiping can slowly erode their delicate surfaces, ruining their prized luster. Clean opals and pearls separately using only water, mild soap, and a very soft cloth when needed.
Safe Jewelry Cleaning Alternatives
To safely clean fine jewelry without damage, opt for one of these gentle cleaning alternatives:
|Mild Dish Soap and Water||Use a toothbrush and basic dish soap diluted in warm water for most jewelry. Gently scrub, rinse and air dry.|
|Microfiber Cloth||These ultra-soft specialty cloths lift dirt and oils without abrasion when used dry.|
|Jewelry Polishing Cloth||Treated cloths add shine as you clean. Gentle on most jewelry types.|
|Steaming||Holding jewelry over a steaming pot of water lifts dirt. Keep a safe distance to avoid burns.|
|Professional Ultrasonic or Steam Cleaning||Leave intensive ultrasonic and steam cleaning to skilled jewelers. Safest results.|
Regular cleaning keeps jewelry looking its best, but only when done safely. Many common household cleaners have hidden ingredients and abrasives that can permanently damage fine jewelry when used improperly over time. Avoiding harsh chemicals, scrubbing, pressure washing, prolonged soaking, extreme temperatures, frequent over-cleaning, and mixing jewelry types during cleaning will help jewelry last longer. When in doubt, gently hand wash jewelry in mild soap and water using a soft brush.