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Guide to Jewelry Cleaners and Jewelry Cleaning

Why you should clean your jewelry.

As you wear jewelry, it comes into contact with residues that collect inside of it. Left alone, the residues harden and fill cavities in a piece of jewelry. This hardened residue in turn gives a foothold for more residue to collect. There are three main reasons this is bad for your jewelry.

  1. Hygiene. Bacteria can live in this glue-like residue.
  2. Loss of shine and luster from your jewelry.
  3. Possibility of damage to jewelry from prolonged exposure to contaminants, and in some cases added tension to stones in their respective settings can cause them to crack or fall out.

TLDR (Too long, Didn’t Read) at the bottom to go straight to how to pick the right cleaner.

What you are cleaning from Jewelry.

Mostly this will consist of residues that form from exposure to soaps, lotions, perspiration, cosmetics, hair products, perfumes, and other such contaminates including actual dirt, and bacteria. 

As an example, consider a diamond ring:

The residue is commonly found underneath the stone of a diamond ring, often called the access. The diamonds are cut in such a way as to allow the light to collect from the faceting and travel through the stone. The light inside the diamond is reflected, refracted, and dispersed giving it the brilliance we all associate with a diamond.

  • One of the primary reasons for the access is cleaning, another reason is so your skin has a place to breathe.

When the crown of the diamond is dirty, it inhibits the light entering and exiting, resulting in less shine. Diamonds that are cut optimally (not all of them are) won’t have light travel through the pavillion (bottom) but when that area is dirty it diminishes the amount of brilliance you can perceive as you will be seeing the residue through the stone. Simply put, the buildup competes with the diamond since the diamond is clear.

So now you know what it is we are trying to clean, and why we should clean it. Now on to what to clean it with.

The residues can be removed physically as with a brush, or agitation in a sonic machine, or by loosening them with steam or soaking them in a solution. How you choose to clean your jewelry should be determined by what methods you have available to you, and what kind of jewelry you own.

For the purposes of this guide, we are going to focus on the methods that are commonly available at home.

  • Taking your fine jewelry to a qualified jeweler at least every year is a good idea, but in the interim your jewelry is still going to get dirty and you should have a method to clean at home so the jewelry looks its best throughout the year.
  • Things that you wear everyday, tend to get dirty every day. And although the change can be gradual, cleaning should be done once a week to avoid getting difficult to remove build-up in the first place. By doing so, it will also maintain its shine.

Home based methods of cleaning jewelry involve soaking in a solution to loosen and dissolve the residues, followed by brushing away the remaining grime.

There are many types of solutions to use for jewelry, and for the most part what you will find is that they are not one size fits all. Of the solution based methods, there are two main categories, chemical solutions, and soap or detergent solutions (although many commercial solutions and most home recipes include a surfactant).

Chemical Solutions come in three main subcategories.

  1. Ammonia, which is diluted with water (distilled), acts to break down residues. It is effective on a range of fine jewelry, however, exposure should be limited as it can discolor solder points.
  • Ammonia should only be used on hard stones like diamonds, ruby's, and sapphires. The stones should also not be filled or have exposed fractures (as in emeralds).
    • Acids, commonly used in commercial silver cleaners primarily consisting of acidified thiourea as well as home remedies with natural acids like vinegar, citrus,  or witch hazel. The natural acids are certainly preferable to the dip solutions, which are for tarnish, and are usually used as an alternative to a commercially available jewelry cleaners (as in they are very different cleaning solutions but ultimately are still acids).
    • Exercise appropriate precautions when using any “dip” as although it will remove tarnish, it removes metal as well and should not be used in the presence of stones. Acids won’t leave a smooth polished surface despite removing tarnish because they etch. Subsequently, they can then tarnish quicker after using (depending on the strength of the acid), and they will also remove intentional oxidation.
    • In the case of home remedy acid based jewelry cleaners, of which there are many recipes, it is not possible to provide a list of what they can or can’t, should or shouldn’t be used on. As a rule, certainly no soft or porous stones, no treated stones, costume or antique jewelry would be advisable.
      • Alcohol, either isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) or less commonly alcoholic beverages are used to clean jewelry. Both a solvent and a disinfectant, alcohol is a useful cleaner for many things because it evaporates quickly leaving less residue and spotting behind (nearly zero) then an ammonia, acid, or common surfactant (dawn) based cleaning solution.
      • Similar precautions as with ammonia in regards to which stones they should not be used on (as in not treated, soft, porous, filled, exposed fracture, or anything costume). Safe for gold, silver or other stable metals.

        Soap and Detergent Cleaners (surfactants).

        A surfactant, also called a surface-active ingredient, is a cleaning agent that reduces liquid tension, thereby increasing its’ spreadability and wetting properties. A surfactant also needs to be partly water-soluble and partly oil-soluble. Essentially, it interfaces between oil and water to act as an emulsifier or a foaming agent.

        • This is what makes soaps and detergents better at cleaning than plain water.

        The difference between soaps and detergents is that soaps are made from natural ingredients like fats and oils, whereas detergents are synthetic.

        • The modern day benefits of soaps are that they are biodegradable.
        • Detergents can be highly specialized for different tasks, and that’s why they are so prevalent today. Originally, detergents overtook soaps because they did not become insoluble and create a “scum” from hard (mineralized) water.

        Warm soapy water is often used to clean jewelry, and when in doubt it is by far the preferred method to any of the ammonia, acid or alcohol methods. The reason that warm soapy water is not used more prevalently is because it is too mild on its own to deliver the results of stronger chemicals. It is instead relegated to more sensitive jewelry where the other chemicals are to harsh to be used on. Warm soapy water just doesn’t bust down the residue as quickly, and it doesn’t remove tarnish or oxidation. The other issue with soapy water, is it doesn’t easily rinse film free, and almost always requires more brushing.

        • Although some chemical cleaners will remove tarnish or oxidation, they still don’t polish. Polish is a verb, liquids don’t polish. And with that removal of tarnish, there are important caveat’s to take note of.

        There are detergent cleaners, and of course the formulas are closely guarded secrets since a detergent could be any kind of formula. Usually they are also not safe for porous stones and costume jewelry as well, leaving them without much of an edge over the ammonia, acid or alcohol cleaners. Being a detergent, they are also not generally biodegradable (although there are now some detergents that are biodegradable).

        Sonic Machines or Ultrasonic Machines: Fairly common machines that are available in a consumer facing variety for use in the home. These machines send sound waves through a solution, the pulses create agitation that helps loosen the residues quicker then just soaking jewelry in a given solution alone. You still need to use the necessary precautions for the solution you are using in the sonic machine.

        • Sonic machines should not be used on soft or porous stones, sealed or otherwise treated stones (including heat treated) or those with exposed fractures or large inclusions (including diamonds).
        • No emeralds, turquoise, pearls, opals, amber or costume jewelry.
          • Do not use on jewelry that is by design fragile, or on jewelry with channel set stones.

        TLDR summary: Start here to skip to how to choose the right jewelry cleaner.

        If you’ve made it this far then you know there is a lot to consider when choosing a jewelry cleaner, make sure you know what you are using and what you can use it on. People often damage their jewelry by using the wrong cleaner or cleaning method. It pays to know what you’re doing with your valuables, and not be impatient.

        Consider what your goals are vs the types of jewelry you own. If you want to keep your jewelry looking its best it will require regular cleaning, therefore you should steer clear of complicated home diy methods that are not convenient to use frequently.

        If you choose chemicals because they are quick and easy, make sure you only use those cleaners on jewelry suited for them (whether you use the chemicals you have at home or buy them in a commercially available jewelry cleaner). This then requires that you use soap and water for everything else or buy separate cleaners for different types of jewelry.

        • You will still need to manually polish some or all of your jewelry. That means the purchase of separate cloths or polishing compounds.

        If all that sounds like too much, we at Jewel Brite agree. There’s a lot to know. The vast majority of people do not clean their jewelry enough, and are surprised by the results they can get from a professional cleaning (normally those results are so dramatic because they are cleaning months of accumulated grime). You can keep your jewelry looking the way it does when you get it from the jeweler with proper and regular cleaning.

        • To make this achievable the cleaner you choose should be simple to use, and convenient. It would also be helpful if the cleaner just worked on all jewelry.

        Jewel Brite is a cleaner that you can use on all jewelry. There is no ammonia, acid, or alcohol and it’s biodegradable. It delivers the powerful results you would expect of strong chemicals, but it is gentle enough to be an ideal cleaner for pearls, opals, turquoise, jade, tanzanite, emeralds, treated stones, sealed stones, stones with exposed fractures, included stones, antique or costume jewelry.

        • Works in all types of sonic machines.
        • Jewel Brite’s jewelry cleaning kits come with a polish that is also biodegradable and won't scratch your metals (non-abrasive).
          • Removes tarnish and oxidation from; gold, silver, copper, brass, bronze, chrome, stainless steel, and aluminum.
          • Can be used with a cloth or soft toothbrush to polish every detail. If there is intentional oxidation that you want to keep, just don’t apply the polish to those areas.

        To use Jewel Brite is simple, just soak, rinse, and dry. For costume jewelry with glue, or porous stones just dip, scrub, rinse and dry. That’s it. No extra steps, no extra products to buy. Use the cleaner every week to keep it bright and shiny, and the polish every month to keep tarnish and oxidation from causing your metals to lose their luster.

        A guide on polishing jewelry will come soon. That's a completely separate topic from cleaning jewelry. 

        If you read this feel free to use the code for “AVIDREADER19” for $3.00 off any kit or bulk purchase.

        Obviously we are a bit biased towards our cleaner. In all fairness though, it would be much simpler to just print our name on a bottle of ammonia or acid with a couple other ingredients as most commercial brands do.

        People often use them because they are inexpensive, however, they are expensive for the ingredients that are commonly used in them. When you factor in how many of these "inexpensive" cleaners and separate products you need to clean and polish all of your jewelry then suddenly they are not so inexpensive. Certainly you can use a variety ingredients you have at home, but then you tend to lose some effectiveness and convenience. 

        Disclaimer: The statements made herein are not exhaustive and are to the best of our knowledge factual, however, readers should do their own research, and if you find any claim or statements to be not supported please email us at support@jewelbrite.com. We do try to perform the best research that we can with available information. We can only endorse the information about our products which we know to be safe on all types of jewelry. No other brands of jewelry cleaners are named or implied, everything is presented as a general overview of what is commonly available and used.

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