Earrings, rings, and necklaces worn every day come into contact with all kinds of substances and germs and collect grime over time. The main culprits for gunking up jewelry are soaps and lotions, taking showers wearing jewelry, sweat build-up, and sleeping with your jewelry. When jewelry becomes dirty, it can look cloudy, dark, less colorful, losing its luster and sparkle. In some cases, jewelry like rings can harbor bacteria, too.
There are many ways to clean fine jewelry at home. Ammonia is an effective method for cleaning silver, gold, platinum, brass, and diamond jewelry. However, proceed with caution when using this ingredient. Though ammonia will make your diamonds shine, it's potent and can be hazardous if mishandled. It can damage your jewelry if not used correctly. Also, while ammonia is strong, it does not kill germs.
Always keep ammonia away from bleach. If mixed, the two form a toxic gas. Also, never use ammonia on pearls, gemstones, or clarity-enhanced diamonds. These stones have a protective coating or resin that ammonia can eat through and destroy. Also, avoid using ammonia on copper.
How Often to Clean Jewelry
The frequency of cleaning your jewelry depends on how often you wear it and where it is worn. There is a big difference between cleaning a lapel broach worn once or twice a year and a diamond engagement ring worn every day. An engagement ring that you wear every day that comes into contact with a lot of substances will likely need cleaning once a week; however, if you remove your engagement ring every time you wash your hands, shower, exercise, and go to sleep, you can clean it once monthly.
Also, if using ammonia to wash your jewelry, it is not recommended for prolonged or excessive use of ammonia since, over time, it can damage and discolor your metal, wear down your gemstones, and make fracture-filled diamonds appear cloudy. Save this ammonia cleaning method for a special jewelry treatment every three or four months.
For items that you rarely wear, sitting in the jewelry box year after year, use a lint-free cloth to wipe them at least every month or so.
Equipment / Tools
- 1 Soft-bristle toothbrush
- 1 Lint-free cloth
- Cleaning gloves
- Non-reactive dish or bowl
- Mild liquid dish soap (optional; tarnished items)
How to Clean Jewelry With Ammonia
Create an Ammonia Solution
Don cleaning gloves. Mix one part ammonia to six parts lukewarm water into a non-reactive shallow dish or bowl; ceramic, glass, or stainless steel work best. Err on the side of caution with this mixture, because a bit of ammonia goes a long way.
Submerge the Jewelry
Soak your jewelry in the solution for 10 minutes.
Gently Brush the Jewelry
After the jewelry has soaked for 10 minutes, take out your jewelry and gently brush away grime with the softest bristle toothbrush you can find. Don't brush too harshly; brushing can loosen a diamond or scratch certain metals. If cleaning a diamond ring, pay special attention to the space behind a diamond where dirt and grime build-up.
Re-Soak the Jewelry
Put the jewelry back in the solution for 10 more minutes. This step will help dislodge any stubborn grime and dirt left over from the first scrub session.
Re-Brush and Polish
After 10 minutes in the new solution, gently brush a second time. Then, polish and shine the metal with a lint-free cloth.
Rinse With Cool Water
Rinse the jewelry with cool water. If using the sink, make sure to close your drain stopper to prevent you from losing the jewelry down the drain. Pat dry with a clean, lint-free cloth. Allow the jewelry to dry fully before you store it away.
Tips to Keep Your Jewelry Clean Longer
Removing jewelry after use is the best way to keep your jewelry clean longer. If you must wear your rings when washing dishes, wear gloves every time. Also, frequent use of hand sanitizers can wear down or leave a filmy coating on jewelry, too. So, if you are in a profession that requires regular hand sanitizer or hand-washing protocols, it's best to leave hand jewelry at home while at work.
It is essential to get an engagement ring evaluated and professionally cleaned at least once every six months or annually. Jewelers clean and polish using steam or ultrasonic cleaners and inspect the prongs on diamond settings to ensure the stones remain secure. Prongs can wear down over time. A worn setting is one of the main reasons diamonds or gemstones fall out.
Besides an ammonia solution, at-home jewelry kits use cleaning machines or specially formulated jewelry cleaning solutions. The easiest, safest method—a little bit of dishwashing soap and water—will suffice as a regular cleaning routine.
Removing Tarnish Stains From Jewelry
Gold-plated jewelry and sterling silver can tarnish, a reaction usually caused by sulfur or other substances reacting with the metal. To clean tarnished jewelry, add a few drops of mild dish detergent like Dawn to water. Mix until soapy. Follow all the steps (above) to clean with the detergent solution. The dish detergent will remove any built-up tarnish on the gold plate or sterling silver jewelry.
Fagernes, Mette, and Egil Lingaas. Impact of finger rings on transmission of bacteria during hand contact. Infection control and hospital epidemiology vol. 30,5 (2009): 427-32. doi:10.1086/596771
Dangers of Mixing Bleach With Cleaners. Washington State Department of Health.