All that glitters is not gold—at least, not solid gold. Gold jewelry is most often sold as solid gold, gold-filled, or gold-plated, all of which have different care and cleaning requirements. Many fashion necklaces, bracelets, and rings are gold-plated to meet the aesthetic desires of consumers but keep the jewelry more affordable.
Gold-plated jewelry is the least expensive of the three options, and is made with a very thin layer of gold adhered to a base metal like silver or copper. The layer may be as thin as 1/1000 to 3/1000 of an inch, though the piece may still appear to be solid gold or gold-filled to the untrained eye.
Gold plating is a good choice for a trendy jewelry item that will only be worn for a short time. Eventually, the base metal molecules will transfer into the thin layer of gold, breaking it down and causing it to tarnish and rub off. Because of this, it's important to properly care for your gold-plated pieces to keep them looking their best for as long as possible.
How to Clean Gold-Plated Jewelry
How Often to Clean Gold-Plated Jewelry
Gold-plated jewelry should be wiped down with a damp cotton ball or microfiber cloth after every use to remove smudges and surface soil. A more thorough cleaning should be done after exposure to chlorine, alcohol, acids, and sulfur compounds that cause the base metals to tarnish.
Equipment / Tools
- Small bowl
- Microfiber cloth or jewelry cloth
- Cotton ball
- Cotton swab
- Dishwashing liquid
- Warm water
How to Clean Gold-Plated Jewelry With a Soap Solution
Wipe Down Jewelry
To remove body oils and soil, use a damp cotton ball, microfiber cloth, or jewelry cloth to wipe down gold-plated jewelry after each wearing. Allow to air-dry before storing.
Create a Cleaning Solution
If the jewelry has visible soil or feels sticky, it should be cleaned with a warm, soapy solution. In a small bowl, mix one cup of warm water and two to three drops of dishwashing liquid.
Soak the Jewelry
Unless the jewelry has embellishments like gemstones, pearls, or enamel, place the jewelry in the cleaning solution and soak for about 10 minutes. Clean only one or two pieces at a time to prevent scratching.
If your gold-plated jewelry is embellished with precious or semi-precious stones, it is best to avoid this soaking step. On some less expensive gold-plated jewelry, the embellishments are simply glued on and soaking can loosen the glue. Instead of soaking, use a cotton ball dipped in the dishwashing liquid and water solution to clean the pieces.
Tackle Embedded Soil
For pieces that are intricately carved, use a cotton swab to remove any soil from small crevices. Never use a sharp implement (like a knife or paper clip) to remove the dirt because they can scratch away the gold plating.
Rinse, Dry, and Buff
When the piece is clean, rinse the jewelry in warm water. Dry with a soft, lint-free cloth and buff gently to return the shine.
Tips to Keep Gold Plated Jewelry Clean Longer
It's also a good idea to take preventative measures to help reduce wear and damage along the way. Keep your hands free of lotions, make-up, and soil before handling gold-plated pieces, and do not apply make-up, perfume, or hairspray while wearing gold-plated jewelry. You should also store gold-plated jewelry separately in small boxes to prevent damage.
When to Call a Professional
If the worst has happened and the gold plating has worn away so that the base metal is exposed, you can have your jewelry replated. Consult with a reputable jeweler about the cost and feasibility of replating your piece. It's difficult to replate chains, and the jeweler must be skilled in preparing the base metal surface of any piece before replating.