How to Clean Gold-Plated Jewelry

Gold earrings on book

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All that glitters is not gold—at least not solid gold. Many fashion necklaces, bracelets, and rings are gold plated to meet the aesthetic desires of consumers but keep the jewelry more affordable.

Gold jewelry is most often sold as solid gold, gold filled, or gold plated.

Solid gold

Pure gold (24-karat) is a soft metal that can be easily scratched. So, most "solid gold" jewelry is 18-karat, 14-karat or 10-karat gold that has been mixed with other alloys or metals to increase the hardness and durability.

Gold filled

Gold-filled jewelry has a layer of gold pressure-bonded to another metal. The thickness of the layer is usually reflected in the selling price of the jewelry but most pieces are durable enough to be worn daily for up to 30 years.

Gold plated

The least expensive type of gold jewelry, gold plated, is made with a very thin layer of gold adhered to a base metal like silver or copper by using electricity or chemicals. The layer may be as thin as 1/1000 to 3/1000 of an inch. 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.

Even if your favorite piece is gold plated, you can still keep it looking its best for as long as possible with proper cleaning.

How Often to Clean Gold-Plated Jewelry

Gold-plated jewelry should be wiped down with a damp cotton ball or microfiber cloth after every wearing 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.

Tips

The best thing you can do to help gold-plated jewelry keep its luster as long as possible is to take preventative measures to reduce damage.

  • Make sure your hands are free of lotions, make-up, and soil before handling gold-plated pieces.
  • Do not apply make-up, perfume, or hairspray while wearing gold-plated jewelry.
  • Remove any gold-plated rings and bracelets while preparing acidic foods.
  • Do not swim in chlorinated or salt-water pools while wearing gold-plated jewelry.
  • Remove gold-plated pieces before exercising or when sweating profusely to prevent salts from damaging the gold.
  • Don't carry gold-plated jewelry tossed in a purse or mingled with other pieces to prevent scratching.
  • Store gold-plated jewelry separately in small boxes to prevent damage.

What You Need

Supplies

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Warm water

Tools

  • Small bowl
  • Microfiber cloth or jewelry cloth
  • Cotton ball
  • Cotton swab

Instructions

  1. Wipe Down After Each Wearing

    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.

  2. Mix 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

How to Clean Embellished Gold Plated Jewelry

If your gold-plated jewelry is embellished with precious or semi-precious stones, it is best to avoid soaking the pieces. 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. Rub gently and then rinse, dry, and buff.

How to Correct Cleaning Mistakes on Gold Plated Jewelry

If you have used toothpaste, silver polish or another cleaner and the jewelry looks dull, mix the dishwashing liquid and warm water solution and submerge the jewelry for five minutes. Use a soft cotton cloth to wipe away the film left by the cleaners. Rub gently to prevent removing the gold!

If the worst has happened and the gold plating has worn away so that the base metal is exposed, you can have jewelry replated. Consult with a reputable jeweler about the costs and the feasibility of replating your piece. It is difficult to replate chains and the jeweler must be skilled in preparing the base metal surface of any piece before replating.