The luster of gold jewelry and its durability have been a symbol of wealth and status for thousands of years. The amount of gold in jewelry can range from solid 24-karat to a thin layer of gold wash. Pure gold is 24 karats, a soft metal prone to scratching. You will often see jewelry marked as 14-karat and 10-karat; both are still "real gold"; however, the gold has been mixed with other metals or alloys to increase its hardness and durability. A lot of gold jewelry is embellished with precious gemstones, pearls, enamel, or other metals like silver, platinum, and copper.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions food preparers against wearing any jewelry on hands and arms other than a plain wedding band since grooves and chain links are tiny spaces where pathogens can hide and contaminate food. Since almost all jewelry is worn close to the skin, it can attract body oils, make-up, soil, germs, and bacteria. All this build-up makes gold lose its luster.
A soak in dish soap and warm water is safe for cleaning all types of jewelry except pearls. Pearls are too delicate for soaking. Also, avoid soaking jewelry with glued gemstones. Warm water can loosen the glue, which can cause the stones to fall out.
Gold is particularly valued for its shine and beauty, so regular cleaning by following these steps or using an ultrasonic cleaner will keep it gleaming for decades.
How Often to Clean Gold Jewelry
The cleaning frequency of gold jewelry depends on how often it is worn. Gold does not tarnish easily like silver, but frequent wearing and handling can leave it looking dull. Lower karat gold that contains a higher concentration of alloys will tarnish if exposed to excessive levels of chemicals like chlorine, alcohol, acids, and sulfur compounds. Frequently worn jewelry should be clean at least monthly or more often if the finish begins to look dull.
Equipment / Tools
- Soft-bristled brush
- Soft cotton cloth
- Small bowl
- Dish soap
- Warm water
Mix the Cleaning Solution
Fill a small bowl (one large enough to hold the entire piece of gold jewelry) with warm water. Add a couple of drops of dish soap and swish to mix in the soap thoroughly.
It is best to clean only one or two pieces of gold jewelry to limit the pieces from scratching.
Soak for 20 Minutes
Add the gold jewelry and let it soak for at least 20 minutes. In time, the dishwashing liquid will break down any grease on the surface.
Scrub If Needed
If the jewelry is highly carved or exceptionally dirty, you may need to give it a light scrubbing with a soft-bristled brush, such as an old soft toothbrush or jeweler's brush. Gentle scrubbing will remove embedded soil in any recessed areas.
Rinse and Dry
After soaking, rinse the gold jewelry with plain water and use a soft cotton cloth to buff the piece dry. Do not use a paper towel because the fibers could scratch the surface, especially on higher karat gold.
Tips to Keep Gold Jewelry Clean Longer
Remove gold jewelry when washing your hands or bathing to prevent soap scum from forming on the surface. Remove all jewelry before entering a hot tub, swimming pool, or the beach. Harsh chemicals like chlorine, acids, sulfur, and salt can damage or discolor gold, particularly items less than 24 karats. Chlorine can weaken your gold jewelry’s structure and eventually lead to its breaking. Avoid exposing gold jewelry to hair sprays, make-up, medicated lotions, and creams.
Carefully store gold jewelry in separate compartments of a fabric-lined jewelry box to prevent items from scratching each other and dulling the finish.
Avoid cleaning gold with ammonia. You can use it, but it is a strong chemical that is caustic. Some will use it for deep cleaning of jewelry. But, be judicious. If you overuse it, it can wear down your gold. Also, ammonia may not be safe for other types of jewelry like platinum or pearls, so be cautious when using it.
When to Go to a Professional
Worried your gold jewelry is permanently ruined? If your pieces are still dull or discolored after cleaning, you should take them to a professional jeweler. The jeweler will know how to restore your piece to its original beauty.
Most places where you have purchased jewelry items may offer complimentary cleaning annually. According to the luxury jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co., the jewelers recommend that you bring your regularly worn jewelry items to get cleaned at least once a year. Jewelers clean but also check prongs and stone settings. On average, if you bought the jewelry elsewhere or your jewelry store doesn't offer free cleaning, you can expect to pay between $25 to $50 for the jeweler's time and expertise.