How to Clean Pearl Jewelry
Avoid Damage to Your Pearls With Proper Care After Every Wear
A strand of pearls, whether in a necklace or bracelet or a pair of pearl earrings, is an attractive investment that can be passed down as a precious family heirloom. However, unlike other types of jewels, such as ultra-hard diamonds, pearls are incredibly delicate and easily damaged by improperly cleaning them. Never put your pearls in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner as you might with other precious gems, as it's a sure way to damage the outer layer of the pearl.
You can clean or brighten new or vintage pearls at home using a mild detergent or dish soap. If your pearls have become yellow, try whitening them or restoring their shine with acetone. Acetone will not harm pearls, but never use ammonia, vinegar, or chlorine bleach near your pearls. These harsh liquids will react with the pearl coating and dissolve them.
Wearing your pearls often and exposing them to moisture, your body oils, and heat also helps keeps them shiny. Wipe them every time you wear them. Store pearls separately from other jewelry as the other items may scratch or mar the pearls' surface. Take the time to wrap the pearls in linen or soft cloth, or place them in a soft pouch with air ventilation. Airtight containers can contribute to a pearl turning yellow prematurely.
Read on for instructions on cleaning pearl jewelry the right way, including tips for keeping them from yellowing and restoring their shine.
Why Pearls Require Special Care
Because of how pearls are formed, they need extra care. Simply put, a mollusk (clam, oyster, or mussel) creates a pearl when irritated by a particle in its shell. The mollusk responds by secreting a shiny, iridescent substance and encapsulating the particle. The thickness of the nacre coating depends on the mollusk, the water it lives in, and time. This soft nacre coating on the pearl's exterior is why pearls are considered fragile and need extra care.
The thicker the nacre layers, the more beautiful the pearl becomes. As nacre thickness increases, so does the quality and durability of the pearl. It gains a highly reflective luster and rainbow iridescence. Unlike gemstones, pearls only last about 200 years before naturally degrading.
If the nacre of your pearl is thin and fragile, it can easily be chipped off, leaving unsightly gaps, chips, or cracks, particularly if cleaned with harsh chemicals or put in a jewelry cleaner, such as an ultrasonic cleaner. In the worst case, the pearl can unravel entirely, leaving you with a dull, lifeless bead. Even fake glass and plastic pearls need special care because their coating is significantly thinner and more fragile than nacre.
How Often to Clean Pearl Jewelry
Give the pearls a gentle cleaning every time you wear the jewelry. Wipe the pearls with a soft cloth every time you take them off to keep the pearls' luster and remove body oil and other debris that might be on the surface. Other than that, give the pearls a deeper cleaning if you feel like they look dingy. Take the pearls to a jeweler once a year to double-check both the jewelry's integrity and to give them a proper, thorough cleaning.
Even cultured pearls with thicker coatings are more fragile than most other gemstones, so you must handle them carefully to keep them in the best condition. Gentle and conservative cleaning are the keys to successful pearl maintenance. If you notice your pearls are lacking luster, it could be that they've been cleaned too often or too rigorously.
How to Clean Pearl Jewelry
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Two clean cloths
- Warm water
- Mild detergent or dish soap
Give the Pearls a Quick Inspection
Before any cleaning, double-check that the jewelry is still in good condition. With necklaces and bracelets, take a close look at the silk strand on which the pearls are threaded, ensuring that it hasn't stretched, and make sure the clasp opens and closes properly. For earrings, check the attachment to the posts.
Dampen a Cloth With Soapy Water
Mix a solution of lukewarm water and a few drops of mild detergent or dish soap. Water that is too hot or too cold may damage the surface of the pearls, so double-check the temperature before using it on the jewelry. Dip a soft, clean cloth into the water and gently wipe down the pearls. Don't put the whole necklace into the water, as it could weaken the thread.
Wipe the Pearls With a Clean Cloth
Dampen another soft, clean cloth with fresh water. Wipe off the pearls to remove any soap residue.
Let the Pearls Air-Dry
Place the pearls on a soft towel and let them air-dry thoroughly before returning the jewelry to storage. This helps preserves the elasticity of the silk thread on which the pearls are strung.
Tips to Keep Pearls Clean Longer
- Put your pearls on last before you leave the house. Wearing the jewelry while you're getting ready exposes them to damaging cosmetics, perfumes, and other chemicals.
- When you take the pearls off, wipe them down with a soft cloth.
- To use acetone to whiten yellowed pearls, first, clean them as usual. Then moisten a clean cloth with acetone nail polish remover and gently wipe each pearl to remove the yellow staining. Never use acetone on fake pearls; it will ruin them.
- Real pearls are organic, which means their color is subject to change. Store pearls in a non-abrasive fabric pouch or a fabric-lined jewelry box to prevent yellowing. Keep the pearls hydrated by placing a damp cloth or wet cotton balls in with the pearls, and move the pearls away from any heat sources.
- Don't store your pearls with other jewelry because pearls can be scratched easily when metal or gemstones rub against them. Find a special slot in your jewelry box for the pearls, or keep them in a soft bag made from chamois or another non-abrasive material.
- Store the pearls flat to avoid stretching out the strand of silk thread.
How do you clean pearls without damaging them?
Wipe your pearls using a solution of water and mild dish soap. Do not submerge the necklace in water, as it can damage the pearls' threading.
How can you tell if pearls are real?
Fake pearls feel smooth. If you rub a real pearl gently along the surface of your tooth, it will feel like sandpaper. Also, genuine pearls are cool to the touch and take a few seconds to warm up in your hands. They also are rarely perfectly round; a strand of real pearls will have some imperfections.
Do old pearls turn yellow?
Natural pearls will naturally yellow with age. You can slow down the yellowing process by storing them in a ventilated container.