How to Clean Tarnished Jewelry

Tarnished jewelry pieces mixed on white surface with cleaning materials

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5-10

Whether it is an inexpensive costume piece or a valuable heirloom, jewelry makes a significant statement about our style. Since most jewelry is worn close to the skin, body oils and dirt can cause the metals—even 14k gold—to tarnish or, at least, lose its luster.

Tarnishing happens when the metal reacts with oxygen or other compounds. Fortunately, with just a few products, you can restore the shine yourself on most pieces.

How Often to Clean Tarnished Jewelry

The cleaning frequency of any jewelry depends on the type of metal used, how the jewelry is stored, and how often it is worn. While some metals, like silver, tarnish easily, others do not discolor as quickly. However, frequent wearing and handling can leave any type of metal jewelry looking dull.

Frequently worn jewelry should be clean at least monthly or more often if the finish begins to look dull. Clean all types of metal jewelry immediately if it is exposed to excessive dirt, grease, or harsh chemicals like chlorine bleach.

Before You Begin

Before you clean any type of jewelry, try to determine the type of material used in creating the piece. Is the piece silver, pewter, stainless steel, copper, tungsten, gold, or gold-plated? Are the gemstones real or glass? Are the pearls plastic or real? Are the embellishments glued on or held in place with metal?

If you suspect the piece is valuable, consult a professional before doing any cleaning beyond rinsing in warm water. You don't want to cause any permanent damage.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Jeweler's polishing cloth
  • Soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Soft cotton cloth


  • Baking soda
  • Distilled white vinegar or lemon juice
  • Commercial metal polish
  • Aluminum foil
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Glass baking dish
  • Small glass bowl


Materials and tools to clean tarnished jewelry

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Clean Tarnished Silver Jewelry

Use these same steps to clean silver-plated jewelry. However, repeated deep cleaning of silver-plate will eventually cause the plating to wear away and the base metal to show. This cannot be reversed without replating. Postpone the need for deep cleaning by using a jeweler's polishing cloth on silver-plated pieces after each wearing to remove small amounts of tarnish.

  1. Use Baking Soda, Aluminum Foil, and Hot Water

    • Place a piece of aluminum foil in a shallow glass baking dish.
    • Place the tarnished silver jewelry on the foil. If cleaning more than one piece, do not allow them to touch.
    • Sprinkle the jewelry with dry baking soda—at least two tablespoons per piece—until the piece is covered.
    • Slowly add hot (not boiling) water to the dish until the jewelry is completely submerged.
    • Allow to soak for 20 minutes or until the water cools.
    • Remove the pieces, rinse, and dry with a soft cloth.
    Hot water poured into glass baking dish mixing baking soda and aluminum foil

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Use Commercial Silver Polish

    Silver polish is sold as a paste or liquid. Choose a liquid cleaner if your jewelry is ornately carved with lots of nooks and crannies. It is easier to remove than paste cleaners from carved areas. Follow the label directions carefully when cleaning silver.

    Tarnished bracelet rubbed with silver polish on white cloth

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Clean Tarnished Gold Jewelry

While solid or high karat gold does not tarnish, less expensive pieces with lower levels of gold are mixed with base metals that can tarnish. Follow these tips for both gold and gold-plated jewelry.

  1. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    Pour warm water into a glass bowl large enough to hold the gold piece. Add a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid and the jewelry.


    Clean each piece of gold jewelry separately in the cleaning solution to prevent scratching from other pieces.

    Warm water poured into small dish with gold jewelry and dish soap

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Soak, Scrub, Rinse, and Dry

    Allow the jewelry to soak for about 20 minutes. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently scrub any areas that still have trapped dirt (in carvings or around stones). Rinse in cool water and dry with a soft cloth.

    Gold rings rubbed with cleaning solution on white cloth after soaking

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Clean Tarnished Copper Jewelry

This method also works well on brass, bronze, and "unknown" metals.

  1. Make a Paste

    In a small bowl, combine one tablespoon of distilled white vinegar or lemon juice with two tablespoons of baking soda. The mixture will fizz as the ingredients react!


    If you don't have vinegar or lemon juice, substitute ketchup. It contains enough vinegar to help break apart the tarnish.

    Distilled white vinegar poured into small dish with baking soda

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Coat the Copper Jewelry

    When the fizzing has stopped, coat the copper jewelry with the paste. Let the piece sit for about 30 minutes.

    Old toothbrush scrubbing copper ring with cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Rinse and Dry

    Rinse the paste away from the copper with warm water and dry the piece with a soft cloth. If tarnish remains, repeat the steps.

    White dry cloth rubbing copper jewelry after rinsing

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Tips to Keep Your Jewelry Tarnish-Free Longer

  • Use a soft cloth or jeweler's cloth to wipe away smudges and body soil after each wearing.
  • Store jewelry in a low-humidity room (not the bathroom).
  • Separate jewelry pieces by type of metal before storing.
  • Use anti-tarnish storage bags or wrap each piece (especially silver and copper) in a soft cloth to prevent oxygen from creating tarnish on the surface.