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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to Clean Tarnished Copper Jewelry
This method also works well on brass, bronze, and "unknown" metals.
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!
Coat the Copper Jewelry
When the fizzing has stopped, coat the copper jewelry with the paste. Let the piece sit for about 30 minutes.
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.
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.