While I ended up becoming a lawyer, I have worked in a century-old jewelry store for years, and I learned many useful tricks.
Before attempting any of the methods listed here, it is important to use common sense and consider the shape and type of jewelry you're trying to clean.
Some of these methods will use chemicals or techniques that, while essentially harmless to you, may cause adverse effects if used on pieces that are not completely gold. Follow the instructions carefully and read the warnings listed along with each of the cleaning methods.
Most of the methods shown here can also be used with gold plated jewelry (jewelry that is only plated with gold and is composed mostly of a less valuable material), but we recommend extra care when cleaning these, as the gold plating can be very fragile!
A Brief Explanation On How Gold Does Not Rust Or Tarnish
As you can see in the video, gold is one of the few metals on the periodic table that is not susceptible to rust or tarnish, but there are several things that can cause gold to progressively lose its shine. Thankfully, all of this is perfectly reversible with the application of the proper technique.
The methods shown here are meant to clean your jewelry. If your piece has scratches and other kind of damages, it is best to seek a professional jeweler, altough proper polishing can remove minor scratches.
Cleaning Different Types Of Gold Jewelry
Of course, gold jewelry comes in many shapes and sizes, so we will also list a few basic methods to use when cleaning the most common types of jewelry, those being rings, chains (be they necklaces, bracelets or another kind) and earrings.
The same basic method of using detergent, warm water, a soft cloth, and a toothbrush can be used for pretty much any type of jewelry, but here are a few considerations in regards to cleaning gold rings, chains and earrings:
- Gold rings: Usually, these are the easiest type of jewelry to clean, due to being small and often made of a single piece. They are also the type of jewelry that is most likely to get dirty due to being worn on the fingers. Rings can be delicate though, so always remember to be careful with how much force you're putting on your piece. Rings also often have inscriptions on the inside region where it touches your finger, so it's important to pay attention to properly clean that part.
- Gold chains: Gold chains are usually harder to clean than any other piece due to being made of interlocking rings or other shapes, so it is better to pay attention to the surface where the pieces touch and connect with each other, as these regions are prone to the accumulation of dirt and residue. It's also important to be extra delicate when dealing with chains, as they can be fragile and prone to snapping if handled improperly. Also, be careful with the "clasp" part that connects both ends of the chain, which is often fragile and/or made of another metal that may not react well to chemicals or water. When drying chains after a wet cleaning session, hang them vertically in a secure place to allow the remaining liquid to drip off.
- Gold earrings: When cleaning earrings, check how your earring conects itself to your ear. Make sure to pay extra attention to the "ear wire" that goes through the ear lobe, as that part is usualy made of metal other than gold. Also, some types of earring can even have a "cap" piece that secures the piece to your ear, usualy also made of gold. The cap is usually entirely separate from the rest of the piece and can be very easily lost during cleaning if you're not careful, and can also accumulate water unless dryed properly.
What Tools To Use
You really don't need any specialized materials or tooling to clean your gold jewelry, as you'll see below, but it is heavily recommended that you use a proper cloth to polish your pieces. One of the things that jewelers get most often are pieces that have been marred by improper cleaning and polishing efforts by the piece's owner, and most of the time this is caused by rough cloth or hard brushes.
For this, it is important that get yourself a proper polishing cloth. These are a dime a dozen on the internet, and even the best brands are usualy just a few dollars for a pair or more, and with proper use these can last a long time.
What Color Of Gold Are We Talking About?
First, it's important that you know what kind of gold you're trying to clean. Gold comes in different colors, all with slightly different chemical compositions and characteristics, which is an important factor when considering which method to use when cleaning it, so as to more accurately bring out the beauty and shine of its color.
First we will examine two methods for cleaning white and rose gold, respectively, and after that we will list another three methods that can be used on any color of gold jewelry, plus an alternative for anyone who is willing to spend some money on specialized tools.
1 - Cleaning White Gold
For this method, we will use water, a simple detergent, a bowl, a small cup, sodium bicarbonate, and a soft, clean piece of cloth or paper towel:
- Heat about a liter of water until it is comfortably warm (hot enough that you could use it on yourself without any risk of harm), mix it with some drops of neutral, clear-colored detergent in your bowl, and put your white gold piece in the water. Make sure your jewelry is completely submerged;
- In your small cup, mix one part sodium bicarbonate with two parts water. Two teaspoons of water and a teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate should be more than enough unless your piece is much larger than a ring. Mix the water and the powder until it becomes a paste;
- After soaking your piece in warm water for about 15 minutes, remove it from the water and using a soft cloth or paper towel apply some of the bicarbonate paste to the piece and begin polishing it, making sure to reach all nooks and crannies;
- Continue rubbing until you notice your piece is regaining its shine. Avoid rubbing too hard in order to prevent scratching.
- Finally, clean your piece using the leftover water, scrubbing and cleaning away any remnants of the paste. Don't leave any residue behind! Sodium bicarbonate won't harm your gold piece, but it can leave clear white stains if it dries without being cleaned.
2 - Cleaning Rose Gold
While different to the eye, rose gold is even easier to clean. For this, we will also use about a liter of warm water, a bit of detergent, and a bowl, but this time we will use a soft toothbrush (the softest you can find) and a soft cloth or paper towel. No sodium bicarbonate this time.
- First, just like with the white gold method, put about a liter of warm water (or more, if you want to clean many pieces at once) in a bowl, mixing it with a few drops of neutral detergent. Try to use a clear, neutral detergent, as other kinds can sometimes leave undesired residue;
- Submerge your rose gold pieces in the water, making sure they're completely submerged, and leave them there for about 15 minutes;
- Examine your piece under the water, trying to identify any stains or spots that will require more of your attention when you start to brush, so you know exactly where to to focus;
- After 15 minutes, remove your pieces from the soapy water and gently brush them with your soft toothbrush, trying to get the brush into any nooks and crannies where dirt may have accumulated. You may also polish it with a soft cloth after brushing.
- Carefully rinse your piece with clean water to remove any residue of the detergent and leftover dirt, and then carefully dry it with a soft paper towel.
3 - Using Boiling Water To Clean Your Gold Jewelry
The methods will start getting more specialized and dangerous now, so its important that you take great care and read carefully, heeding any warnings.
Only use this method when:
- Your piece has no gems or similar pieces that are secured with glue or any other type of cement: Boiling water can easily dissolve this glue and cause the piece to come loose! This will not be a problem if the gems are secured to the piece with metal claws.
- Your piece is made entirely of gold: Not all materials react well to strong heat or sudden temperature changes, specially in the case of some gems! Diamonds should be fine, however, as long as they aren't secured to the piece with glue.
- Only use this method when your piece is very dirty. Other methods work just as well or even better. Only consider this method if your piece has residue or dirty in it that cannot be removed with the methods already described in this article.
The method itself is rather simple:
- Put your pieces in a heat resistant container, preferrably glass, since metal and ceramic containers can scratch your gold pieces.
- Heat enough water to completely submerge your pieces. One liter is usually enough.
- Slowly pour the boiling water over your pieces until they're completely submerged;
- Wait until the water cools down to room temperature;
- Rub your pieces gently with a soft brush and a cloth until the dirt is removed.
- If you were not able to completely remove the dirt, repeat the method a few more times until it is completely clean;
4 - Using Ammonia To Clean Your Gold Jewelry
Before trying this method, it is important to be extra careful and always wear latex gloves, a mask, and eye protection. Ammonia and its vapors are harmful to the skin, eyes, and lungs, so if you're going to use this method, we recommend doing it in a well-ventilated place.
Also, only use this method when
- Your gold piece is made entirely of gold: Platinum and pearls (natural or artificial) are easily blemished and damaged by ammonia.
- Other methods have failed. When misused, ammonia can be dangerous, be a bit expensive to buy, and its sale can even be somewhat restricted where you live, so use it as a last resort;
The method itself is rather simple:
- Create a solution using six parts water to one part ammonia. The solution can be reused, but there's no need to make a lot of it, just enough to submerge your piece in it in an appropriately sized container;
- Submerge your piece in the ammonia solution and leave it there for three minutes.
- Remove the piece from the solution and wash it under flowing water until all the ammonia solution is removed from the piece.
5 - Using Vinegar To Clean Gold Jewelry
Like it was said before in this article, gold is very unreactive, and even something like vinegar and lemon juice is harmless to it. While vinegar isn't a hazardous chemical, there are a few important considerations to make before using this method:
Only use this method when:
- Your piece is made entirely of gold: Other metals do not react very well to acids, even very mild ones like vinegar and lemon juice. Iron and steel tend to oxidize much faster in the presence of vinegar.
- Your piece has no jewels attached to it with glue: Not many types of glue react well in contact to acid solutions, and while exposure to vinegar is unlikely to completely destroy the glue, it will certainly weaken it and may cause the attached stones to come loose when you least expect it!
This is the simplest method by far:
- Wet a soft piece of polishing cloth or a cotton ball with vinegar;
- Use the cotton or the cloth to apply and polish your piece with the vinegar;
- Rinse with water until all of the vinegar is removed.
An Alternative: Ultrasonic Cleaners
This isn't exactly something just anyone would want to do, but if you just happen to have lots of jewelry to clean and you want to go the extra mile (and buck) for it, you might as well consider getting yourself an ultrasonic cleaner.
What this neat little device does is use ultrasonic waves through a liquid medium (usualy water) to completely clean an entire piece. As you can see from the video, it can be very effective.
These vary a lot in sizes, shapes and prices. It is only recommended that you buy one if you plan on using it to clean lots of jewelry or other small objects, since these devices can be used to clean many different things (make sure you read the manual, though).
A Buget Model
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Guilherme Radaeli