Your Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Jewelry Naturally, From Insiders Who Know

Photo: J. Hannah
Although my clothes change everyday, my jewelry remains the same at all times. As in: They're literally a part of me by now. I sleep, work, sweat, and repeat while rocking my couple of necklaces and handful of earrings—for better or for worse. The worse part of the spectrum? My jewels definitely get dirty.

I may know how to clean everything from myself to my apartment, but I'm pretty clueless when it comes to knowing how to clean jewelry. So I tapped jewelry pros for insider tips on making sure your precious jewelry—which is likely a part of you, too—stays clean and shiny like the gems that they are.

"All jewelry can collect dirt or smudges from wear and handling," says Jess Hannah Revesz of J. Hannah Jewelry. "Silver jewelry tarnishes with exposure to air and light, which means it will regularly need to be cleaned to keep it looking fresh." If you're dealing with gold, on the other hand, it's less maintenance. "Gold never tarnishes, so wiping it with a microfiber cloth to remove any fingerprints usually does the trick," she says.

"Silver jewelry tarnishes with exposure to air and light, which means it will regularly need to be cleaned to keep it looking fresh." —Jess Hannah Revesz

But it's not just the dirty air and your fingers touching it that makes jewelry get dirty. "It all depends on what materials [your jewelry] is exposed to," explains Revesz. "Some lotions, perfumes, or cosmetics will make your metals tarnish more quickly." Good news, though—the more you wear your jewelry, the better. "Jewelry that's worn more frequently will actually tarnish less because the friction from wear will keep it cleaner than if it's just sitting in a cabinet," she says.

Knowing when it's time for your jewelry to get cleaned is tricky because chances are it's hard to notice a change in color if you see it every day. "If it seems like your silver pieces have a white sheen, or if they are starting to discolor or darken, it's time to polish them up," says Revesz.

Thankfully, jewelry insiders have pro tips for preventing your jewelry from getting dirty in the first place. Tip number one? Keep it sealed. "When you're not wearing your jewelry, keep it sealed in an air-tight Ziploc bag," says Jessica D'amico, jewelry designer and owner of Brooklyn's Lady J Jewelry. "Air will oxidize metals such as silver and brass, causing discoloration. So if you can store it air-tight, that's ideal. I always keep my jewelry sealed in bags." Revesz agrees, noting you can put a piece of chalk in the bag if your jewelry's silver since it removes moisture from the air.

Another tip is one I dread: Try not to sweat in your jewelry (whoops). It does have an effect on it, though. "Don't work out or clean your house with the jewelry on," says D'amico. "When you sweat, your perspiration can alter the true color of the metal, and it can mix with any lotions or hair products you already have on, which can also adversely affect the metal. When cleaning, the chemicals you're using to clean with can slowly reduce the quality of the metals as well and wreak havoc on precious gemstones."

Water from swimming can have an impact on your jewels, too. "Don't go swimming in a pool or at the beach with your jewelry on," says D'amico. "It's hard because you want to live in the moment and jump in without remembering that your jewelry's on before it's too late. But chlorine and saltwater can, over time, yield to the disintegration of alloys." (Alloys, FYI, are made up of a mixture of metals, i.e. anything that isn't solid gold, silver, brass, platinum, etc.)

For 3 sure-fire ways to clean your jewelry once it's tarnished, keep scrolling.

1. Use baking soda

Both D'amico and Revesz swear by using boiling water, aluminum foil, and baking soda in order to remove oxidation and tarnish on silver jewelry. "Add boiling water to a bowl lined with foil and mix in some baking soda," says Revesz. "After three minutes, remove the silver from the bowl and rinse it in cool water. Buff it with a soft cloth and you should see a big difference." D'amico adds that you can repeat if necessary, but make sure not to do this if you're working with gemstones—especially opals, pearls, or amber, because "they are porous and soft," she says. You could also use baking soda by making a paste with three parts baking soda one part water, then use a soft cloth to wipe the piece clean, says Revesz. "Avoid paper towels because they can be abrasive and scratch your jewelry," she says.

2. Use dish soap

Make your dish soap a multitasker. D'amico says to use a household version and mix it with hot or boiling water to soak your chain in. "Let it stand for 15 minutes, then use a soft brush to loosen the debris," she says. "Rinse off any extra and dry with a soft cotton cloth."

3. Use vinegar

The acidic properties of vinegar can work wonders on gold jewelry. "The properties in distilled white vinegar make it a perfect natural cleaning agent for gold jewelry," says Katherine Kane, founder and designer of K. Kane. "To remove buildup and restore shine to my favorite gold pieces, I like to just drop them in a small bowl of vinegar and let them sit for 15 to 20 minutes." Afterward, rinse them well with hot water and then pat dry with a soft cloth—or even a T-shirt.

By the way, here's cheap solid gold jewelry that's all under $100 to add to your collection. And these are beautiful designer jewelry pieces made with crystals (insert heart-eyes here).

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