(NOTE: I originally wrote this post in 2009 based on my personal experience with my own jewelry and experimenting with jewelry cleaning. At present, new, engraved sterling silver items are hand polished as needed and wiped clean with a soft cloth before shipping. These are not the steps taken for new items you purchase from me).
Living in a virtually chemical free home myself, it became necessary to seek out ways to clean my jewelry without using chemicals. Here are some of the methods I use to keep my pieces sparkling…
STERLING SILVER CLEANERS
These methods are perfect for your jewelry which contains sterling silver components. The bonus is you don’t have to worry about them damaging your stones!
In a glass bowl, cover the bottom with a piece of aluminium foil, shiny side up. Place 2-3 inches of boiling water in the bowl (distilled water is preferred, but I have used boiled tap water as well and haven’t noticed any difference). To this add 1 teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of baking soda, & a squirt of dishwashing liquid. You’ll notice the mixture begin to fizz. Add your silver pieces, making sure the water covers them completely & that they are touching the aluminium foil. I find swirling the pieces around gently helps loosen any dirt. If you do this be sure to use a wooden or plastic utensil. The foil will absorb the tarnish from your silver jewelry. There may be a bit of a sulphur smell as you do this, which is okay. After a couple of minutes, remove, rinse with cold water & dry thoroughly. Buff with a soft cloth. An aluminium pie plate will work in replace of the foil as well.
Plain old white toothpaste! Do not use gels. To clean off tarnish, gently rub a small amount of white toothpaste on the silver, and then run it under warm water. Work it into a lather and rinse. An old toothbrush will help get it into all the crevices. This provides minimal cleaning. I still prefer the first method to this one. I do keep a tube of white Crest toothpaste around if I need to clean pieces quickly that only need a quick clean to become shiny again. Be sure to pat dry your pieces thoroughly before putting them away.
This is my least favourite method but it’s great if you just want to give your piece a little shine & only have a mild residue to remove. Place a tiny drop of baby oil on a disposable baby wipe. Be sure to use a VERY small amount, or it just becomes an oily mess. This method works on gold as well.
USING A JEWELER’S CLOTH
Of course, the best tried & true (and time consuming) way to keep your silver or gold jewelry sparkling is to use a rouge cloth, also known as a silver cloth or jeweler’s cloth. I do offer these as an add-on purchase to pieces, and they are very handy to have. I always recommend finishing your cleaning job with a jeweler’s cloth as it will give the silver or gold a bright shine & slow down the tarnish.
Gold-filled jewelry reacts much like its more expensive gold counterparts as the gold is bonded with another alloy throughout rather than just being electroplated to the outside like gold plate is. Therefore, it is considered a life-time product, as it has the same durability & characteristics of solid gold. You can expect to clean it much like sterling silver, so I find that the cleaning suggestions that I have listed for sterling silver work just as well on gold-filled components.
A NOTE ABOUT THESE CLEANING TIPS
Although these are tried & true methods, many jeweler’s would never recommend such products as baking soda & toothpaste as they can leave microscopic scratches on the metal. I have even heard jewelers go as far to say never use chemical dips or silver polishes either, and that the only tried & true way to polish your beloved metal is with a jeweler’s cloth. I can tell you from my own experience, that I have never noticed any scratches from doing these methods myself, and I certainly don’t have the time to sit and polish every piece by hand every time.
If you have a piece of jewelry that you have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on, or if you are unsure because your piece contains a delicate component such as pearls, it’s best to err on the side of caution and have a professional do the cleaning for you.
Careful storage of your jewelry will equal less time cleaning it. In a future post I will write about storing your jewelry…Leilani Cleveland Deveau is a self-taught jewelry artist with over sixteen years of experience. 4 years ago she added the fiber arts (wool processing/dyeing/carding/spinning, knitting, crochet and felting) to her long list of creative interests. Leilani welcomes questions or comments from other crafters and handmade artists, as well as requests for custom, wholesale or consignment jewelry. Her home studio is located in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. You can contact her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org