Guide to Cleaning Jewellery


About Author

Patricia Sedgwick

SEDGWICKS founder, Patricia Sedgwick grew up on a sheep property at Longreach in Western Qld, and completed an Arts Degree at the University of Queensland before joining the auction world. With over 30 years experience in the jewellery industry, Patricia is a highly regarded jewellery specialist and seasoned auctioneer, heading jewellery departments for international auction houses Sotheby’s and Bonhams. Patricia is a qualified Gemmologist, Diamond Grader, Valuer and Licenced Second Hand Dealer as well as being a collector of fine, beautiful and unusual pieces.

Guide to Cleaning Jewellery

Guide to cleaning jewellery

From tomato sauce to vinegar, baking soda, toothpaste and coke cola you will find numerous recommended methods of cleaning jewellery. The generally preferred option is however a mild dishwashing liquid, warm water, soft toothbrush and a soft cloth for drying and buffing.

There are various commercially available products you may purchase including solutions, cloths, pastes and liquids. There is also the ultrasonic, a clever machine that is brilliant at getting into those hard to reach nooks and crannies.

What is an ultrasonic cleaner

Without getting too technical, ultrasonics use vibration to create sound waves that form bubbles which in combination with cleaning fluid are very effective in cleaning all manner of items, not just jewellery. 

What not to put in an ultrasonic cleaner

There are certain items which cannot be cleaned in an ultrasonic and these include lapis lazuli, emeralds, turquoise, malachite, tanzanite, opals, coral pieces, amber and pearls. The same goes for gems that have been impregnated or coated with oil, wax or plastic, as well as gemstones that have had their colour enhanced through heat treatment. 

Antiques should not be put into an ultrasonic as the solution will remove the valuable patina.

How to clean Antique Jewellery 

Antique jewellery is often very delicate and must be treated with care. For items with patina (a surface finish that comes naturally with age) it is important not to remove it. So no harsh chemicals or abrasives. A weak solution of water and dishwashing liquid is best, followed by a thorough rinse in warm water and either use a soft cloth or a gentle hair dryer to finish.

Antique jewellery containing organic materials (for example, pearls, hair, amber and tortoiseshell) should not be placed in a caustic solution of any kind. Water may in fact be the only option.

When cleaning antique brooches and lockets be careful not to let water get into locket compartments or touch hand-painted miniatures or leatherette boxes.

How to clean Diamonds

Diamonds are hardy and best cleaned with a mixture of cloudy ammonia and dishwashing liquid. Diamonds naturally attract grease which then catches dirt and grime. Diamonds will take any strength of cloudy ammonia without damage. It is recommended to place the ammonia and the dishwashing liquid in lidded container, preferably plastic and let the item sit for a number of hours. Give it a scrub with a soft toothbrush, dry with a soft cloth and then with a hairdryer for maximum shine. 

How to clean rubies & sapphires 

Like diamonds rubies & sapphires are hardy and may be cleaned with a cloudy ammonia solution or ultrasonic

How to clean Emeralds

Emeralds are almost always impregnated with oil to mask inclusions and enhance colour. They must not go in an ultrasonic as this can leach the oil from the stone leaving it unrecognisable.

How to clean Organic Material 

Organic material including pearls, coral, hair, amber and tortoiseshell, should not be placed in a caustic solution of any kind, or in an ultrasonic. Warm soapy water and a good rinse and dry with a soft cloth may in fact be the only option

How to clean Pearls

Clean gently with warm soapy water, rinse, dry off with a soft cloth and leave to dry flat. Never soak in water as this can weaken the silk thread causing it to break.

How to clean costume jewellery

Again warm soapy water and a soft brush, but as stones are often glued on rather than set, costume jewellery should not be soaked as the glue may fail and the stones pop off.

How to clean Silver - there are many specialised cleaning products for silver and these include foams, wipes, and liquid & paste polishes. Each have their advantages, experiment to find which method you find easiest, quickest and creates the least mess.If you are feeling adventurous, you can harness science and experiment with either aluminium foil & bicarb soda  or bicarb and vinegar.

Quick tips for on how to care for your jewellery

Do remove your jewellery when gardening, cleaning the house, cooking and working out at the gym. Stones may be dislodged or chipped, shanks bent and metals tarnished.

Similarly remove rings when washing your hands, to avoid moisture remaining behind the ringand causing irritation

Also when applying beauty products, moisturisers etc as they can coat the gemstones and reduce their brilliance.

Avoid wearing jewellery while playing sport, particularly swimming - frequent or long exposure to chlorine and saltwater can cause the metal in jewellery to deteriorate and tarnish. It will dull metal and gemstones.

What to do after wearing pearls

Wipe them with soft cloth to remove body oils and perfumes. Residual perfume can yellow pearls over time. And always remember to apply perfume before — not after — putting on jewellery.

Silver jewellery looks best when it is worn regularly, as  handling and washing, helps prevent tarnishing. If not wearing silver items store them in an anti-tarnish bag or in a ziplock plastic bag to prevent oxidation 

Finally, Get your jewellery checked regularly by a reputable jeweller, to make sure stones are secure in their mounts and necklace and bracelets clasp are functioning properly to prevent loss.

Jewellers use dedicated machinery for cleaning purposes and may be able to achieve better results than you can at home. You may then wish to have your jewellery professionally cleaned at intervals to ensure it is looking its best.


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