How to Clean Your Jewelry, According to an Expert

You'll be surprised how simple it is to get your sparkle back.

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(Image credit: Hearst Owned)

It’s safe to assume that in the past year of being very at home, we've all had some time to organize our closets, cabinets, and sock drawers. And then reorganize them…and then reorganize the reorganization? Okay, we've been putting it off long enough: The time has come to conquer that tarnished tangle called a "jewelry box." And for good reason! These are some of the most valuable pieces in a wardrobe and should be treated as such. However, it can be scary to get started, which is why phoning a friend is a good place to start.

Jennifer Levitt, jewelry obsessive and owner of Jennifer Levitt PR, spends a lot of her time sending jewelry samples back and forth to photo shoots and celebrities for events. This also means she spends a lot of her time cleaning the pieces between send-outs. She tells me: "Lotion, soaps, and everyday grime can get trapped in crevices, clasps, and settings. This will dull and tarnish jewelry over time. I’ve also gotten pieces back with hair trapped in prongs or clasps!" Ew. But fortunately, there are easy and accessible solutions to get things sparkling again. We asked her to share her tips for basic jewelry upkeep that are easy to do at home and basically impossible to screw up.

Soak Your Jewelry in Dish Soap

"In general, a few drops of good old Dawn dish soap in warm, not hot, water will do the trick to keep most gold and silver jewelry clean. Let your pieces soak for about five minutes in the solution and rinse in lukewarm water. Then place them on an untreated microfiber cloth to buff dry," says Levitt.

Give Your Jewelry the Ol' "Scrub n' Buff"

“If there is visible dirt and grime remaining on the piece, you can gently scrub with a new, baby-size, soft-bristled toothbrush after removing from the soap and water solution," says Levitt. "An old one might have leftover toothpaste residue which can lead to scratches. Rinse with lukewarm water and buff dry with a microfiber cloth.”

Keep Silver and Brass Dry

“If you’re cleaning silver jewelry, make sure the piece is buffed completely dry before storing. Any extra moisture will make the silver tarnish faster, the same goes with brass," Levitt explains.

Don't Be Tempted by Acidic Cleaners or Baking Soda

“Avoid using acidic household cleaners like witch hazel and vinegar, which can damage certain metals and more porous stones," warns Levitt. "Baking soda can also be abrasive and scratch softer stones and metals.”

Be Careful with Delicate Materials

“Jewelry with softer stones like opals, pearls, turquoise, coral, or natural materials like wood, mammoth, bone, need to be cleaned a bit differently," Levitt says. "These materials are sensitive to moisture and temperature, and can shrink, expand, change colors or crack."

She adds: "Instead of submerging the entire piece, I suggest dipping a microfiber cloth into a soap and water mixture to buff and clean any metal parts, and to just gently wipe the stone or natural material with a dry microfiber cloth to remove any grime until you can have the piece professionally cleaned.”

Leave the Heirlooms to Professionals

Maybe skip the dish soap when it comes to your great-grandmother's engagement ring. "Certain pieces (like family heirlooms, vintage pieces with unique settings, or anything with high monetary or sentimental value) should really be cleaned by a professional jeweler," explains Levitt. "They’re able to truly assess how your pieces need to be treated, and have the cleaning solutions and equipment (like Ultrasonic machines and steam cleaners) to handle each cleaning situation."

Shop Gold Jewelry Cleaning Essentials:

Julia Gall

Julia Gall is the former Style Director at Marie Claire, covering all things fashion, as well as styling tips, wardrobe upkeep and sustainability. Check her out at @juliasgall.