Ask a Clean Person: This Valentine’s Day, Say It With Jewelry Cleaner

I am like a magpie: I love shiny things. I love my shiny, shiny jewelry, but I hate that it gets dirty. I have a lot of silver jewelry and I hate cleaning it with those awful jewelry-cleaning cloths, because they always make my hands feel weird afterwards, and THERE MUST BE A BETTER WAY. And what about my silver jewelry with stones in it? I have this gorgeous silver ring with a tiny chip of emerald in it, and I’m always afraid I’m going to hurt it somehow by cleaning it.

And what about other metals! Does my gold jewelry need to be cleaned? What about my gold jewelry with stones in it? And what about all the rest of my jewelry that wasn’t expensive — my cheap but well-loved jewelry? I have this silver choker that I’ve been wearing for mumblemumble years, and it used to be bright and shiny, but now it’s kind of dull and ugly. Is there any way to restore it?

Help me! I want to be as shiny and clean and sparkly as possible at all times!

You can’t see me right now, but this is what I’m doing: CLAP CLAP SHINY THINGS! Do you remember waaay back when I started this column I told you how I loved polishing silver? The same totally applies to cleaning jewelry for me. Mostly because it’s so easy to get such an obvious reward, and Lord, couldn’t we all use a cheap and easy reward in our lives?

All of your metal jewelry can and should be cleaned, and in a sec I’ll take you through a few different ways to do so. Whenever a piece has a stone in it, however, you do need to be a little bit more careful. Hard stones like diamonds, rubies and sapphires can be brightened up with most jewelry cleaners, but soft gems like pearls or opals need special treatment. Here’s a handy chart that explains which stones are tougher than others and what cleaning methods to use and to avoid. Here’s another one, in case you crave variety in your life.

But back to your regular old metal jewelry. Since you said you hate the jewelry-cleaning cloths, you’ll probably be much happier with some sort of dip. You can buy commercial jewelry cleaner like Connoisseurs, or you can make your own. Look! There’s even a recipe for jewelry cleaner on! I don’t know why, but that tickles my funny bone in just the right spot. There are, of course, many variations on DIY jewelry cleaner including hot water & vinegar (1 part vinegar to 3 parts water, soak for 12–24 hours); hot water & baking soda (1 part baking soda to 5 parts water, soak 8–12 hours); dish soar & lemon juice (1 teaspoon soap to 3 teaspoons juice, soak 5–8 hours); and plain old white toothpaste and an old/soft toothbrush (scrub gently for 5–10 minutes, rinse with warm water). After cleaning, dry the jewelry thoroughly with a soft cloth.

In addition to gold and silver, I wear a lot of copper/plain ol’ metal jewelry (that I love!), but it starts to reek of metal, and then my hands smell like metal and I don’t like wearing the jewelry anymore. Is there any way to get rid of the smell or clean the jewelry?

There sure is!

The easiest thing to do, unless you’re anything like our friend the magpie up thar, is use jewelry cleaning cloths. They’ll serve to both make your jewelry shiny (CLAP CLAP SHINY THINGS!) and to take the smell out. You can also use any one of the DIY cleaners mentioned above, as they will also serve to remove unpleasant metal-y smells.

So, I am one of those people who wears the same pair of post earrings almost constantly. Every once in a while, I’ll decide I want something different and swap them out. But whenever this happens, I get to see all the yuck that has built up on the backs. It’s gross! Seriously! Also confusing, because I wear the silly things in the shower so they get soaped/shampooed all the time. But anyway, what do I do? I’ve tried dropping them in a cup of hydrogen peroxide a few times, and that has sorta worked. Unfortunately, I am now a college student in a dorm, and have no peroxide. My entire cleaning collection consists of laundry detergent, vinegar, and one of those emergency stain pen things. Save me from gunky earring backs!

I have an easy solution for you that only requires hot water and a soft cloth or towel, but first let’s sit in the formal living room for a talk about earring gunk. The thing is, I am ABSOLUTELY a person who wears her studs for eons without taking them out, but it’s a pretty bad practice and here’s why: while you’re busy telling yourself that they’re getting clean they’re, um, not getting clean. In fact, what’s happening is that your dead skin and assorted forms of soap scum are building up on those earrings as a result of wearing them without a break.

The great news here is that it’s really easy to get that gunk clean, so here’s what you’re going to do: either soak the earrings in a cup of hot or warm water (if they’re softer stones like pearls don’t use hot hot water), or just run them under the tap for a brief spell. If you go the tap route, it’s not a bad idea to plug the drain so that you don’t run the risk of losing your grip on your baubles and having them go down the drain. Once you’ve given them a thorough soaking, take the post of one earring and use it to scrape the gunk from the backing. Then use a soft cloth (an old t-shirt or sock works well here) to wipe away any excess from the backing and the earring itself. Done and done.

So I have this silver bracelet with a few silver charms on it, and I thought it looked fine. But then the owner of the nail salon I go to told me I should clean it by putting dish soap in a pot of boiling water and boiling the bracelet in the soapy, boiling water for a few minutes. Can that be accurate? I certainly don’t want to experiment with my bracelet!

Go ahead and experiment, you have my permission! Basically what she told you to do is a variation on the jewelry-cleaning methods we discussed upcolumn. The only thing to be very careful with when cleaning charm bracelets is to ensure that none of the charms contain stones — particularly soft ones — that can be damaged from the heat of the boiling water. Similarly, a number of my charms are enamel (the Big Apple on my New York charm bracelet is coated in red enamel, for example)(also are we going to GIRL OUT over how much we love charm bracelets? Can we, can we???), which need to be treated very carefully. So check your gemstone chart before going to town with any one cleaning method. When in doubt, it’s probably helpful to know that most finer jewelry stores (so, like, not Claire’s) offer jewelry cleaning services that aren’t terribly costly.

Previously: Do Not Get Rid of Your Jeans, They Are Disgusting But Fixable.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you curious to know if she’s answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?

Photo by Studio DMM Photography, Designs & Art, via Shutterstock