3 Frugal Ways To Clean Jewelry

by heather

I don’t like to buy chemicals if I don’t have to. Chemical cleaning solutions are not only a waste of money, but they’re also bad for the environment.

Which is why I’d like to offer up some frugal ways to clean jewelry. And the upside? They’re green as well.

Use Toothpaste To Clean Jewelry

This wonderful, frugal jewelry cleaning tip originally came from my mother-in-law. And, it works.

All you do then is take an old toothbrush, squeeze some toothpaste on your jewelry, and start scrubbing away. The bubbles will look dirty, but this is simply the dirt that’s coming off your jewelry. Your best bet for using toothpaste to clean jewelry is to choose one with baking soda as a main ingredient.

Once you rinse it off, your jewelry will look brand new.

Use Alcohol To Clean Jewelry

This wonderful tip comes from Squawk at Squawkfox.com. Her advice? Use alcohol.

Squawk recommends soaking your jewelry for 1-2 minutes in a small jar of alcohol. Take it out and brush it for 2 minutes, oak for another 2 minutes, and then dry with a tissue.

She does recommend only doing this with hard jewelry like diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. Softer gems like emeralds, opals, amethyst, topaz, garnet, and moonstone might be better off in the hands your jeweler.

It’s so cheap to clean jewelry this way that it’s practically free. Thanks Squawk!

Use Salt To Clean Jewelry

This next tip comes from Danny Seo, green living guru and home style expert extraordinaire. His advice? Magnetize the dirt away.

Here’s his plan: line the bottom of a bowl with a sheet of aluminum foil and fill with warm water. Add about 4 tablespoons of salt, and a dash of liquid dish soap. Place your jewelry on top of the salt and be amazed as it’s “magically” lifted off.

Danny says that the process is a natural chemical reaction that actually magnetizes the tarnish right off the jewelry. Thanks for the great tip, Danny!

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Peter Rowe May 15, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Oh boy. Where to start on these three methods NOT to clean jewelry. Well, two of them, at any rate. Take it from this long time professional gemologist and jeweler, please. Not advice from your mother in law, OK?
First. Do NOT use toothpaste. Yes, it scrubs well. But it’s an abrasive. If you use it on highly polished metal, it will dull that polish. Use ordinary dish washing detergent if you wish to scrub, not toothpaste. Please. Don’t use toothpaste. It cleans and damages all at the same time. Not what you want, I’d hope. If your jewelry is already no longer polished at all, and the stones are hard, like diamonds, etc, then your toothpaste won’t do more harm. But please. There are better ways.
Second. Alcohol is safe, yes. But as I responded to that post on Squakfox, it’s not the most effective. The dirt in your rings is a mix of grease, oils, dead skin, lotions, soap residues, and who knows what all else. Alcohol is not a great solvent for all of that. A good strong liquid detergent, similar to what you’d use scrubbing the floor, in hot water, and allowed to soak for a bit, is MUCH more effective. Add a bit of ammonia if you like.
Third. You’ve got the chemistry wrong. Do NOT use salt. Wrong stuff. First off, salt is a chloride, and chlorine is actually damaging to gold and silver. Now, as salt, it’s less so, but it still isn’t good. Salt corrodes things, and is not a cleaner. Similarly, never use bleach. It does real harm to gold alloys, and makes silver look like crap. However, your method is almost correct for removing tarnish from silver. Aluminum foil or an unanodized aluminum pan, with warm water and washing soda from the grocery aisle. If you don’t have washing soda, use baking soda. Slower, but it still works. the silver items must be immersed in the solution, and in contact with the aluminum. Both these chemicals set up an electrolytic reaction that reduces silver sulphides (tarnish) back to silver. Now, the result won’t be as bright, since this doesn’t polish. But it gets the dingy off color tarnish off, and then a little polishing with a polishing cloth or any good silver polish, will easily do the rest. Salt, while it also creates an electrolyte that can allow this reaction with the aluminum to take place, but the salt itself is then damaging to the silver, so you end up with a poorer surface than you need to. And resudies of the salt, if left, can damage things like some silver solders holding the jewelry together. So please, use washing or baking soda, not table salt.
Hope that helps.
Peter Rowe

Peter Rowe May 15, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Just reread Danny’s post, so an addendum to that. In addition to not using salt, I’d note that you do not want the jewelry resting on the salt or baking soda or washing soda. It needs to be IN CONTACT with the aluminum, in order for the electrolytic reaction to take place. if the chemical is keeping the silver up off the aluminum, it doesn’t complete the electrical circuit. And yes, this is an electrolytic reaction. It has nothing to do with magnetism. Nothing at all. Just like the battery in your car has no magnets in it either… Magnetism might be a nice sounding word, but not accurate here.

Chris B December 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Thanks for the info. My wife had been using toothpaste to clean her jewelry for years now.
I’ll tell her about your advice here and maybe she can use one of your safer methods of cleaning them.

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