How to Clean Silver Jewellery and Gemstones
1. How to Clean Silver Jewellery
2. Keep Silver Jewellery Covered
3. Use a Silver Cleaning Cloth
4. Gemstones Silver and Corrosives
5. Gemstone Hardness and Toughness
6. Looking After Gemstones
How to Clean Silver Jewellery
Cleaning silver and gemstones at home is easy and straightforward. Look after your silver jewellery and gemstones carefully and not only will they remain in pristine condition but you won't have to clean them as often.
There's so much information online about how to clean silver jewellery and gemstones that it's difficult to know where to begin. Whilst some methods being recommended are great, others are genuinely awful.
In one article we read the author recommended dropping gold jewellery with gemstones into white vinegar. They said to leave it soak for fifteen minutes then scrub with a soft bristled toothbrush.
Whilst gold will not react to vinegar many gemstones will. If your stone happens to be calcite or turquoise you'll find there's not much left after a treatment like this. Many gemstones do not react well to acids and many should not be allowed to get wet.
Our easy to read guide explains how to clean silver jewellery and gemstones safely. It also offers sound advice for keeping silver jewellery and gemstones in pristine condition.
Keep Silver Jewellery Covered
Jewellery should be stored somewhere cool, dry and dark. If possible place items on something soft.
Keeping silver and gemstones covered with soft material will protect them from marks and scratches.
Silver is a very soft metal so will scratch if it rubs against something that's harder. That may be the box in which it's being stored or another piece of jewellery.
Mohs Scale of Mineral hardness is a tool widely used to measure the scratch resistance of one mineral against another. All known minerals are graded 1 to 10 with 1 being the softest, 10 the hardest. Silver grades 2.5 so can be scratched by a mineral with the same grade or one that's higher.
Gemstones can also be soft, one example is malachite which grades 3.5 to 4. If amethyst and turquoise rub against each other the turquoise could become scratched. That's because amethyst is a much harder stone.
Scratches on silver and gemstones can be avoided by keeping pieces separated and covered.
Use a Silver Cleaning Cloth
Although sterling silver tarnishes pure silver does not. That's because sterling silver is alloyed with other metals. Copper which is the industry standard tarnishes.
Pure silver is too soft to be used for many household items. It's therefore usually alloyed with at least one other metal. This improves strength and durability but reduces resistance to tarnish.
Tarnish is a reddish brown substance that forms on the surface of some metals. It's caused by sulphur containing gases in the atmosphere. The process is similar to what happens to an apple if not eaten soon after being peeled.
Humidity speeds up the rate at which silver tarnishes. For this reason jewellery should not be kept in a bathroom. Perspiration and bright sunlight have the same effect. The moisture from a bathroom may also leave marks on some gemstones.
Tarnish forms a fine layer that only covers the top surface of the metal so doesn't cause any damage. It can usually be easily removed with a silver cleaning cloth. This is the easiest and most straightforward way to clean silver jewellery at home.
Where possible try to avoid using chemical solutions such as jewellery dips. With repeated use chemicals can leave marks on the silver which may be difficult if not impossible to remove.
Where silver jewellery is heavily tarnished or the shape makes using a silver cleaning cloth difficult, you may have no choice but to use a solution. Should this be the case choose a good quality product. Dip the jewellery in for a couple of seconds then dry it immediately with a soft cloth. A silver cleaning cloth should then be used to remove any remaining tarnish. If necessary repeat the process.
If using a brush to remove dirt, the bristles must be soft. If too hard you may end up with very fine scratch marks on the silver.
Chemicals should never be used for cleaning silver jewellery with gemstones.
Protect Gemstones and Silver from Corrosives
Gemstones and silver jewellery should always be removed before entering a swimming pool or jacuzzi. Chlorine is a chemical and a corrosive. The salt present in seawater is also a corrosive.
Perspiration also contains salt so jewellery should preferably be removed but if not be well covered during strenuous exercise.
Silver and gemstones should not be worn in a sauna. Many stones don't react well to heat or moisture and in some cases both. Add salt and it's a recipe for disaster.
Household detergents can leave marks on silver and gemstones. Try to wear gloves to protect rings or remove them completely. There is some evidence to suggest the latex in rubber gloves may speed up the rate at which silver tarnishes. Many household gloves contain latex.
Tarnish can usually be removed from silver jewellery quickly and easily with a silver cleaning cloth.
If silver is wrapped in paper, cardboard or plastic for any length of time it will tarnish. This is because of the presence of moisture. Small packets of silica gel can often be found inside packaging because they absorb moisture.
Gemstone Hardness and Toughness
Rocks and minerals have evolved over millions of years but if not well looked after can soon become damaged.
Most people think of stones as being hard and resilient but that's not always the case. Although some will scratch more easily than others, hardness should not be confused for toughness.
Diamond which is the hardest known substance on the planet grades 10 on Mohs scale. That means it can't be scratched by any other material. Not even a knife will scratch a diamond but a diamond can scratch a knife.
Just because a mineral is hard it doesn't make it strong or tough. Pure gold grades 2.5 to 3 on Mohs scale but pound it with a hammer and it won't crack or break. A small piece of gold when repeatedly struck will just get flatter and flatter. Strike a diamond with something hard and you'll smash it to smithereens.
Using another example, drop a diamond from height onto a hard surface and it will shatter. Do the same to a pearl and it will almost certainly remain intact. Pearl grades just 2.5 on Mohs scale so can be scratched very easily but is very tough.
Looking After Gemstones
For gemstones to remain in pristine condition they must be well looked after. Chrysocolla and malachite are widely used in silver jewellery yet are soft and fragile.
Many gemstones including amethyst, citrine, topaz, fluorite and turquoise will gradually fade or change colour if exposed to sunlight. The colour of opal is said to shine brighter in sunlight but heat will cause it to dehydrate. A dehydrated opal will crack.
Although many gemstones can tolerate heat, some may crack internally or externally if exposed to a sudden change in temperature.
Despite its popularity the mineral turquoise is particularly fragile. It's sensitive to heat so is prone to cracking and changing colour. Contact with perfumes, hairspray and cosmetics can also cause damage if not removed.
Before putting your silver jewellery away, try to wipe it with a silver cleaning cloth. If your jewellery has gemstones use a soft lint-free cloth instead. By doing this you'll remove any pollutants that may have built up. Lint free means the cloth doesn't give off fluff caused by fibres used in its manufacture.
Dust contains solid matter which includes microscopic particles of quartz. Quartz is relatively hard so wiping dust off a soft gemstone may leave minute scratches.
Whilst it's fine to clean some gemstones in warm soapy water, others should not be allowed to get wet. Malachite is one example because it's an ore of copper. Turquoise and pyrite must also not be allowed to get wet. Lapis lazuli doesn't react well to water because it's included with pyrite.
Silver jewellery can be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner but many gemstones will crack if cleaned in this way.
If done correctly, cleaning silver jewellery and gemstones should cause no damage. It's always worth remembering however that prevention is better than cure. Look after your gemstones and silver jewellery carefully and they'll rarely need cleaning.