If you’re lucky enough to own jewelry made of gold, you’ll want to take good care of it. But how exactly do you do that?
We’re going to take a look at everything you need to know to keep your jewelry in perfect condition. And we’ll look at how to clean gold jewelry, step by step. Our simple guide will give you all the information you need to do it with confidence.
So sit back, and find out how to keep your precious gold looking as wonderful as the day you bought it.
1. Make sure your jewelry is gold
Before you start cleaning any piece of jewelry, make sure you know exactly what it’s made of. Even items that look very convincing may not be solid gold. And if you don’t clean them the right way, you can damage them.
- For that reason, the first step is to inspect your jewelry carefully. Look for any signs of discoloration, particularly around the edges. That can indicate that the item has been plated with gold, or a gold-colored metal.
- You’ll sometimes see letters indicating that the metal isn’t solid gold too. GP stands for gold-plated, GE for gold electroplated, RGP for rolled gold plate and HGE or HGP for heavy gold electroplate.
- You can also look for hallmarks. Modern gold jewelry made in the UK must be hallmarked by law. In the US, the purity must be displayed.
For American gold however, that can be shown on signage with the item, instead of being stamped on it. And antique pieces may be unmarked. So an absence of hallmarks doesn’t necessarily mean your jewelry isn’t gold.
- Look for a three-digit number, or a number followed by a “K” or “ct”. Three-digit numbers tell you how many parts per thousand of your jewelry are pure gold. A number followed by K or ct tells you its purity in carats. One carat is one twenty-fourth of the whole.
- You can also test your item using a strong magnet. A neodymium magnet works well, and you can pick one up at most hardware stores. Gold isn’t magnetic, so gold items won’t usually stick to a magnet.
However, this test alone isn’t conclusive. Gold is mixed with other metals to make it strong enough to be used in jewelry. You may feel a pull to these alloy metals with a strong magnet.
And conversely, gold isn’t the only metal that isn’t magnetic. So depending on what base metals are used, a ring that isn’t gold may also not attract a magnet.
2. What if it’s gold plated?
If you’ve got jewelry that’s gold-plated, rather than being solid gold, take particular care when cleaning it. The plating is often very thin, and harsh chemicals and vigorous scrubbing can cause damage.
3. Minimizing cleaning
One key aspect of keeping your gold jewelry in top-notch condition is to avoid wear and tear. That means removing rings if you’re gardening or doing housework. Grime and soil can scratch your jewelry as well as making it dirty. And cleaning products or garden chemicals can cause damage too.
Remove your jewelry too before you get in the shower. Shower gels can have the same effect. The same goes for perfumes and hand lotions. That doesn’t mean you can’t wear them – just put them on first and wait for a few minutes before adding your jewelry.
Sweat contains salt and minerals, so isn’t good for gold either. Don’t wear your best jewelry to the gym, and it will stay looking good for longer!
4. Little and often
Regular light cleaning is better for your jewelry than letting it get very dirty. A dirtier item will need more intensive cleaning, risking damage. And dirt and grime on your jewelry can even wear away the surface over time. The moral of the tale – don’t let it build up!
Remove your jewelry at night and give it a quick rub over with a soft cloth. With earrings, take particular care with the posts. For bracelets and necklaces, you’ll want to give extra attention to the fastenings.
Because you’re going to be doing this regularly, make sure your cloth is very soft. Don’t use a metal cleaning cloth for this, even one designed for gold. The chemicals it contains are too strong for everyday use.
A microfiber cloth is ideal – like the ones used for cleaning camera lenses or glasses. You can also use a ball of cotton wall. That does, though, risk leaving behind a bit of fluff, particularly if your jewelry has an intricate design or engraving.
5. Deeper cleaning
When cleaning your gold jewelry, the watchword is “gentle”. Be gentle with the cleaning agents you use, and gentle with the materials that come into contact with the gold.
The best way to keep your gold sparkling is also one of the easiest – with simple soap and water. Add some mild dishwashing soap to warm water in a clean bowl. You don’t want the water to be too hot. Subjecting your jewelry to extreme temperatures can damage it.
A glass bowl is better than ceramic, as it’s less likely to scratch the gold. One option is to fold up a piece of kitchen towel and place that in the bottom of the bowl before adding your jewelry.
Leave your jewelry in the soapy water for between 10 and 30 minutes. Then remove it and scrub gently with a clean, soft-bristled brush. A child’s toothbrush will be ideal.
Pay particular attention to any joins – like hinges on brooches, or the place where the posts meet the backs of earrings. Similarly, any areas that are regularly handled, like the clasps of necklaces or bracelets, are likely to be grubbier.
When you’ve finished cleaning your jewelry, place it in a bowl of warm, clean water. That will rinse away the soap residue and leave it sparkling clean.
You can then either pat it dry with a lint-free cloth, or leave it to dry in the air. The second option is less work and also means you won’t have to worry about any smears or fluff. Just make sure you place your jewelry on a soft surface to avoid scratches.
6. Gemstones and deep cleaning
Not all gemstones should be cleaned, even with something as gentle as mild soap. If your piece of jewelry is set with turquoise, keep it away from soapy water. The stone can react with the chemicals.
The cleaning process for turquoise is just the same as for gold, minus the dishwashing soap. Instead, use water and a soft-bristled brush to clean the stone.
Although some advice against it, however, mild soap is fine to use for jewelry with opals or pearls. The renowned International Gem Society recommends cleaning these with lukewarm soapy water.
Just make sure that the water isn’t too hot. Opals in particular can be easily damaged by dramatic temperature changes.
There’s one exception to this. Don’t immerse doublet or triplet opals in water. These are partially man-made stones formed from two or three layers of opal. If you soak these for longer periods, the moisture can get between the layers and give the stones a cloudy appearance.
7. What about ultrasonic cleaning?
There are plenty of small, portable ultrasonic cleaners on the market today. These use sound waves to break down dirt and grime and lift it from the surface. But can they be used with gold jewelry?
If your jewelry doesn’t have any gemstones, an ultrasonic cleaner is a great option. Just follow the instructions carefully, and you’ll get good results.
But if you want to clean an item with jewels, it’s not quite as simple. The combination of heat and vibrations can damage some stones.
Brittle gemstones like emeralds, opals, turquoise and topaz shouldn’t be placed in an ultrasonic cleaner. The same goes for semiprecious stones like amber, malachite, lapiz lazuli, onyx and feldspar. And synthetic gemstones can be damaged too.
Diamonds are very hard, but that doesn’t mean that all diamonds will cope with ultrasonic cleaning. If there are visible inclusions, they can be exacerbated by the vibrations. The color can also suffer with stones that have been heat-treated.
All in all, then, ultrasonic cleaning is a great option for plain gold jewelry. But if your piece includes gemstones, always err on the side of caution.
If you’re not sure whether the stones have been heat-treated or otherwise enhanced, stick to soapy water. It’s a much better option than risking damage to your jewelry.
8. Household cleaning remedies
Beware of some household cleaning remedies you’ll find online. Toothpaste, for example, is indeed good at removing tarnish from silver. But it’s abrasive, and will leave behind scratches on the surface of the metal.
Gold doesn’t tarnish, so there’s no benefit from applying toothpaste. And if your jewelry has an ornate design or is set with gemstones, the toothpaste can get stuck in nooks and crannies. When it dries it hardens too, making it very difficult to get rid of.
Baking soda is often recommended too. But like toothpaste, it’s very abrasive. It’s all too easy to scratch the soft gold.
If your gold is very dirty, a better alternative is to add some soda water to your soapy water. The bubbles will help lift the dirt from the surface of the metal.
Vinegar is also a good option to brighten the shine, but don’t use it on jewelry set with pearls. It can cause serious damage.
9. White gold
We’ve already mentioned that it’s important to take extra care when cleaning plated jewelry. And that means it’s also important to be very careful with white gold.
Most white gold is made of a combination of gold and metals like palladium and silver. The resulting alloy is white rather than yellow. But to give it extra shine, it’s often coated in another white metal, rhodium.
Over time, you’ll need to get white gold jewelry replated to keep it looking good. How often you need to do that depends on how much wear and tear it’s subjected to. Once every 12 months or so is a reasonable average.
All this means that it’s particularly important to be gentle when cleaning white gold. Scrub too hard, and it’s all too easy to chip away the rhodium plating. Steer clear of abrasive metal cleaners and instead stick to warm soapy water.
10. Professional cleaning
If you want to restore a brilliant shine to your gold, one option is to have it cleaned by a jeweler. What this really means is polishing the metal. For rings, this is done using a diamond wheel, which smooths the surface of the metal. The process removes small scratches and leaves a beautiful shine.
Polishing your jewelry will give great results, but it isn’t something to do too often. That’s because each time the item is polished, a microscopic layer of gold will be removed from its surface.
The effects of this removal will build up over time. Eventually, if you have it polished too frequently, your ring will become noticeably thinner. As a result, it will be easier to bend and may even snap.
Don’t get your ring repolished more than once a year. If you treat your jewelry with care and clean it regularly with soapy water, this should be quite sufficient.
Ready to restore the sparkle to your gold jewelry?
That brings us to the end of our round-up of how to clean gold jewelry!
Minimize the need for deeper cleaning by avoiding your gold getting bumped or scratched. Take off rings when you’re doing housework or gardening. And remove all jewelry in the shower and gym.
A regular wipe with a soft cloth will keep your gold sparkling for a surprisingly long time, without any extra cleaning. But when it needs more, warm soapy water and a soft brush will work perfectly for most pieces. Just ditch the soap if your jewelry contains turquoise.
If in doubt, jewelers are usually only too happy to advise on care of your jewelry. They can even clean it for you for a modest price. Just remember that repolishing removes some gold, so it isn’t something to do too often.