How to Clean Vintage Jewelry


Written by Nickie Fleming in Jewelry
Viewed by 51 readers since 05-21-2009

When you are the owner of some valued pieces of vintage jewelry – perhaps a family heirloom or something you once bought at an antique market – you want them to sparkle and shine.

If you wear this jewelry daily or very often during the week, it is recommended to clean it every week. Items that you wear only for special occasions don’t ask for a weekly cleaning. I’d advise to clean them up after wearing, though. To store them, always wrap them in a soft cloth inside the jewelry box.

To clean up jewelry, there are many contrary recommendations. Some people say that you should not use soap on vintage jewelry, nor vinegar. I would agree on the vinegar, but I’ve often cleaned old pieces with a bit of soft soap, and in my experience it doesn’t do any harm. Along with the soft soap and water, use a soft brush as well, to reach difficult spots. Most old jewelry can bear water and soap, only pieces with Aurora Borealis stones should not be touched by a brush, because the stone scratches easily. Also pieces with rhinestones with foil backing should not be cleaned with water. The moisture can seep between the stone and the foil and can leave dark stains or even destroy the piece altogether.

Instead of water, you can also try to use a bit of Windex (window cleaner), but better not on delicate stones. Don’t use the Windex directly on the jewelry. Instead, spray it over a soft brush or a piece of t-shirt material and use this to clean away the dirt and residue. After the cleaning, please dry up the jewelry in a thorough manner.

I’ve also heard that some people use a bit of alcohol on a q-tip. Just like the water mixed with window cleaner, it does the job of cleaning away most of the dirt.

Another helpful instrument to clean vintage jewelry are dental floss sticks (mostly a C-shaped head with dental floss stretched tight across the C and a handle). With this, you can reach those tiny areas that are otherwise hard to reach.

But sometimes old fashioned methods are not enough. Especially if your vintage jewelry consists entirely of metal (a gold chain, a broach) than it can be useful to buy an ultrasonic cleaner. You should not believe that you can only use the cleaning solution that is provided by the manufacturer of the ultrasonic cleaner – this only provides them with easy income! You can just as well use tap water or distilled water.

A reminder: never use ultrasonic cleaning on jewelry that has stones attached. Especially soft stones such as pearls, opals and coral could suffer damage when you try to clean the piece with ultrasonic waves.

Also never put stones with a foil backing into an ultrasonic cleaner. If the stones are not prong set, there is a chance that the glue will dissolve and the stones may break loose. (You better have some glue at the ready, though!)


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