Gemstone Education

When to Hire a Professional Jewelry Cleaner

Jewelry gets subjected to a lot of wear and tear every day, even when we are careful. The oils on our skin can combine easily with everyday dirt and grime to tarnish metal and scuff up gemstones. And when we’re not careful, jewelry can also get exposed to hairspray, makeup, and other chemicals. If you do manual labor while wearing a ring (you never should), you can get even more dirt lodged in your jewelry.

If you have recently picked up a favorite piece of jewelry and looked at it and noticed that it isn’t nearly as shiny or sparkly as it once was, you may be able to do something about it right now at home. A lot of jewelry cleaning tasks can be done using a simple combination of water and light dish soap. More difficult cleaning tasks may require specialized equipment, but you still might be able to do it yourself.

Not all jewelry can be cleaned at home, though. Sometimes you need to get help from a jewelry cleaning professional. Before you can understand the situations where you might need professional cleaning, it helps to understand the limitations of at-home methods.

Cleaning Jewelry At Home

Citrine ring in yellow gold

Citrines in a yellow gold ring – rings like these are fairly simple to clean by yourself – Image credit to Aleksey Gnilenkov – CC-BY-2.0

Here are several simple jewelry cleaning methods you can try at home, as well as the limitations of each:

  • Soak jewelry in a combination of warm water and light dish soap (never use anything harsh, and stay away from anything with chlorine or bleach in it; also avoid abrasives). Get a soft bristled toothbrush and gently scrub all the surfaces. Use a toothpick to carefully get into grooves. Rinse your jewelry and air dry it. Follow up with a polishing cloth.
  • Use a jewelry steam cleaner. These cleaners are easy to use and are extremely effective at getting rid of oils and dirt. They’re fast as well, which means if you have a lot of jewelry to clean, they can be a great choice. They do not use chemicals to do their job. They are not ideal for all types of jewelry, though. If you have porous gems to clean like pearls, amber or opals, avoid using a steam cleaner. Also never use one on jewelry with glued components or dyed gemstones.
  • Try an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner instead. These low-cost devices are easy to use and highly effective on most types of gemstones. This type of device uses a jewelry cleaning solution, which soaks up dirt and oils. Ultrasonic waves shake the debris loose and remove it. Ultrasonic cleaners should never be used on fragile or antique jewelry. If you do use these cleaners, always replace the harsh chemicals they come with; use something milder.

As you can see, most jewelry in most situations can be cleaned yourself. Whether you hand wash your jewelry with a soft-bristled toothbrush, use an ultrasonic cleaner, or try a steam cleaner, following up with a professional quality jeweler’s polishing cloth will help you restore the maximum shine.

When Not To Clean Your Jewelry At Home

Ametrine ring with intricate details

Ametrine ring with intricate details – rings like these are very difficult to clean and should be taken to a proffesional jewelry cleaner once in a while – Image credit to Aleksey Gnilenkov – CC-BY-2.0

Now, using what we learned above, we can also make a list of situations where you should not clean your jewelry at home!

  • When you have jewelry with porous gemstones to clean, and cannot do an effective job by hand. Steam cleaners should never be used on these types of gemstones, and ultrasonic cleaners may also be too heavy-duty since porous gemstones can be delicate.
  • When you have jewelry with glued or dyed components that you cannot effectively wash by hand.
  • When you have delicate, damaged, or antique jewelry. Antique jewelry is almost always delicate, and usually has a very high value as well. Antique and estate jewelry should always be treated as if it can be easily damaged, and damaged jewelry should never be cleaned until it has been repaired. These are all prime candidates for professional cleaning. It is best not to take any chances, even at washing by hand.
  • Any time you have jewelry with little grooves or tight spaces you cannot effectively reach through any of these techniques. You don’t want to damage your jewelry while you are trying to reach into these tight little areas. It is much better to take your jewelry to someone who has the specialized, gentle equipment needed to effectively clean the item.
  • When you want to clean a watch. Watches have small mechanical parts or digital components, and if you damage one of those components, your watch will not work. It is best to avoid this situation completely and just take the watch to a pro to take care of for you.
  • Anytime you don’t have the equipment you need. It may make sense to go out and purchase a steam cleaner or ultrasonic cleaner if you know you will be using one regularly, but if you only need to clean your jewelry once in a blue moon, spending lots of money to purchase these supplies would not make a lot of sense. You would end up spending less just taking your jewelry to the professionals to clean.
  • Whenever you are in doubt about how to proceed. Better safe than sorry is always the rule when it comes to caring for your jewels. You would hate to make a mistake on your own and damage a precious ring or pair of earrings forever, wouldn’t you? When you take it to a pro, you remove uncertainty from the equation.
  • Finally, consider a professional jewelry cleaning job anytime you want your jewelry to look as shiny and sparkly as new!

How Professionals Clean Jewelry

What is the professional jewelry cleaning process like?

  1. It all starts with polishing, but this step requires specialized equipment. Instead of just using a polishing cloth like you would at home, the jewelry uses a high-speed wheel. This gets rid of little scratches, smoothing out the surface of your jewelry so that it can shine like new.
  2. Next, jewelry which can be cleaned using an ultrasonic cleaner is soaked in the cleaning solution. The ultrasonic cleaner dislodges dirt and other particulates.
  3. The next step is steam cleaning. This removes any remaining dirt and grime.

There are variations on that process, depending on the professional jewelry cleaner you go to see and the type of jewelry you have. In general, the process is going to be a lot more thorough than what you would be able to do at home, and that high-speed polishing wheel can make a huge difference over what you could achieve with a cloth.

The end result? According to a lot of customers who have taken their jewelry to be professionally cleaned, it comes back looking as good as new—or even better than it did on the day that they bought it! You will have a pretty tough time trying to replicate those same amazing results on your own at home.

How often should you take your jewelry to be professionally cleaned? It certainly isn’t something you need to invest in as a regular thing. Briefly washing jewelry you frequently wear at home every few weeks is usually enough to keep it looking pretty pristine for quite some time. When you notice your jewelry looking really dingy, though, it is probably time to either do a really thorough job on your own at home or take it to the professionals. Paying to get the job done right now and again is totally worth it—you will be blown away by the results!

Gem Coach

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