How to Clean and Care for Your Jewelry | Reviews by Wirecutter

We independently review everything we recommend. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more›

Gold not so glittering? Diamonds looking dim? Ultrasonic Wash

How to Clean and Care for Your Jewelry | Reviews by Wirecutter

Lotions, household cleaners, improper storage, and everyday wear and tear can take a toll on your jewelry, leaving metals tarnished and gemstones dull.

Luckily, armed with a little know-how, you can keep your baubles looking their best pretty easily.

We tested a slew of expert-endorsed jewelry care techniques—along with a few popular DIYs—to discover what really works. Whether you’re looking to preserve a family heirloom or just polish up your everyday favorites, we have tips on how to clean, store, and maintain your jewelry so that it shines for years to come.

“Most jewelry, whether it’s a diamond or rose quartz, can be safely cleaned with dish soap and warm water,” said McKenzie Santimer, museum manager and designer at the Gemological Institute of America.

Santimer recommends mixing one drop of Dawn dish soap with warm water in a bowl, then allowing your jewelry to sit in the mixture for several minutes to cut through oils and grime. For solid gold jewelry and hard gemstones, follow up with a gentle scrub using a soft-bristle toothbrush. If you’re cleaning a stone in a pronged setting, make sure to scrub the gem from each side, working the flexible bristles into all the nooks and crannies where sunscreen, lotion, and other enemies of sparkle tend to collect. Rinse, then dry with a microfiber cloth.

For gold plated and gold vermeil jewelry, swap out the toothbrush for a nonabrasive cellulose sponge (or skip the scrubbing altogether). Too much abrasion can cause plating to erode, revealing discoloration to the base metal. “With gold plated jewelry, whatever base metal is underneath may really not like water,” said Leigh Plessner, chief creative officer for the Brooklyn-based jewelry brand Catbird. In vermeil, the base metal is sterling silver, so though it isn’t too sensitive to water, you need to watch out for scratching the soft metal.

If you’re wondering how to tell the difference between plated, vermeil, and solid gold, price is your first clue: Solid gold is much pricier than vermeil, which is more expensive than gold-plated jewelry. Solid gold is also stamped with its karat—such as 14 kt or 18 kt—while vermeil is stamped 925 for sterling silver.

If your silver or brass jewelry is heavily tarnished, dish soap and water may not be enough to restore its shine. Luckily, “even if your silver is totally black, it’s pretty easy to un-blacken it,” said Rony Vardi, Catbird’s founder. You can polish sterling silver and brass jewelry using specially formulated polishing cloths to gently buff away tarnish. These multiuse cloths are highly rated, though we haven’t tried them.

If the collective wisdom of the internet is to be believed, you already have effective tarnish-busters in your pantry and medicine cabinet. Ketchup is an oft-cited remedy: It’s nonabrasive, and its mild acidity reacts with oxidized surfaces to dissolve tarnish. While some experts warn against this technique, we were curious enough to try it anyway —on some of our less-precious pieces. We were amazed by how effectively it took the tarnish out of a brass necklace. To use this method, submerge your jewelry in a small bowl of ketchup, then let it sit for 15 minutes to an hour. Wash the ketchup off in a mixture of warm water and dish soap, then rinse and buff dry with a microfiber cloth.

We also tried toothpaste and found it equally effective. But beware: It works because it’s abrasive, so you risk scratching your silver if you’re not careful. Nevertheless, it’s an easy, readily accessible method that gets quick results—“everybody does it,” acknowledged Vardi—so you might as well do it right. Choose a low-abrasion, solid-color toothpaste with no extra whitening or tartar-control agents. Rinse your jewelry in water, then spread a thin layer of toothpaste over its surface, gently rubbing it in with a cellulose sponge or microfiber cloth. Let it sit for a few minutes, then thoroughly rinse away the toothpaste and polish with a clean cloth.

Take care when cleaning your pearls; these temperamental beauties are porous and vulnerable to peeling and chipping. “They should only be cleaned with a microfiber cloth and a little bit of water,” Santimer told us. Never use chemical cleaners—chlorine, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and acetic acid (the acid in vinegar … and ketchup) are particularly damaging—and don’t submerge your pearls in water, as this can deteriorate the silk thread on which they are strung.

An ounce of caution is also wise when handling pearls because of their sensitivity to chemicals in perfumes and cosmetics. All of our experts cited the maxim, “last on, first off”: Pearls should be the last item you put on before going out and the first you take off before getting ready for bed at night.

“Just like the sun damages our skin, it can damage your gems,” said Santimer. Certain stones, like amethyst, are particularly sensitive to light and lose their color with prolonged UV exposure, and other stones that are treated or dyed also fade in the sunlight. Heat can affect your gems too. “The sun will cook an opal. It’s called crazing—the whole thing can start to shatter,” Santimer explained.

Some materials have distinct preferences when it comes to humidity. If sterling silver is stored in a humid environment, it will tarnish more quickly. To banish moisture, Vardi recommends sealing silver jewelry in a plastic bag with charcoal or silica packets when you’re not wearing it. Pearls and opals, on the other hand, need moisture. “You’d never leave them in a safety deposit box, because they’d dry out and crack,” Santimer told us.

To avoid scratches and dings, Santimer recommends storing jewelry individually in clear plastic bags. This is especially important for jewelry made from softer materials like sterling silver, opal, and lapis, as well as—you guessed it—pearls. “You don’t want to store pearls hanging with other necklaces, where they can swing back and forth and hit each other. Instead, coil them up in a snake coil and lay them flat,” said Santimer.

“One of the things we hear about the most is chain tangling,” Vardi told us. To keep your necklaces neat, take a tip from the pros: “We use these tiny jewelry zip bags, or you can just use a regular sandwich bag. Put the chain so that the top is clasped and sticking out of the ziplock. That way, the top of your chain can’t get tangled with the rest of it, which is how knots usually form,” said Vardi.

Every so often, strung pearls need to be professionally restrung. “It can take years for them to stretch out, but you’ll start to notice that the length will increase, and you’ll see that some of the knots may be fraying,” said Santimer.

Prongs wear over time, and if they get too loose, you risk a runaway stone. Santimer recommends scheduling an annual checkup for your engagement ring or other statement stones with a reputable jeweler.

If you want your rocks to really dazzle, take them in for a professional ultrasonic cleaning (your annual prong-check is a good opportunity to do this). An ultrasonic cleaner vibrates gems down to their molecular structure to achieve that extra brilliance.

Don’t take matters into your own hands. “You should bring it to a professional,” advised Plessner. “If you’re bending the metal yourself and trying to fix it by hand,” added Vardi, “you’re just creating a weak point, and that will make it worse.”

“Jewelry is made to be worn and lived with. It brings a lot of joy,” said Vardi (and your jewels would tend to agree). Pearls need frequent skin contact to look their best: “The humidity and heat from your skin keep them nice and warm, and body oils make them lustrous,” said Santimer. Silver, too, prefers regular wear. “If you leave silver in a drawer, it tarnishes, whereas if you wear it, it tarnishes a lot less,” Vardi told us. As for solid gold, “it doesn’t really tarnish, and you can wear it all the time. And one of the great advantages of solid gold is that it can be repaired and reworked ad nauseam,” said Plessner. Though you should probably doff your necklaces and rings in certain situations—like before stepping into a chlorinated pool or hot tub—how and when you choose to wear your jewelry largely comes down to preference. “I personally like my jewelry to look lived in,” said Vardi. “For me, it’s OK to have that patina of life.” Plessner added, “There’s a Joan Didion quote that we always paraphrase: ‘Use the good silver every day, because every day is all there is.’”

This article was edited by Catherine Kast and Jennifer Hunter.

McKenzie Santimer, museum manager and designer, Gemological Institute of America, video interview, July 22, 2022

Leigh Plessner, chief creative officer, and Rony Vardi, founder, Catbird, video interview, July 19, 2022

Zoe Vanderweide is a staff writer reporting on style and accessories at Wirecutter. She has been wearing things for over three decades, and she has spent years covering streetwear, luxury, art, and design. Off the clock, you can find her painting the town rainbow with her (devastatingly stylish) daughter.

A little squirt of dish soap, warm water, and some elbow grease can go a long way.

Here’s everything someone preparing to propose marriage should know about choosing and buying a diamond: What determines price and value, where to buy, and what to ask a jeweler.

Resist the temptation to dump your decorations into a box on New Year’s Day. Treat them right, and they’ll treat you right, too.

Figuring out what to get rid of is just the beginning. We tapped experts and researched recycling programs to find reasonable ways to offload your clothes.

How to Clean and Care for Your Jewelry | Reviews by Wirecutter

Laboratory Oven Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. Our journalists combine independent research with (occasionally) over-the-top testing so you can make quick and confident buying decisions. Whether it’s finding great products or discovering helpful advice, we’ll help you get it right (the first time).