From wedding rings to costume jewelry rings and rings handed down for generations — they can all get dirty. And washing your hands everyday, as you’ve realized by now, doesn’t help. “Most of the time what is on a ring is body lotion, dish soap and cosmetics,” explains Sophie Fader, the co-founder and CEO of SPUR Jewelry, a company that renovates heirloom jewelry into modern-day designs. Over time, these residues can build up around settings and stones can lose their luster. And they wriggle into tiny cracks and crevices that are tough to get to using conventional cleaning methods. The good news: The supplies and tools you need to clean rings of all kinds are probably sitting right underneath your kitchen sink — all you need is a little know-how. Read on to learn how to clean rings at home.
How to clean rings at home by type
Learning how to clean rings at home is a cinch, but all jewelry pros agree, which method you use depends on the type of jewelry, the metal and the gem type. Here’s what you need to know:
1. For gold, platinum and white gold rings
The #1 thing all our experts recommend to clean fine jewelry is … dish soap. That’s right: No fancy, expensive specialty cleaning product — just plain old-fashioned soap and water. “I recommend Dawn specifically because it is gentle but has a very powerful degreasing agent that works quite well,” says Fader. Simply squeeze some dish soap into a small vessel like a plastic food storage container, add a cup or so of water and let the ring soak for a few minutes before scrubbing.
No dishsoap? Windex works just as well. “Pour Windex into a small plastic food storage container and let your rings soak there for 10-15 minutes,” advises Lorraine Brantner, a gemologist at James Allen. But, “avoid using any harsh cleaning products, such as bleach or heavy-duty products; these are too abrasive for the metal and will cause them to break down and deteriorate,” she cautions.
Enlist a baby toothbrush! Fader recommends using a soft toothbrush to get into all of the nooks and crannies around crown settings. Branter’s favorite tool is a baby toothbrush, which is super-soft and its small head is easy to manipulate.
Rinse well: A small but important step is to rinse your ring thoroughly after cleaning. While dish soap is very good at cleaning, it can leave a residue on a ring. Finish by buffing it dry with a soft, clean cloth.
This YouTube video shows how to clean your rings at home using Windex or Mr. Clean:
2. For fine gemstone rings
A good rule of thumb to remember is that red (ruby), white (diamond), and blue (sapphire) can generally take the same methods of at-home cleaning that you’d use for gold rings, says Brantner. Use caution with green gemstones. “If you have an emerald, do not use any cleaners or heat on them at all. They should be treated with lukewarm water and a soft cloth or toothbrush.” Pearls, coral, and opals are even more delicate and should only be wiped off with a polishing cloth, as they are organic, porous stones. Even if you’re tempted, don’t use anything stronger on these rings.
3. Costume jewelry rings
“When attempting to clean costume jewelry use as little liquid as possible,” cautions Melissa Maker, the founder of Clean My Space. In addition to possibly causing water marks, too much liquid can weaken the glue keeping gems in place. Plus, even a little water can ruin the foil backing on rhinestones, cautions Rosalie Sayyah, the founder of Rhinestone Rosie, a vintage jewelry store in Seattle that also offers repairs by mail.
Sayyah suggests that you first try cleaning the ring with just a soft cloth. She recommends investing in a rouge cloth (Buy on Amazon, $9.78) specifically designed for polishing jewelry. Then similarly to fine jewelry, brush with a dry, soft toothbrush — with no cleaners or water.
For extra dirty rings, mix some baby shampoo and water (you can also use liquid dish detergent) and dip a cotton swab into it to use for surface cleaning. Then, dry it with a fresh, clean cloth.
4. Tarnished sliver rings? Try *this* cream
To clean tarnished sterling silver, Sarah Burns, co-owner of Old Jewelry Store, a shop specializing in vintage sterling silver jewelry in New York City, suggests starting with the same method of dish soap and water as described for gold rings, and a brush for hard-to-reach places. But if you need more than soap, Burns and the team at Old Jewelry Store recommend Sunshine Polishing Cloth (Buy on Amazon, $17.09) and Wright’s Silver Cream (Buy on Amazon, $.99) or Herman’s Simply Clean Collectors Jewelry Polish. (Buy on Hermans Simply Clean, $14.95).
“For any of these products, follow the provided directions, and always be sure to rinse thoroughly with warm water after using the product to remove any residual cleaner,” says Burns.
What *not* to use to clean rings at home
Avoid using toothpaste, aluminum foil, salt and other silver dips, says Burns. “Although these methods ‘work’ they are actually harmful to the surface of fine silver,” she cautions.
Another option to avoid: “I don’t like jewelry dips because they’re quite powerful, and if you leave the jewelry in too long, it can corrode the metal,” cautions Fader. Besides, it’s not tarnish that you’re trying to remove, since 14- and 18-karat gold and platinum jewelry doesn’t tarnish.
Pro tip: If your 14K or 18K white gold jewelry is looking off color it isn’t tarnished: It probably needs to be rhodium replated. These metals often get a coating of rhodium to enhance shine and prevent scratches, but over time it can wear off. You would need to go to a jewelry specialist to get this done. Prices range from about $60 – $120.
When *not* to clean rings at home
Most rings can be safely cleaned at home, but Fader says, “The exception would be if you have a piece that is a very fine antique or damaged, then I would bring it to a professional.” Branter adds that she would skip trying to clean micropavé and pavé settings at home. “Anything with a lot of little stones can be difficult, as it’s tough to get in and around the stones. You don’t want to risk a stone coming loose. I would recommend having a jeweler do a thorough cleaning once a year,” she says, adding, “Your anniversary or birthday is a great date to do this and gives you sparkly jewelry for your special day.”
Pro tip: Another advantage of professional cleaning is the jeweler will typically take that opportunity to check your settings and make sure that there you have no loose stones or prongs.
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