CLEANING SILVER AND GOLD
The most basic silver cleaner is something you probably already have in the cupboard: good old Windex with ammonia. Simply spray it on tarnished areas; wait about 30 seconds; rinse with clear water; and pat dry with a soft cloth.
If you can then follow that up with a good rubbing with a silver polishing cloth, so much the better. Silver polishing cloths contain a chemical that will put a nice shiny finish on the silver after the Windex with ammonia cleans it. Windex with ammonia is safe for both new and older pieces.
Windex with ammonia also works on gold, but don't use it on 24K gold because that's too soft. Just spray it on, rinse it off, dry with a soft cloth and follow up with the same type of polishing cloth you use for your silver. Polishing cloths are available from most jewelers or on eBay.
For older or estate pieces, another good solution that you may already have in your medicine cabinet is plain Colgate toothpaste. Just don't get the tartar control formula. Don't use other brands, either, because they are grittier and will leave visible scratches on the finish. Colgate contains a very mild degree of grit that will still leave tiny scratches, but they won't be noticeable once you've followed up with the polishing cloth.
Just mix up some Colgate and plain water in a small bowl or even in the palm of your hand, then apply it to the silver using your fingers. This is a particularly good method of cleaning chains, because you can really work the Colgate solution down into the links, and you'll never see any scratches on the chain. Rinse with clear water and pat dry with a soft cloth.
Beware of doing too much to vintage silver, because it can seriously lower the value of the piece. Vintage silver experts recommend removing tarnish gradually with a jewelry cleaning cloth, which lets you remove only as much tarnish as you want because you work slowly. It also removes tarnish only from the higher surfaces, leaving the recessed portions dark and accentuating the vintage look. To remove a stubborn black spot, touch a corner of the cloth with a drop of water. The slight dampness will make the job easier.
Bear in mind that a degree of darkening needs to be present on an older piece for the patina to really show. But patina is not tarnish, and tarnish is not patina! Patina actually consists of the thousands of miniscule scratches that silver and gold pieces acquire over the years. They break up a very even, mirrorlike surface and transform it into something soft and velvety. Patina is desirable because it's rich looking and marks a piece as older.
If you want to use a commercial metal cleaner, reach for what the pros use: Simichrome, Flitz, or NevrDull. Simichrome is a cream, while Flitz comes in a tube. NevrDull is a wadding polish that does a terrific job on silver, gold, copper, or brass, but it takes a little longer with more rubbing. They are available at any good hardware store or online (try eBay). Just follow the directions.
Hagerty is another reputable brand of silver polish that you can find at your grocery store or even pharmacy -- or better yet, on eBay.
One disadvantage to liquid or paste silver polishes is that they can leave a hard-to-remove residue in the crevices of your jewelry, so be extra-thorough when rinsing. A super-soft toothbrush, used very gently, may help.
Two types of professional jewelry cleaner that can now be purchased for home use are the ultrasonic and ionic models. An ultrasonic cleaner uses sound waves to gently agitate the jewelry until the dirt loosens and falls off. It is suitable for all types of metal, but it may loosen stones or damage enamel and is too caustic for use on pearls. It also will remove every vestige of darkening, which may be undesirable.
An ionic cleaner uses electricity, running it gently through the jewelry to soften and loosen dirt. It doesn't necessarily take the dirt off; you'll need to follow up with a soft brush or cloth to do that. But it will break down any build-up and let it be easily removed. Ionic cleaners also won't loosen stones, because they don't agitate the jewelry the way an ultrasonic cleaner does. You can find both types of jewelry cleaner on eBay.
There are various types of cleaning fluid available for use with these machines, but you can make your own ultrasonic formula out of ammonia, Joy liquid dishwashing soap, and hot water: For one cup of solution, use 7.5 ounces of hot water, .5 ounce of Joy, and a capful of ammonia. The ammonia cuts the grime, and for some reason, Joy puts a really nice sheen on gold as opposed to other brands. It's not so noticeable on silver, but it is on gold.
You also can just briefly soak most jewelry in this solution -- except for pearls or porous stones (see below) -- then follow up with a soft brush or cloth and a good rinse in clear water.
Deep scratches and nicks can be buffed out by a professional jeweler, who will use a buffing wheel to smooth out the damage. Never buff silver-plated pieces, because it will take the plating down to the bare metal.
CARING FOR GEMSTONES AND PEARLS
Non-porous stones -- sapphires, rubies, diamonds, blue topaz, citrine, and peridot -- can be cleaned with pretty much any kind of cleaner; porous (softer) stones such as emeralds, opals, turquoise, lapis,. coral, and sugilite may be cleaned with an ionic cleaner or with a mild solution of Ivory Liquid and water, but no Windex or ammonia.
Opals also should be kept from drying out. Don't ever leave them in the sun. You might even try keeping them in water. At the annual Tucson Gem Show, high-end opals are sold in bottles of water.
For pearls, use an ionic cleaner or a mild solution of Ivory liquid and warm water. For really grimy and/or discolored pearls, try Efferdent. Pearls are very sensitive; after you put them on, you should never spray hairspray or perfume near them. And you should never apply perfume anywhere that your pearls can touch. The alcohol in perfume attacks the nacre (surface) of the pearls and discolors it. That's why you see a lot of discoloration in older pearls that haven't been properly taken care of.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR SILVER TARNISH-FREE
It's not very glamorous, but the best way to store your silver jewelry is in an airtight ziplock bag. Tarnish is caused by sulfides in the air; there's no air in a tightly sealed ziplock bag, therefore no tarnish. Store-bought anti-tarnish strips work by absorbing sulfides from the air, so you might want to add a small square of one to your ziplock bag. Used by themselves stored with silver in a non-airtight environment, they will prevent tarnish to some extent, but not forever.
The same goes for silver storage bags made of felt, which also work by absorbing sulfides from the air. Silver thus stored will still tarnish eventually, because those bags aren't airtight. Anti-tarnish strips and silver storage bags are available on eBay.
HOW TO STORE GOLD JEWELRY
Gold jewelry may be stored in a ziplock bag, a pouch made of silk or other soft cloth, or a box with layers of cotton on each side of it. Jewelry rolls are OK for traveling, when jewelry will only be stored in them for a short time, but you'll want to give your gold more protection on a daily basis. Use small cardboard boxes, drawer inserts, or an old-fashioned jewelry box to keep pieces separate and safe.Remember, the best way to care for your jewelry is to wear and love it. The more you wear it, the less likely it is to need polishing. Take good care of it as you would the rest of your wardrobe, so your jewelry will always look its best -- and help you to look your best as well. Enjoy!
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