I am often asked by customers what the best way is to clean jewelry. Here at Pico Design, we know that most metals, whether sterling silver, brass, or gold vermeil can easily be restored to their original finish. This guide gives you insider tips and techniques we use at Pico to keep our jewelry looking new. We also provide our thoughts on how to prevent tarnish caused by inevitable exposure to the elements! Happy Cleaning!
HOW TO CLEAN: STERLING SILVER
Sterling silver tarnishes when exposed to both oxygen and sulfer containing materials, the most common of which is hydrogen sulfide. Wool, felt, rubber and latex are all sulfur emitting and can cause tarnish. Oxygen and hydrogen sulfide react and form a surface layer on the silver. Tarnish is not corrosive, like rust, but protective. Nonetheless, we don’t want it on our jewelry, so here’s what we do at Pico:
Prevention, prevention, prevention
When at all possible, store your sterling silver jewelry in an airtight container. That can be a ziploc bag, a jewelry box, a tupperware or anything that has a tight seal. Wood is a good material for jewelry boxes, but try not to get one lined in wool or felt.
Do not keep this container in your bathroom. Humidity in the air will facilitate the reaction that causes the tarnish. Keep it in a non-damp environment. Your bedroom or a closet is fine.
Try to keep larger, statement pieces stored separately to avoid scratching caused by rubbing together of metals.
When traveling, carry your jewelry in a jewelry roll or the ziploc bags. Keep these protected and if you’re at a hotel, try not to leave it out on the vanity in the bathroom.
You can go a step further and put an anti-tarnish strip in your bag or jewelry box for added protection. We use 3M Anti Tarnish Tabs, which can be found online.
Chemical and household cleaning methods
Chemical: Because we tend to clean multiple pieces of jewelry at a time, we use a chemical dip to remove tarnish. Goddards Silver Dip is readily available at hardware stores. Dip your tarnished silver jewelry in the container until you see the tarnish come off, then rinse under cool water and use a soft bristled toothbrush to get in any hard to reach areas. We also use a mild dish detergent after this step, applied with the soft bristled toothbrush. Rinse again with cool water, pat dry with a soft cloth and lay out to dry. Once the piece is fully dry, return to storage with your anti-tarnish strip.
NOTE: Putting a wet piece of silver jewelry in an airtight bag is NOT good. Trust us, we’ve done it. You will have to start the process all over again. Make sure the piece is fully dry before returning to storage!
Household: Another option is to use household materials to clean the silver. Get a pyrex baking dish and line with aluminum foil. Place your silver jewelry on the foil so that it sits flat and as many parts as possible touch the foil. Sprinkle with baking soda. (Don’t go crazy on the baking soda! Just a dusting) Boil enough water to cover the pieces and pour over the jewelry. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Rinse under warm water and lay out on a soft towel to dry.
Both of these methods should preserve the finish on your silver, whether the finish is shiny or matte, whereas using a silver polishing cloth on matte jewelry will eventually bring the finish towards shiny.
Once your piece is cleaned, it should look like it did when you first got it. Maintaining your silver jewelry will keep it wearable for a long time.
HOW TO CLEAN: GOLD VERMEIL
At Pico, we are often asked by customers about the materials we use in some of our mixed metal pieces, like our popular Box Earrings. Our Little Architecture line is primarily known for its sculptural and architectural manipulation of metal, so sterling silver has been the foundation of the collection (using gold would not allow our moderate price points!). We also use gold vermeil, as well as some brass. We find that customers are the most unfamiliar with gold vermeil. What is it? How do you care for it and clean it?
Gold vermeil (pronounced Ver-May) is an overlay of gold on sterling silver. In order to be considered gold vermeil, the coating of gold must be at least 10 carat and 2.5 micrometers thick. Vermeil differs from gold plating in that the base metal in vermeil is sterling silver. Gold plating is generally used on top of base metals like brass.
As with sterling, preventive care is important for maintaining your gold vermeil jewelry. Vermeil jewelry will tarnish like sterling silver because-well, it is sterling silver-and exposure to air is the primary culprit in tarnishing. Store the jewelry in an airtight container – either a jewelry box or a zip bag. You can also use 3M anti-tarnish strips in your jewelry box or bag.
Some important notes for cleaning vermeil jewelry:
Use a soft bristled toothbrush and gentle dish soap to clean the vermeil jewelry under warm running water. Make sure you rinse well and wipe with a soft non-abrasive cloth to dry. Water residue can cause staining. Make sure the piece is fully dry before returning to storage.
Many websites recommend a baking soda and water (mix in equal parts and cake on the vermeil, leaving for about 10 minutes before rinsing clean) cleaning method, but we have found this doesn’t work very well. It won’t hurt the vermeil, but the dish soap and water method works better for us.
Buff or clean the vermeil with a soft, dry cotton cloth. DO NOT use a silver polishing cloth on the vermeil. It will strip the finish off quickly, leaving you with just the sterling silver underneath.
HOW TO CLEAN: 14/20 GOLD FILLED
Gold filled jewelry has a layer of gold bonded to an interior core of brass. Since no brass is exposed, and gold does not tarnish, your gold filled jewelry will not tarnish. If it becomes dirty from the oils of your skin, you can use a soft bristled toothbrush and mild dish soap to clear away the grime. You can also use a soft, cotton cloth to gently rub away dirt and oils.
HOW TO CLEAN: BRASS
At Pico Design, we create pieces that are minimal and sculptural, with a focus on form and the manipulation of metal. We don’t use alot of stones or beads or color. Because we rely on the metal to tell the story of the piece, it is critical that the finishes stay intact and looking good as new. Brass, in particular, is quite hard to keep looking great, as it tarnishes very quickly and easily. Here are some steps for keeping brass jewelry clean and tarnish free.
Tarnish is caused by oxidation, or oxygen in the air reacting with the metal and creating a surface layer that makes the jewelry look dirty. Many traditional brass housewares and even some brass jewelry are coated with lacquer to prevent the buildup of tarnish. When we started using brass in our jewelry line, we used a water based laquer to protect our pieces. But we found that consistent use of the jewelry and exposure to oils in the skin often rubbed the laquer off selectively in places, creating a mottled appearance. Instead, we make our pieces in their natural state, and focus on prevention and cleaning.
As with silver jewelry, prevention is key! We recommend storing your jewelry in a ziploc bag or other airtight container, such as a jewelry box.
Provided you want to return the brass to its original finish, place the item in warm soapy water and use a soft cloth to remove any dirt and grease. A soft bristled toothbrush can be used with a mild dish detergent for this step.
Lemon juice can be used to remove tarnish. Squeeze some juice from a lemon in a small bowl and submerge your piece in the juice for a minute or so. Then rinse with warm water as above.
We have also used ketchup to remove tarnish from brass. Yes, ketchup! A dab of ketchup on a soft cloth can be rubbed gently on the tarnished area, then wiped off with a clean dry cloth. Follow by rinsing with warm soapy water, again as above.
Good luck in maintaining your brass jewelry!