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How to Clean Tarnished Jewelry: Expert Tips and Techniques

When your favorite pieces lose their luster and become victims of time and wear, understanding how to breathe life back into them is crucial. Tarnished jewelry, once radiant and gleaming, can often leave owners disheartened. However, with the right knowledge and techniques, restoring that lost shine is not just possible but simple.

Dive into this comprehensive guide on how to clean tarnished jewelry and discover expert tips to rejuvenate and protect your cherished items.

Do Legitimate Jewelry Pieces Tarnish?

The question of tarnishing in jewelry often arises, especially when considering the legitimacy and quality of a piece. The truth is, even legitimate, high-quality jewelry can tarnish over time. Tarnishing is a natural process, resulting from the reaction of metals, primarily silver and copper alloys, with elements in the environment, like oxygen and sulfur. Pure gold, for instance, does not tarnish, but its alloys, especially lower karat gold, can show signs of discoloration due to the other metals they’re mixed with. Sterling silver, renowned for its lustrous appeal, is especially prone to tarnishing because of its copper content. While tarnishing doesn’t necessarily indicate a piece’s illegitimacy, the rate at which it tarnishes can provide clues about its composition and quality.

Why and How Different Jewelry Metals Tarnish

Tarnishing is a natural phenomenon that most jewelry enthusiasts encounter, often leading to the dimming of a once radiant piece. Understanding why and how different jewelry metals tarnish requires delving into the individual characteristics of various materials. Here we explore common jewelry materials and the science behind their susceptibility to tarnish:


Silver, particularly sterling silver, is infamous for its tendency to tarnish. The reason lies in its composition. When silver is exposed to air, particularly air with a slight concentration of sulfur, it undergoes a chemical reaction known as oxidation. The silver reacts with sulfur particles to form silver sulfide, which is black, resulting in a tarnished surface. This process is accelerated in areas with high humidity and air pollution. Regular cleaning and storing silver pieces in airtight containers can help slow this natural process.


Pure gold doesn’t tarnish, but that doesn’t mean all gold jewelry is safe from this effect. Most jewelry pieces are made from gold alloys, combining gold with metals like copper, silver, nickel, or zinc to enhance strength and durability. It’s these other metals that can react with atmospheric factors and cause tarnishing or color changes. For instance, the copper in rose gold can oxidize and cause a slight greenish layer on the gold’s surface. Gold-plated jewelry might also tarnish as the base metal is exposed to air and moisture through wear and the gold layer’s eventual thinning.


Copper is highly susceptible to tarnishing, reacting with oxygen in the air, and forming copper oxide, which manifests as a green or black layer on the surface, often known as patina. While some appreciate the aged look it imparts, it’s quite distant from the original luster of copper jewelry. Preventing tarnishing in copper is an active process, involving regular cleaning, polishing, and proper storage.


Platinum is among the least reactive metals, highly resistant to corrosion and tarnishing, maintaining its shine for a very long time. However, it can lose its luster over time, developing a natural patina that many actually find desirable. This patina can be easily polished back to a bright shine by a professional if preferred.

Related: Does Chlorine Damage Gold: The Truth About Wearing Gold in the Pool

Expert Tips on How to Clean Tarnished Jewelry

Over time, even the most treasured pieces of jewelry can lose their luster, getting tarnished due to exposure to air, moisture, or skin oils. However, with expert guidance, restoring their original sparkle isn’t an insurmountable task. Here are proven tips on how to clean tarnished jewelry, ensuring your cherished items receive the careful treatment they deserve.

Mild Soap and Water

A gentle solution of warm water and a few drops of mild dish soap can work wonders. Soak the jewelry for several minutes and then use a soft brush to clean the crevices. Rinse in cool water and dry with a soft, lint-free cloth.

Baking Soda and Water

For pieces with heavier tarnish, apply a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water. Use a soft cloth to rub the paste onto the jewelry, and then rinse off with warm water. This method is especially effective for silver.

White Vinegar and Baking Soda

Submerge the jewelry in a solution of 1/2 cup white vinegar and two tablespoons of baking soda. Let it soak for two to three hours, rinse under cold water, and dry thoroughly.

Lemon Juice and Olive Oil

In a container, mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Dip a soft cloth in the solution, wring it out, and gently polish the jewelry. The acidity of lemon is potent against tarnish, while olive oil provides a protective sheen.

Professional Jewelry Cleaning Solutions

If home remedies don’t suffice, consider a professional-grade jewelry cleaner, but ensure it’s suitable for your specific type of jewelry. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and use sparingly.

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How to Clean Jewelry at Home

Maintaining the brilliance of your precious pieces doesn’t always require a professional’s touch. With careful handling and the right ingredients, you can restore the luster of your jewelry right at home. Here’s how:

Cleaning Silver Jewelry

Silver, though beautiful, is prone to tarnishing. However, household items can make it shine like new. Create a paste with 2 tablespoons of baking soda and a few drops of water. Apply with a soft cloth or a sponge, gently working it into the grooves. Rinse under cool water, and buff dry with a clean cloth. 

For a more thorough clean, line a bowl with aluminum foil, shiny side up, mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda, a pinch of salt, and pour in hot water, along with a dash of dish soap. Place your silver pieces in the solution for 5-10 minutes, allowing the chemical reaction to lift the tarnish. Rinse and polish for a pristine shine.

Cleaning Tarnished Gold

Gold doesn’t tarnish like silver, but it can accumulate dirt and grime, making it lose its gleam. To restore its sparkle, add a few drops of mild dishwashing liquid to a bowl of sodium-free seltzer water or club soda as the carbonation helps loosen debris. Soak your gold jewelry in the solution for 15-20 minutes. Next, use a soft toothbrush to gently scrub the nooks and crannies, especially in intricate designs. Rinse under warm running water, and blot dry with a soft cloth. Remember, this method is not suitable for gold pieces containing gemstones, as the water may loosen the settings.

Reviving Gemstones

Gemstones can lose their sparkle from the oils, dirt, and dust that accumulate with wear. To clean them, create a solution of warm water and a few drops of dish soap. Soak your gemstone jewelry for a few minutes, then use a soft, clean toothbrush to gently scrub around the stone and setting. Rinse with warm water, and dry with a soft, lint-free cloth. Avoid this method for softer gemstones like pearls or opals, as the water and scrubbing could damage them. Instead, lightly wipe them with a damp, soft cloth.

Keeping Your Diamonds Shining

Diamonds are known for their durability, but they also require cleaning to keep them sparkling. Prepare a solution using warm water and mild dish soap or invest in a commercial jewelry cleaner with specifications for diamonds. Soak your diamond jewelry in the solution for about 20 minutes, then use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently scrub away remaining dirt, especially around the prongs or setting. Rinse the jewelry under warm water, and use a clean, soft cloth to dry.

Common Mistakes to Avoid 

Properly cleaning your jewelry preserves its beauty, prevents damage, and extends its lifespan. However, common mistakes made during the cleaning process can undermine these goals. Here are several errors you should avoid:

Using Harsh Chemicals

One of the most detrimental mistakes is using harsh or abrasive chemicals that can seriously damage your jewelry. Cleaning agents like bleach, chlorine, and acetone can dull the surface of your precious items. Even certain types of soap can leave behind a filmy residue. Instead, use specially designed jewelry cleaners or mild dish soap and warm water for safe, effective cleaning.

Not Considering the Gemstone

Different gemstones require different care. Cleaning your jewelry without considering the specific needs of each gemstone can lead to irreversible damage. For example, porous stones like pearls or turquoise can’t handle moisture well and should only be lightly wiped with a damp cloth, whereas diamonds or sapphires can tolerate more thorough washing.

Using Rough or Abrasive Materials

Utilizing rough cloth, toothbrushes with hard bristles, or scouring pads can scratch the metal and gemstones in your jewelry. Always use a soft, lint-free cloth or a brush with soft bristles to gently remove dirt and build-up.

Forgetting to Rinse and Dry

Skipping a proper rinse after cleaning can leave residue from the cleaner, which might dull the item’s shine. Similarly, failing to dry your jewelry can lead to moisture damage, especially in crevices where water can accumulate and lead to rust or tarnish on certain metals.

When to Seek the Assistance of a Professional

There comes a point when cleaning tarnished jewelry at home reaches its limits, and professional help is not just a convenience, but a necessity. When your jewelry suffers from severe tarnish, visible surface damage, or contains delicate gemstones, then it’s time to book an appointment with a professional to ensure the safe restoration of your piece’s original luster. Jewelry composed of precious metals and gemstones often requires specific cleaning methods and compounds to avoid inadvertent damage. 

Furthermore, antique or heirloom pieces with intricate designs deserve a skilled hand, given their complexity and sentimental value. A professional jeweler or a restoration expert possesses detailed knowledge and specialized equipment unavailable to the average person. They can also provide valuable advice and additional services, such as applying a protective coating to prevent future tarnish. Seeking professional assistance ultimately safeguards the integrity and beauty of your valuable pieces, extending their lifespan for years, or even generations, to come.

Cleaning Tarnished Jewelry FAQs

Does rubbing alcohol clean tarnished jewelry?

While it’s excellent for sanitizing your pieces or removing certain residues, it’s not typically effective in dealing with tarnish on silver or other precious metals. Tarnishing is a chemical reaction on the surface of the metal, often requiring specific cleaning solutions or polishes to remove. For mild cases, a soft cloth or a mild dishwashing liquid solution may suffice, but for heavier tarnish, specialized products or professional cleaning are recommended to restore the jewelry’s original luster without damaging it.

Is it bad to wear tarnished jewelry?

Wearing tarnished jewelry is not harmful in itself; however, it may sometimes cause skin irritation or discoloration, depending on one’s sensitivity and the metal’s composition. Tarnish is primarily an aesthetic issue, diminishing the visual appeal of the jewelry. Over time, if not addressed, tarnish can corrode the surface layer of the jewelry, potentially causing structural weaknesses or pitting. While it’s not necessarily “bad” to wear tarnished jewelry, cleaning it regularly ensures it maintains its beauty and is more pleasant to wear.

How do you keep fake jewelry from turning black?

Preventing fake or costume jewelry from tarnishing requires proactive care, as these pieces are usually made of less resistant metals or alloys. One effective strategy is to apply a thin layer of clear nail polish or a protective coating specifically designed for jewelry; this creates a barrier between the metal and the environmental factors that cause tarnishing. It’s also important to keep fake jewelry dry, avoiding contact with water, sweat, perfumes, or lotions. Storing your jewelry in a dry, cool place, preferably in separate airtight bags with anti-tarnish strips, can also help maintain its appearance.

Why does cheap jewelry tarnish?

Cheap jewelry often tarnishes because it’s made from base metals or metal alloys that react more readily with environmental factors. Metals like copper, nickel, brass, or silver-plated items are prone to tarnishing because they react with oxygen or sulfur in the air. The presence of moisture, body oils, or products like perfume accelerates this process. Additionally, the wear and tear of daily use can wear away any protective coating the jewelry had, making the underlying metal susceptible to tarnishing. Essentially, the lower resistance to corrosion of the materials used in cheap jewelry, combined with environmental exposure, contributes to its tendency to tarnish.

Revitalize Your Treasures at W. Villarica Jewelry

In conclusion, understanding how to clean tarnished jewelry is essential in maintaining the allure and longevity of your precious pieces. While various home remedies and expert techniques can effectively remove tarnish, nothing beats the keen eye and specialized services of a professional. If you’re unsure or hesitant about the proper care for your valued items, turn to the experts at Willyn Villarica Jewelry. Not only do they offer top-tier cleaning services, restoring your jewelry’s original sparkle, they are also a professional jewelry appraiser who can evaluate your pieces’ true worth.

Willyn Villarica is your trusted partner for jewelry appraisal services, catering to clients around the globe. Our expertise and commitment to excellence ensure accurate and reliable assessments of your precious gemstones. It’s important to note that while we offer our services worldwide, clients are responsible for covering all travel expenses. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have your diamonds expertly graded by Willyn Villarica. For inquiries or appointments, reach out to us via email at admin@willynvillaricajewelry.com, or engage with us on our official Facebook (Willyn Villarica Jewelry) and Instagram (@willynvillarica_jewelry) accounts. Furthermore, we are readily available for direct communication at +63279497547.

  • Willyn Villarica

    Willyn Villarica, a third-generation jeweler from the Philippines, brings a wealth of expertise to the world of gemology and jewelry appraisal. As a licensed Graduate Gemologist, accredited by the prestigious Gemological Institute of America, she is not only a master of her craft but also holds the distinction of being the first Filipino member of the National Associ...

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