Most people who wear jewelry regularly take good care of it, and as long as it’s stored properly, you won’t have to worry too much about keeping it clean.
Sometimes, however, you may buy a piece of antique or vintage jewelry that is dirty to the point where you must do something to make it a little less grimy or a little more shiny.
That’s fine, provided that you don’t go overboard with it. It’s quite possible to do harm to vintage jewelry if you’re trying to clean it and that little bit of effort to make it look better may result in making it look much worse.
Ultrasonic cleaning machines may seem, at first glance, to be a great way to clean. You can use water in them, without any harsh chemicals and they use sound waves to remove dirt through vibration.
The problem with ultrasonic machines is that with older jewelry, particularly those pieces with gemstones, the stones may work loose while being cleaned. Furthermore, some pieces of jewelry, particularly older pieces that have foil-backed gemstones, should never be immersed at all.
A good place to start is with a can of compressed air. You can buy this at office supply stores, and a quick blast of air can remove small amounts of dirt. After that, you should consider using a soft, lint-free cloth or a soft toothbrush. You can use the toothbrush with a solution of water and mild soap. Be gentle with the brush and use a sweeping motion. Do not scrub.
When you are done, you can wipe the jewelry with a soft cloth.
Many Websites recommend using ammonia to clean jewelry. This can work in some cases, but ammonia has unpleasant and sometimes dangerous vapors. In addition, it can discolor some metals. It’s best to use the least-harmful solution when cleaning older jewelry, rather than using harsh chemicals.
Of course, if your vintage jewelry consists of valuable pieces, your best bet is to trust the cleaning to a jeweler. They have years of experience cleaning fine pieces, better tools at their disposal and more appropriate cleaning solutions than those that you’re likely to have around your home.
You should also keep in mind that overcleaning vintage jewelry isn’t a good idea. A 100 year old necklace isn’t supposed to look like one that’s brand new; it’s supposed to look like a well-preserved piece of history. Too much of a good thing is, well, not a good thing.