Help your Bling Sing : How to Clean Costume Jewellery

Posted on 29 January 2016costume jewellery cleaning how to rhinestones simulated pearls vintage jewellery

Cleaning a piece of costume jewellery can take a little time (depending on the type of piece), but can be so worth it! Whether the piece is already in your personal collection or you are a seller looking to capitalise to the full potential of the piece, you will reap the rewards if you take the time, use the right tools (and I'm not talking about any real expense needed here), and use some care. Here are some of my tips for getting your jewellery back to its former glory.


Inspect the piece of jewellery first. Is it going to hold up to the cleaning process? Does it need a light polish or full wash? Are there any loose stones or unsecure fixings? If there is a risk that you could potentially damage the piece beyond repair by cleaning it, then don't do it. Sometimes the aged vintage look works! Or you could take it to a jeweller for a professional clean.

Simple Tools for the Job

There is nothing high-tech or bank-breaking about the tools I will recommend for you. Firstly I will address an old method that people have suggested on jewellery… toothpaste! NO, NO, NO!!! I have never done this, but I can only imagine how hard it would be to try to remove gunky toothpaste between prong set stones. My number 1 tool is a toothBRUSH. But not just any toothbrush, let me give you a fantastic hint that I discovered by accident. After researching how to clean jewellery and what I needed I went to my bathroom cupboard to find a toothbrush and struck gold! There in it's packet was a baby toothbrush that I had bought for my daughter and not yet used. Why is this so brilliant? The design. It is called a Jordan Baby Toothbrush (available in leading Australian supermarkets). This toothbrush fits so nicely in the hand that you have full control. The brushes are soft of course, so gentle you are not going to scratch your piece, but generally gives enough friction that you are able to remove the dirt. If you cannot get your hands on one of these, just a soft bristled toothbrush is fine.

Other things you will need are distilled/demineralised water (or at least purified, some people just use regular or boiled water), dish detergent (yes, plain old dish detergent, nothing special), 2 small containers, cotton buds, paper towel and a soft cotton cloth.

Put one drop of detergent into a container and add some water. I'm not going to get technical here on exact measurements, but I guess about 150-200ml will do the trick. Use the toothbrush to give it a good mix and make sure the detergent is fully dissolved (we'll call this "solution"). Put plain water in the other container. Lay out a sheet or two of paper towel on your table top, and have some single sheets handy for rinsing and drying.

Cleaning Plated or Gold/Silver-toned Metal (Chains and Settings)

Check the quality of the piece, ensure there is no flaking or plating loss that could be made worse by cleaning. If there is little dirt, the piece may simply need a wipe over. Dip some paper towel in the solution and gently wipe over the chain. Wipe over with plain water to wipe the solution away; use a third piece of towel to dry. Polish with the cotton cloth.

Some gold-plated chains can get a lot of black build up (Chanel pieces are notorious for this if not well cared for). Some people like this as it gives an aged look, but if you are looking to get the piece to shine once more, be prepared to put some time into it. Use the toothbrush in the solution and don't be afraid to build up a lather and really scrub as this black build up can be tough to remove. Use a piece of paper towel to wipe the solution away. Repeat the process if needed. If the dirt is really stubborn, you can soak the piece in some solution for a while and then give it another scrub (warmer water can help the process). A cotton tip can work well to get in between links . Once clean, rinse well with the plain water and dry well with a piece of paper towel. Leave to completely dry on the sheet of paper towel (if you want to ensure it dries quicker you could use a hairdryer on a low setting).

Cleaning Rhinestone Jewellery

This one can make people nervous; the last thing you want to do is lose a stone out of a piece, but if your really want your piece to shine then it can be worth the risk. It is said that using water on rhinestones can damage them; this could be the case for foil-backed stones and it is best to avoid using water to clean foil-backs or ensure that if water is required, it is as minimal as possible (read further below). Yet again, inspect your piece; you are particularly looking for loose stones or if foil-backed check for peeling as any cleaning could make this worse. I would also ensure your work space is clear and perhaps work over a large tray or something that could catch any stones that may come out (you don't want to be searching for them on the floor).

This is is perfect example of how cleaning a piece of jewellery can really pay off. This is a Kramer of New York Brooch; the photo on on the left (or above if on a mobile device) shows dirt and dust build up and I can assure you it actually looked worse in person. See how the pale pink stones look cloudy? Some people would write this piece off thinking the stones had started to deteriorate, when in fact it was just in need of a good clean! Now look at the photo below. I was so happy with the result; it was an outstanding piece.

Foil-backed Rhinestones

Before we get into the setting types we will address foil vs non-foil backs as this is important. You will see that the stones above are foil-backed with either a gold or silver backing. It is said that any kind of moisture can damage foil-backed rhinestones as it can create peeling and foil loss. It is always important to be gentle with foil-backed stones, both in cleaning and storing as even the smallest scratch to the foil can make a difference to the appearance of your piece. Darkening of stones, spotting, loss of colour, clouding can all occur when the backing is damaged. Because of this, I suggest you only use very gentle methods of cleaning with minimal water involved to ensure you are not getting any excess liquid seep under the stones. A cotton bud can be very handy in this case. If you need water or solution then dab the excess into paper towel until there is hardly any moisture.

Aurora Borealis Rhinestones

AB Rhinestones scratch very easily so it is not advisable to use anything abrasive at all. Only very soft cotton should be used ensuring there is no debris that could catch and scratch the surface. In the example above, apart from having AB rhinestones, the setting is also a very high-shine silver-plated finish that should scratch if using bristles, so I would only use a soft cloth here.

Prong Set Stones

You are less likely to dislodge prong set stones, as long as the prongs have not been damaged. Check to ensure that the metal prongs are holding the stone in at each point before attempting to clean. If there is a prong out of place, either attempt to set it right (if you can) or perhaps avoid that area when cleaning if you are worried about the stone coming out.

The cleaning process here depends on how dirty the piece is and again, if the stones have a foil-back (refer above). Old prong-set rhinestone jewellery can catch a lot of dirt if it has not been stored correctly. If you can get away with a light wipe over then great; but if a heavy duty clean is in order, don't be afraid! I mean it; you will see results. The problem with the dirt on stones is that over time it really attaches and can be a little stubborn to remove. Use a gentle circle motion with your toothbrush to break through that dirt. It may take a couple of times of rinsing and starting again to get the dirt completely removed. Dry the piece as best you can with paper towel/soft cloth and allow to air-dry thoroughly (sit upside down if needed) or use cool setting on a hair-dryer to ensure it dries quickly.

Tip : Sometimes you don't know if the stones in a setting are foil-backed or not, as the setting is closed in on the back and you cannot see them; it is best to air on the side of caution and treat them as foil-back, cleaning very carefully with minimal water. The photo below shows a pair of earrings that have a closed back so it is unknown if the clear stones have a foil backing. The centre stone is open without a backing, however you should not assume that the other stones would be the same. Examine carefully around the front of the piece, you may be able to see the edges of the stones and whether there is foil present.

Pave Set Stones

These are harder to check to ensure they are set securely; you are relying on the glue that is holding them in, which in some cases can be very old. In saying that, much easier to replace if they fall out! Also, as the setting is closed in on the back you are unsure if the stones are foil-backed (as with the Earrings example above). Wherever possible I tend to only give the pave set stones a gentle wipe over, as I feel the friction and movement of the brush is likely to dislodge a stone. I also tend to use more of a press/rub motion than a circle motion for the same reason. These pieces do not tend to get as dirty as the prong set as there are less crevasses for the dirt to get into.

Tip : if you lose a stone, DO NOT glue it back in with regular glue. I will be doing a Blog post in the future about what to do here, or you are welcome to contact me in the meantime.

Simulated Pearls

These things scare me :-) Just kidding, I love them but let's face it, it can be hard finding vintage and pre-owned pieces that have not been scratched or have peeling. The high-quality pieces seem to withstand everyday wear more so than the low grade, naturally. Still I hesitate to even put a soft cloth to them without being as gentle as I can be and ensuring there is nothing on the cloth that could potential mark them. Handle with care.

Polishing Costume Jewellery

Plated jewellery and costume jewellery can be damaged by using a polishing machine, so don't do it! A soft cloth is all you need and do not over do it as excessive rubbing will remove the plating or tone in the metal.

I hope these tips help. Please note that this is a general guide and all costume jewellery is different with varying qualities. Again, if you are unsure if it can hold up to a cleaning, don't do it, however, if you are not going to wear it because it is in a poor state, what have you got to lose? if you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to leave a comment.


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