Should You Clean Your Valuable Jewellery with Toothpaste?

Posted on 06 April 2016How to clean tarnish

When I say "valuable", I'm not just talking monetary value, sentimental value is just as important when it comes to jewellery. As is making informed decisions when it comes to that valuable jewellery; which is why I decided to write this article.

Not long ago I had a customer contact me on how to remove brown tarnish stains from her jewellery. Coincidentally I also needed a solution as I had received a pair of Chanel earrings with many brown spots. And so the research began.

In the past I have been reluctant to use anything stronger than a mild dish detergent or plain water to clean my jewellery; but when it comes to removing tarnish, this method just doesn’t cut it. Two common suggestions I found were WD-40 and Toothpaste. My initial plan was to try the WD-40, purely because the idea of using Toothpaste, which would have a mild abrasive in its ingredients, in my view had the potential to damage the finish of your jewellery. However, with no WD-40 in the garage I decided to try the Toothpaste.

Did it work? Yes! I was actually surprised at how well. However, there is something you should know. Firstly, it may not work on all pieces and secondly, it may affect the plating.

Given my hesitation to use "chemicals”, I thought I would first try a kids toothpaste as I figured it would be mild and not likely to have the same abrasives as the adult varieties. I used my baby toothbrush (as per my Help Your Bling Sing : How to Clean Your Costume Jewellery blog), you can just use your fingers to rub it into the piece if you prefer; I found the toothbrush much easier. I also used some water to lather it up a little; just use small gentle circular motions. The kids Toothpaste did nothing; no surprise. Next on to the Colgate Total Toothpaste… success.



Note: The photo's used for this article have minimal editing to ensure you can see the true colour results.

If you look at the before and after photos of the Coco Chanel Earrings, you will see that the spots are pretty much gone (it did take a couple of cleans to remove all the spots). Look closer and you will see that the gold-tone has changed through the cleaning process. Whilst it was quite a bright yellow tone prior to cleaning with the Toothpaste, it is now a softer tone. This didn’t bother me too much with this particular pair of earrings as I believe the new colour is so much nicer and more flattering for most skin tones; however, this could be an issue for some people cleaning their jewellery with this method. It is likely that it has removed a layer of plating or perhaps a protective coating?? I wonder if the tarnish reappears and they needed to be cleaned this way again and again, what would be the result. For cheap jewellery, this process could possibly remove a lot of colour and it might be advisable to test in a small, non-conspicuous spot first.

I wanted to test this further. I have a number of Whiting & Davis Co hinged Bracelets that seem to be prone to tarnish on the inside bands. I tested 3 of them with these results :
1. Silver-plated metal - brown tarnish spots completely disappeared and it came up sparkling clean; very happy.
2. Silver-plated metal - tarnish was worse on this piece, had a rough finish from where the tarnish had obviously started to cause pitting into the metal. Toothpaste method of cleaning did not do anything in this case, the piece was obviously too far gone.
3. Gold-plated metal – brown tarnish spots (same condition as No. 1 just different colour), Toothpaste did not work. Stains remained. Disappointed.

So clearly this method of cleaning will depend on the type and finish of the metal and the type of tarnish, ie. is it just a "stain” or has it started to eat away at the metal?

In conclusion, I do recommend this method of removing tarnish. I believe it is worth a try, particularly if the piece is in a condition, like the Chanel Earrings pictured, that you would not wear them unless the tarnish was removed; I say you have nothing to lose in this case. However, if you are worried that it will change the colour of the piece or cause the plating/colour to be removed, or damage a "valuable” piece either test first or avoid.

As for the WD-40, I still haven’t tried this, but possibly will one day. If you have tried this method I would be very interested to hear the results; please comment below. Thanks.

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