Gemstone Care Guide
Consult this gemstone care guide to learn the best cleaning methods for many popular gems. Most will respond well to warm water, mild detergent, and a soft brush at home. However, some gems do have sensitivities you should be aware of, particularly if you decide to have them cleaned mechanically, whether at home or professionally.
At-Home Jewelry Cleaning
Once you’ve identified your gemstones, consult the table below for instructions. If cleaning with mild detergent at home, here are some recommendations:
- Most commercial jewelry cleaners are safe, but beware of those containing ammonia or other harsh chemicals.
- As a first step, if appropriate, let your jewelry soak for a few moments in a solution of warm water and mild soap.
- Use a soft brush (not a toothbrush) to gently scrub your jewelry.
- A shaved matchstick or toothpick is quite good at picking out accumulations, but don’t be harsh. Patience pays off.
- When you finish scrubbing, dip the jewelry piece back into the solution for one last wetting. Then rinse in warm running water, preferably about the same temperature as your solution. Radical temperature changes are dangerous and should be avoided.
- Shake or blow on the jewelry piece to remove excess liquid, then gently polish with a soft lint-free cloth or chamois.
- Here’s a jeweler’s trick to avoid any liquid stains on a gem or precious metal setting. Dispense with the cloth and immerse the jewelry piece in a bed of dry maple wood chips. Once dry, the chips can be blown away, and the piece is free of water spots. The wood chip technique works best for large gems.
Caring For Your Gemstone Jewelry Before You Clean
Cleaning your gemstones after they get dirty is only part of proper care. Pre-use care is also important. Apply your perfumes, colognes, and hairsprays before you put on gemstone jewelry. Not only will these chemicals reduce gem brilliance, they can be highly destructive to some gems, such as pearls, which react violently to acid and alcohol.
If possible, wear your perfumes and colognes in areas that won’t come in contact with your gems. In the case of pearls, try to keep them out of contact with skin whether you’re wearing perfume or not. Perspiration is inimical to pearls. If it’s impossible to keep your pearls away from your skin (if they’re on chokers or bracelets, for example), wipe them clean with a damp cloth immediately after wearing them.
Gemstone Cleaning Techniques
|Amber||Damp cloth & dry. Warm water-detergent is also effective.||Amber is an organic gem, sort of a fossilized and hardened form of resin from ancient pine trees.|
|Amethyst||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Most amethyst is heat-treated to bring out best color, but it can crack as well as fade if exposed to high temperatures.|
|Aquamarine||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||This blue beryl is also heat-treated to bring out its blue color. Heat can still cause color fading.|
|Carnelian||Moist cloth. Rub with dry cloth briskly.||It’s a tough variety of the quartz group. Wax won’t adhere to it, so it was famous as a seal material.|
|Citrine||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||A heat-treated quartz, it will fade when exposed to heat.|
|Coral||Damp cloth & dry.||Another organic gem which comes from the exudations of tiny marine animals. Extremely sensitive to flame, heat.|
|Diamond||Ammonia based cleaner. Warm water-(grease cutting) detergent-soft brush. Mechanical cleaning systems.||Diamonds can take heat well, but mechanical systems could pose danger if stone is not examined well beforehand. Removing any grease the key to diamond brilliance.|
|Emerald||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Most emeralds are routinely bathed warm oil after fashioning to improve color… and sometimes a dye is added. Mechanical systems could boil out the oil. Inclusions in emerald often weaken the stone, and mechanical systems have potential to cause breakage.|
|Garnet||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Relatively hard and tough, garnets are heat sensitive.|
|Helidor||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||These yellow beryl gems tend to be flawless, reasonably hardy and tough. Temperature extremes should be avoided, though.|
|Ivory||Wipe clean with damp cloth & dry. Also, warm water-detergent-soft brush.||Another organic gem consisting of calcium phosphate. It’s sometimes dyed so harsh chemical cleaning could impair its appearance.|
|Jade||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Both jadeite and nephrite are tough with little to worry about. Takes a high lustrous polish which takes professional equipment if surface needs re-polishing.|
|Kunzite||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Has distinct cleavage plane which opens with little impact. Sunlight causes its lavender color to fade; this is definitely a “night stone.”|
|Lapis||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Material is porous, varies greatly, is often dyed to improve color.|
|Malachite||Cool water-detergent-soft brush.||Polishes bright but wear can cause finish to dull; rub briskly with wood to help restore finish. Sensitive to acid, ammonia, heat and hot water.|
|Opal||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Very sensitive to pressure and thermal shock (hot or cold) which causes crazing (surface cracking). Soft and fragile.|
|Pearl||Wipe with damp, soft cloth. Stains should be removed with mild soapy solution on rag – don’t dip it into liquid. Dry thoroughly. Blow out drill holes carefully; moisture there often causes discoloration.||Special care is required to keep pearls looking their best. (See more complete discussion later in this chapter.)|
|Peridot||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||One of the softer gem materials, it is attacked by acids (it etches) and heat may cause damage. Uses carefully because peridot is soft and surface scratches diminish finish.|
|Ruby||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||More and more rubies are being oiled and mechanical cleaning could remove this oil. High heat, though, could cause damage because of inclusions and other imbedded crystal materials.|
|Sapphire||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||It’s the same material (corundum) as ruby so same treatment applies: oil may be added for color, and inclusions may weaken normally tough structure.|
|Spinel||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Hard and durable, spinels tend to be flawless in gem grades. Should give little trouble, and hold its beauty.|
|Tanzanite||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Blue color is created by heat treatment, but tanzanite is fragile, relatively soft, and sensitive to heat, vibrations.|
|Turquoise||Wipe with damp cloth; wipe dry immediately.||Turquoise is a porous material so avoid soap, detergents, cleaning solutions. They tend to penetrate the material’s pores, turning turquoise green and/or unattractive off-color blue.|
|Topaz||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Easy cleavage makes mechanical cleaning relatively dangerous, both for vibrations or heating. Stone may have undue pressure points caused by setting prongs.|
|Tourmaline||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Reasonable hard gem but tends to be brittle. Pink variety often flawed, could be structurally weak and thus vulnerable to vibration damage. Moderately sensitive to heat. Bi-colored crystal sometimes split at color junctures.|
|Zircon||Warm water-detergent-soft brush||Prone to impurities, it can be affected by heat extremes, although fine blue and white zircon is heat treated.|