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How to Clean Vintage Costume Jewelry

how to clean vintage costume jewelry

Why You Must Know How to Clean Vintage Costume Jewelry

By definition, vintage costume jewelry means old jewelry made with artificial or imitation gems and inexpensive materials. However, that does not automatically mean they are of lesser value. As a matter of fact, many vintage costume jewelry pieces are considered rare and come with extraordinary quality and craftsmanship that are worth a hefty price tag. 

For many people who own them, especially the collectors, they hold aesthetic and sentimental value. Many have become part of their family’s history and legacy. If you value your vintage jewelry and maintain its beauty and quality, it is important that you know how to clean vintage costume jewelry. 

How to Clean Vintage Costume Jewelry: Detailed Guide

No idea how? Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to clean vintage costume jewelry.

Dust them off

Before you even begin the cleaning process, make sure you dust off your jewelry using a soft brush. Be gentle when brushing your jewelries, as the tiniest of dirt can scratch the surface of your metal or stone. 

It would be wise to invest in a magnifying glass so you can clean your jewelry thoroughly, including the tiny crevices. 

cleaning solutions for vintage costume jewelry

Get the right cleaning products

First thing you need to learn about when it comes to taking care of your vintage jewelry is to know the type of cleaning products to use. Obviously, jewelries come in various designs, materials, and gemstones. You should know that different materials (different types of metals) and gemstones (precious or semi-precious) require different types of cleaning products and cleaning procedures

For example, gold darkens over time. A mixture of water and ammonia is used to bring back its original shade. The same thing can be used for platinum. Ammonia however, is quite strong and could potentially damage the metal when left for too long. Thus, experts always recommend using cleaning solutions dedicated to gold and platinum. Baking soda diluted into water is a good cleaning solution for silver. 

Dish washing soap is also a good alternative for cleaning jewelries. However, they are discouraged for pieces with gemstones as they can cause the stones to loosen on their settings or water could get trapped under the settings.

Precious gemstones like diamonds, rubies, and sapphires are commonly cleaned using diluted ammonia. For pearls, you can use a soft cloth with a few drops of olive oil to wipe their surfaces.

Others require different cleaning agents. Thus, it is worth knowing the applicable cleaning agents for various stones. If you are not sure what to do, call a local store or jeweler and ask for tips on what cleaning solutions to use. 

Cleaning the metals

Metals can easily accumulate and cause gunk (verdigris), when exposed to air, dirt, and dust. They are blue-green or green (mold) in color. If gunk is not properly cleaned off, they can spread throughout the metal and cause the jewelry to corrode. 

Also, gunk can spread to other jewelries, especially if contaminated pieces are kept in the same box or drawer with other jewelries. Here is a quick way to remove gunk:

  • Pour white vinegar on a container and soak the metal for 15 to 30 minutes
  • Wipe the jewelry dry
  • Remove the gunk using an old soft toothbrush or cotton swab. You can also use toothpick to gently scrape gunk in tight spaces

Cleaning semi-precious gemstones

Different semi-gemstones have different properties, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of them. Thus, it would be impossible to list them all in just one entry. There are, however, general tips on how to clean them.

When cleaning semi-precious gemstones, never immerse or soak them on anything. Subsequently, never use jewelry dips, ultrasonic cleaners, or steam clean the semi-precious stones. 

Here are some examples on how to clean popular semi-precious stones:

  • For coral, moonstone, turquoise, lapis lazuli, use slightly damp a soft and smooth cloth and use it to wipe the stones
  • For chalcedony, topaz, and onyx, you can wash them with soapy water and use a soft brush to brush them clean. Be gentle when brushing these stones, and rinse them quickly. 
  • For pearls, simply wipe them clean using a soft cloth. For cultured pearls, you can wash them using mild soapy water.

These are just general guidelines. To be safe, you can ask a jeweler how to clean vintage costume jewelry with different semi-precious stones. 

vintage costume jewelry cleaning tips

Cleaning rhinestones

There are two types of rhinestones commonly used for vintage jewelries, the open back and the foil back.

Cleaning open back rhinestones

  • Since this stone uses glass for both front and back, and not backed with silver or gold foil, they are pretty easy to clean. 
  • Pour lukewarm water on a small bowl and drop a couple of clear dishwashing liquid. Stir slowly to avoid bubbles. 
  • Soak the rhinestones into the soap mixture. Brush them thoroughly and slowly using a soft brush to clean.

Cleaning foil-back rhinestones

  • Foils are pretty fragile; a small scratch can lead to peeling and ruin the look of your stone. The color may also get cloudy, darken, or fade. Thus, be very careful when cleaning foil-back rhinestones. 
  • Also, never soak foil-back rhinestones on anything. Use a minimal amount of water and clean them quickly. 
  • Lightly moisten cotton swab, soft cloth, or old soft toothbrush using mild glass cleaner such as Windex. Brush the rhinestone slowly and carefully. 
  • Dislodge dirt on tight spaces using a plastic or wooden toothpick.
  •  Buff the rhinestone dry using a soft microfiber cloth. 
  • You can also use diluted baby shampoo as a cleaning solution. Make sure you do not get the rhinestones wet. 
  • The slightest of moisture can cause deterioration for both types of rhinestones. Thus, make sure you completely dry them using a soft cloth after cleaning. 

Cleaning enamels 

Enamels are dirt and debris magnets. They can quickly attract chemicals like oil-based lotions, dust, or anything that floats in the air. You may not easily notice the dirt with your naked eye, but they can definitely affect the shine of your enamel jewelry. Dirt and grimes can also cause damage to the structure of the jewelry. 

  • Put your enamel jewelry inside a nylon bag or old nylon stocking. Tie or zip it close.
  • Fill your sink with warm water and drop a few dishwashing liquid to make a soapy mixture.
  • Carefully place the nylon bag on the soapy water and move it around gently. Be careful not to hit the sink.
  • Soak the bag for 10 minutes.
  • Prepare a lint-free cloth on the side. Carefully remove each jewelry piece from the bag and place them on the cloth one by one. 
  • Use a soft toothbrush to remove dirt debris stuck in the jewelry. 
  • Drain the stink and then rinse your jewelry with running water one at a time. Use another dry soft cloth to dry the enamels.
  • You can use special polishing cloth to buff dry the enamels. 

Learning how to clean vintage costume jewelry properly can be daunting and time consuming since different materials require different cleaning solutions and procedures. But that’s part of the challenge in owning costume vintage jewelry, especially if you want to maintain their dainty beauty.