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How to Clean Sterling Silver Jewelry with Gemstones

Sterling silver jewelry will last for decades if maintained properly, so a little regular cleaning goes a long way. There are some special considerations for cleaning your sterling silver jewelry with gemstones, as some of the common methods for cleaning sterling silver can damage delicate gemstones. 

Read on to learn about safe, effective, and easy solutions for cleaning your sterling silver jewelry with gemstones. 

Tools & Materials to Use for Cleaning Sterling Silver Jewelry with Gemstones

When cleaning your sterling silver necklaces, rings, earrings, and bracelets with gemstones, you’ll need a small set of tools and materials to make your cleaning effective. Better yet, some of the best ways to clean your sterling silver jewelry involve ingredients that you might already have around the house. Here are some of our favorite items to keep handy for cleaning jewelry:

  • Gentle dish soap
  • Lint-free microfiber cloths
  • A soft-bristled toothbrush
  • A polishing cloth
  • Steam (from a steam cleaner or boiling water—just don’t put the jewelry in the water!)
  • Silver jewelry cleaning solution

These tools will help you clean your sterling silver rings with diamonds, turquoise, sapphires, and other gemstones.

Factors That Will Change How You Clean Your Gemstones

Different pieces of sterling silver jewelry with stones may require unique cleaning methods, either due to the way the piece is made or the type of stone involved. Some of the factors affecting cleaning method include, but may not be limited to:

Setting

You may need to alter your cleaning method if your jewelry is set in prongs or involves any sort of glue.

Age of Piece

If this is an heirloom piece passed through the generations, it may need to be cleaned more gently or brought to a jeweler for proper care.

Hardness

Stones are ranked on the Mohs Hardness Scale, which tells you how hard it is. However, hardness only refers to scratch resistance, not how “tough” the piece is overall. Even the hardest jewel—diamond—can be damaged during cleaning.

Inclusions

When something is trapped inside your stone, such as crystals or air bubbles, this can affect how cleaning should be done. This primarily applies to professional cleaning methods, so seeking professional advice might be the best route to take.

Damage or Risks for Damage

If your gemstone is damaged in any way or has a high risk of becoming damaged, cleaning needs to be done carefully.

  • Cleaves: Cleaves, also called cleavage, occur in nearly all types of gems and involve weaker atomic bonds. Cleavage doesn’t mean your jewel is already broken; it’s just at higher risk for breaking along the cleaves. You can often see gemstone cleavage, as it resembles lines going in the same direction within the stone. 
  • Fractures: Fractures are breaks along cleaves. They may be visible, or you may only notice them if you run your finger over the stone. Some stones are naturally fractured, such as emeralds, so keep this in mind when cleaning. If the fracture seems new, many stones can have these fractures filled professionally. You may want to consider getting the gem filled before cleaning to avoid further breakage.
  • Loose Stones: If your stone seems to be coming loose from the setting, it could be knocked out entirely during cleaning if you’re not careful. We recommend getting it re-set before cleaning. 
  • Glue, Paint, and More: It’s so easy to forget to take off your jewelry while doing house repairs or crafts, so gems could end up with glue, paint, or other stains on them. While turpentine or nail polish remover could be recommended for removal from other things, these are likely not safe for your gems.

How to Clean Your Sterling Silver Jewelry with Gemstones

Cleaning most gemstones is different from cleaning your sterling silver jewelry. Many stones are more prone to damage than metal.

Following a process when cleaning your jewelry will help you keep your gemstones as beautiful as the day you bought them.

Step 1. Prep Your Cleaning Space

The first thing you should do when cleaning your jewelry is to choose how you want to set up your space. 

While the way you clean the gems will vary, most involve water. We recommend using a bowl with warm water to avoid the risk of jewelry falling down the drain, but if you want to use your sink, be sure the plug is secure. 

Next, gather your tools, including a cleaning solution (such as the ones described above), a clean, lint-free cloth, a polishing cloth, and a gentle cleaning tool such as a soft-bristled toothbrush or makeup brush. These will be used on the sterling silver parts for sure; use varies by type of stone.

If you’re cleaning a piece of jewelry from which the gem can be removed, such as a sterling silver necklace with a pendant, it may be wise to do so if the stone requires a different type of cleaning than the sterling silver. Be sure to put it in a very safe spot before and after cleaning so it won’t get lost.

Step 2. Choose Your Preferred Cleaning Solution

Whether you’re using a solution you made at home or a commercial silver jewelry cleaning solution, make sure you have enough if you’re attempting to clean several pieces at a time. Remember, not all solutions are safe for all gems.

Step 3. Use the Proper Techniques for Cleaning Gemstones

It’s incredibly important to know how each individual gemstone should be cleaned. Some can scratch very easily, so make sure to use a gentle tool, such as a soft-bristled toothbrush or makeup brush. You can also use a lint-free cloth or a polishing cloth made specifically for jewelry. 

Organic gemstones also have tiny holes in the stone, which makes them extra sensitive to contact with chemicals or abrasion. When scrubbing your gemstones, avoid prolonged exposure to water, soap, chemicals, or sudden changes in water temperature.

Step 4. Rinse & Thoroughly Dry

If you’ve used a cleaning solution, make sure to rinse your piece thoroughly to make sure there are no remains of soap or residue. Once you no longer feel any cleaning solution, dry your jewelry completely. Excess moisture is one of the most common causes of sterling silver tarnishing, which can cause your finger to turn green and can damage some stones. For these reasons, we do not recommend storing your jewelry when it’s damp.

Gemstones A – Z: How to Clean Different Types of Gemstones

As mentioned before, it’s incredibly important to know how each individual gemstone should be cleaned. To ensure your jewelry stays as shiny as it was the day you bought it, we’ve outlined how to safely clean the gemstones we offer.

Agate

Agate, regardless of color, is easily broken or damaged. Cleaning should be done very carefully and as infrequently as possible. Ideally, use a dry cloth to gently rub each stone to increase its shine and remove dirt. If you need to do a deeper clean, use watered-down, mild, fragrance-free soap. Never use harsh chemicals or scrub hard.

Amazonite

Amazonite is a softer gemstone, so it’s not well-suited for daily wear or intensive cleaning. When possible, simply use a soft, dry cloth to wipe your amazonite off. If the jewelry needs a more thorough cleaning, briefly soak in mild soapy water, then gently wipe and dry with a cloth. A soft brush is okay, but be careful if you opt for this method.

Cubic Zirconia

Cubic zirconia is a lab-made stone resembling a diamond. It’s on the higher end of the Mohs scale and is fairly scratch-resistant, so it can generally handle daily wear and tougher cleaning methods (though no harsh chemicals).

Unlike many other gems, this one can handle being cleaned fairly regularly. Watered-down, mild dish soap with a toothbrush is a great way to go. If the piece is really dirty, you could even soak it in hot water and dish detergent before gently scrubbing. Steam cleaning is also safe for this stone.

Diamond

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but they fail to mention this could be because they’re easy to care for. In fact, sterling silver is more at risk of damage from cleaning than the stone is.

Soap and water with a toothbrush is probably the easiest way to clean your diamond. However, this one can also stand up to many other things, even being soaked in clear, hard alcohols like vodka. As with all jewelry, make sure you don’t use harsh chemicals like bleach and rinse and dry your jewelry thoroughly.

Emerald

Emerald ranks higher on the Mohs scale, and with good care can last a lifetime. However, emerald is vulnerable to heat, so we recommend avoiding steam cleaning or exposing this stone to high temperatures. This can create or exacerbate fractures, especially if the fractures were filled when the jewelry was made.

Emeralds should be cleaned gently using nothing harsher than warm, soapy water with a cloth or soft toothbrush. Avoid ultrasonic cleaning, which can remove oils that some emerald stones are treated with.

Garnet

Using mild soap and water with a soft cloth is the best way to clean garnet jewelry. Don’t use steam on this stone or clean it more often than needed. There are jewelry cleaners made specifically for cleaning garnet, but be sure to follow the instructions on the label for best results.

Hematite

Hematite jewelry faces a unique issue: Its surface can end up with stains that look similar to rust, thanks to everything from cosmetics to the oils in your skin. This means cleaning it fairly regularly is a good idea—especially if you wear it while applying cosmetics.

This type of jewelry should be cleaned with warm, soapy water and a cloth. Before applying the cloth, be sure to wring out extra moisture, as you don’t want to get hematite too wet. Once you’ve finished gently wiping the stones, use another damp (not wet) cloth to remove excess soap.

Howlite

Howlite is soft and porous, and is sometimes dyed. Howlite is naturally white and gray, resembling marble. If it’s a different color it is likely dyed, which means it requires particularly delicate care. 

While we’ve previously recommended using a soft cloth, it’s important to mention that even paper towels or washcloths shouldn’t be used for howlite. Even something as seemingly soft as a washcloth can result in scratches. Instead, select a towel made specifically for jewelry cleaning, as these are soft and lint-free.

Howlite is porous, so you’ll want to use as little liquid as possible when cleaning your jewelry. Mild soap and water are okay, but you’ll want to avoid jewelry cleaner or anything potentially abrasive. Make sure you wash all the soap off, pat the howlite dry, then leave the piece out to fully ensure it’s dry before putting it away.

Labradorite

Softer than quartz, labradorite can actually be scratched by dust! However, it’s surprisingly durable in other ways, meaning it may scratch easily, but it’s hard to break. You’ll want to avoid using steam to clean labradorite, opting for warm, soapy water instead.

Lapis

Also known as lapis lazuli, lapis is not one single type of mineral. Instead, it’s made up of several different types of minerals, including some highly porous ones—meaning your lapis could soak up liquids. Lapis is also highly sensitive to heat and direct sunlight, so you’ll want to store this stone in a cool, dark place when not wearing it to avoid damage. You should also avoid wearing lapis while showering or cooking near steam.
When cleaning your lapis sterling silver jewelry, you can soak it very briefly, then use a very soft toothbrush to clean it. When you’re done, rinse it thoroughly, gently dry it by hand, then let it air dry before storing.

Mother of Pearl and Shell

Mother of pearl is made from the nacre of shells of oysters, mollusks, and abalone, which are pearl producers. Hence, the name “mother of pearl.” Other types of shell jewelry can follow the same cleaning process as mother of pearl.

The best way to clean mother of pearl and shell jewelry is with a dry polishing cloth from time to time. However, if dirt and grime need to be cleaned, you can use warm, soapy water and a soft brush. Make sure the soap is washed away entirely before letting the jewelry dry.

Shell jewelry should be kept out of very dry areas, as the stones can crack if they dry out. You should also take the pieces off when bathing or applying cosmetics, since chemicals can damage them and make them harder to safely clean.

Opal and Fire Opal

Opals come in three varieties: Solid, doublet, and triplet. Each variety requires a slightly different cleaning method. If you’re not sure which variety yours is, feel free to ask us if you’re purchasing from Silpada.

Water will unquestionably damage doublet and triplet opals. But interestingly, solid opals can not only handle water, they actually need it to keep their shine. Opals can actually crack if they become too dry, though removing them while bathing or washing your hands is still a good idea. Solid opals can be cleaned in water with mild soap and a toothbrush or cloth.

On the other hand, doublets and triplets can be damaged by water because they’re made of layers glued together. You don’t need to keep them completely dry all the time, but if they get wet, you should dry them soon to avoid lengthy exposure. Water can cause the glue to loosen, which can make the opals look foggy.

Because of this, doublets and triplets shouldn’t be immersed or rinsed for too long, and the soap and water mixture should be applied using a damp (not soaked) cloth. Be sure to thoroughly dry your jewelry afterward.

Pearl

Pearls are incredibly delicate. You should wipe them with a soft cloth after each wearing so your skin’s oils won’t damage them.

If you start to notice your pearls are truly dirty, you can use lukewarm water and gentle, diluted soap. Never put your pearls directly in the mixture, but instead dip a cloth in the water and wipe your pearls by hand. Make sure the soap is fully removed, and always ensure the pearls are dry before storing.

Quartz, Amethyst, Citrine, and Tiger Eye

Quartz comes in many subtypes, including amethyst, citrine, and tiger eye.

You can soak all types of quartz jewelry in warm, soapy water, then use a soft cloth or toothbrush to remove grime. Even though quartz gemstones tend to be pretty tough, you shouldn’t scrub too hard. Be sure to let the pieces dry completely before putting them away.

Ruby

Ruby is up there with moissanite and diamonds in terms of toughness (though no gemstone is as tough as diamonds), but they can still break or chip if hit. You should avoid wearing rubies while doing intensive housework, playing sports, or anything else where you could accidentally knock your piece. These breaks can not only be disheartening, but make your piece harder to clean.

You can use warm, soapy water and a soft toothbrush to clean your sterling silver ruby jewelry. Of course, be sure to rinse thoroughly and let the piece dry when you’re done.

Sapphire

Like many gems, sapphire is best cleaned with abrasive-free soap and warm water with a cloth or toothbrush. Sapphires can be soaked, though this should be reserved for times when they’re visibly dirty. Ultrasonic vibrations are often safe as well. 

This is another rare type of gemstone where you can use very diluted ammonia to clean them, at a ratio of about six parts water to one part ammonia. Wear gloves if you use this method.

Whether using soap or ammonia, rinse and dry thoroughly when you’re done. Unlike many other stones, a blow dryer can be used on sapphires.

Tanzanite

Tanzanite is delicate, and having it professionally cleaned by a jeweler who understands tanzanite’s unique needs is usually recommended. A pro can often even polish away small scratches. However, if you want to do it yourself, you can soak it for no more than 30 minutes in warm, soapy water. Then, rinse and use a soft cloth to dry it.

There are some tanzanite-safe jewelry cleaners on the market, but be sure to thoroughly research ahead of time and follow directions fully.

Topaz

Topaz doesn’t scratch easily, but can break or split if hit or subjected to sudden temperature changes. For this reason, you should avoid steam cleaning or ultrasonic cleaning machines. To avoid potential damage from harsh chemicals found in some household jewelry cleaners, topaz is best cleaned with soapy water and a soft cloth.

Turquoise

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about how to clean turquoise jewelry. Some swear by baking soda mixtures, while others believe the mildest soaps can damage sterling silver turquoise jewelry. You can find cleaners made specifically for turquoise jewelry, though we recommend reading the reviews before trying them yourself.

To be safe, we recommend rinsing your turquoise with water and gently wiping the piece with a soft cloth. Allow the jewelry to dry completely before storing.

How Often Should I Clean My Sterling Silver Jewelry with Gemstones?

We recommend cleaning your sterling silver jewelry and gemstones every day with a polishing cloth before you put them away in your jewelry box at night. Doing a deeper clean every 1-2 months or when you start to notice dirt or tarnish can help your gemstones maintain their shine for years to come. 

In addition to using a polishing cloth on your jewelry every day, it’s a good idea to examine any delicate designs in case they are in need of professional repair. For example, you can check the prongs on your rings to make sure they aren’t coming loose and check the setting for any dirt or tarnish stuck in the crevices.

Find Beautiful Gemstone Sterling Silver Jewelry at Silpada

It’s no secret that we love sterling silver jewelry here at Silpada, and we especially love sterling silver jewelry with beautiful gemstones like diamond, ruby, sapphire, and more. No matter your style, sterling silver looks great with every outfit and, with proper care, can last for generations. We can’t wait to help you find the perfect sterling silver piece for yourself or a loved one. Shop our entire collection at Silpada today!

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