Money-Saving Ways to Clean Jewelry


silver rings - money-saving ways to clean jewelry
“Silver Rings” by Mauro Cateb. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Back in the 1960s, I had a friend who made over $200,000 a year from his lumber mill. Once, he chuckled and told me, “No matter how much money you make, you can’t afford everything you want.”

It’s true. Everyone has a budget. No matter how large or small it may be, everyone wants to make their money go as far as possible.

Below, you’ll find two of my favorite money-saving ways to clean jewelry: one for gemstone jewelry and another for silver.

Jewelry Cleaning Solution

Although ultrasonic cleaning is the fastest way to clean jewelry, it will, unfortunately, break some gemstones. While the cleaning itself goes very quickly, a thorough inspection of gemstone jewelry before using an ultrasonic system takes time. (Gems with microscopic fractures, and some entire species of gems, should never receive ultrasonic cleaning). As a result, some busy jewelry stores skip the inspections and just accept that they’ll replace some gems. Both choices prove costly.

However, you can take advantage of one of the ultrasonic system’s tricks without subjecting your gems to potentially damaging vibrations. It’s not just sonic waves that shake the grime loose, it’s also the cleaning solution. Although these systems may come packaged with expensive “secret formulas,” they’re nothing more than common, sudsy ammonia solutions. You can find sudsy ammonia solutions sold as common household products. In the United States, these include Formula 409 and Fantastic.

These products work as well as the “secret formulas.” To clean your jewelry, simply soak it in the solution overnight. In the morning, remove any remaining grime with a small, soft brush and rinse the jewelry with warm water.

Please note: Don’t clean opals, pearls, amber, or porous gems like turquoise with ammonia solution. For information on cleaning opals and pearls, consult this article. For more general guidelines, consult our gemstone jewelry cleaning guide.

“Miracle Silver Polish”

Line the bottom of a deep, non-metallic, container with aluminum foil. Fill it with hot water and add a handful of washing soda. (See below). Place your silver items in the container, so they touch the aluminum foil.

You’ll see the tarnish fade in a couple of minutes.

Remove the pieces and buff them dry with a soft towel. Don’t let them air dry. While the washing soda solution removes the tarnish, the buffing brings out the shine.

Use this technique with plated or solid silver items. You will find it works well with most (but not all) items. You might find similar “miracle silver polishes” cleverly packaged and sold on television. However, it’s very inexpensive to make this yourself. Plus, you save on shipping!

What is Washing Soda?

Washing soda makes not only a great silver polish but also a very inexpensive laundry detergent. Unfortunately, not many people know about it. When I share the secret with others, they usually ask me first if I mean baking soda. (It’s similar but has a slightly different formula). Washing soda has been used for centuries for cleaning laundry. If you do find it in stores, it’ll be on the same shelves as other laundry products.

To use it for clothing, mix a 1/3 bar of grated Fels Naptha (or other bar-type laundry soap) in a saucepan with 3 pints of water. Heat on low until the soap is dissolved. Stir in a 1/2 cup of washing soda and a 1/2 cup of borax. Stir this mixture until thickened, then remove it from the heat. Add one quart hot water to a five-gallon bucket. Add the soap mixture and stir. Fill the bucket with cold water and stir again. Set it aside for 24 hours or until the mixture has jelled. Use 1/2 cup per load.

You can put some in a smaller, easier to handle container. However, this needs to be shaken before every use. Also, stir the large container before refilling your smaller container.

This biodegradable mixture does an excellent job of cleaning clothes and has no perfumes. In addition, five gallons cost about the same as a half-gallon of commercial laundry soap.

So, washing soda will save you money and give you clean jewelry and clothing!

About the author
Donald Clark, CSM IMG
Donald Clark, CSM founded the International Gem Society in 1998. Donald started in the gem and jewelry industry in 1976. He received his formal gemology training from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Society of Gemcutters (ASG). The letters "CSM" after his name stood for Certified Supreme Master Gemcutter, a designation of Wykoff's ASG which has often been referred to as the doctorate of gem cutting. The American Society of Gemcutters only had 54 people reach this level. Along with dozens of articles for leading trade magazines, Donald authored the book "Modern Faceting, the Easy Way."
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