How to Clean Costume Jewelry

Costume jewelry, so pretty and usually cheaper than the real thing. I love it! What I don’t love is when it turns funky colors or starts feeling gritty, kind of like sand.

Let’s back up a bit. Costume jewelry can be gold or silver plated (a thin layer of the real thing over brass or nickel), with fake diamonds or gemstones and beads.

I have a ‘gold’ Kate Spade bow bangle which looks like the coating is peeling off. I have earrings which I adore, from a gorgeous boutique in Orlando.  The backings have turned green. I’m kind of scared to touch them, let alone put them anywhere close to my body!

So … why DOES costume jewelry change color?

If it gets wet (in the shower, swimming pool, hot tub, while washing dishes, etc), that can leave dark water spots which are hard to remove or it could even rust.

If cleaning products come in contact with the jewelry that can take off the finish, because of the harsh chemicals. Perfume and hairspray can change the color for the same reason.

Good old oxygen is another bad guy. Without getting too much into the science, when metals are exposed to the air (all the time, basically) there’s a reaction that causes discoloration.

Sweating a lot – on a sticky hot day, while at the gym – can cause the pieces to change color and start looking dull.

Allergies could be to blame for the change. Many people are sensitive to copper and nickel – used a lot to make costume jewelry. If your skin changes color or gets irritated or itchy in spots you wear the jewelry, odds are you’re allergic – but check with a doctor to be sure. A friend of mine can’t wear earrings unless they’re made of sterling silver.

Can this be prevented?

There’s not much that can be done when it looks like the top layer of your bracelet or ring is wearing off. You could get it replated (adding on a new layer of the silver or gold finish) at a jeweler, or do it yourself with an at-home kit, but that can cost more than buying something new. You’ll also have to keep doing it because the plating will keep wearing away.

Now, there are simple things you can do to keep costume pieces looking better and for longer.

Whenever you’ll be in or near water – to wash dishes, your hands, go in the lake, take a shower or bath – take off your rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings. Then there won’t be those annoying water spots all over your stuff and they won’t rust from not being dried well.

The same goes for when you’re cleaning your house or will be using products with strong chemicals – remove it all! Chemicals plus costume jewelry is a bad combination, because they’re pretty delicate and no match for those strong products. They could change color, lose their shine or start to peel.

Getting ready for a big night out? Hairspray, makeup, perfume and lotion first, costume jewelry second. If your jewelry goes on first, anything you spray on or apply will draw dirt and dust to your fabulous pieces and they’ll soon start to look dull too. Talk about a pain to clean!

Can they be cleaned, then?

Absolutely! But first, remember this mantra and repeat it to yourself: as little liquid as possible. Other than those irritating water marks we mentioned, if your pieces include gemstones using too much liquid (water, jewelry cleaner) could weaken the glue keeping them in place. If there are rhinestones, soaking those will ruin the foil backing that makes them look sparkly.

Cleaning costume jewelry needs a softer touch than, say, a pair of diamond earrings. Those diamonds are meant to last forever – your owl necklace, a few seasons.

There’s no hard and fast rule for how often they need to be cleaned, but a good rule of thumb is the more you wear a piece, the more it should be cared for.

Here’s a good, and easy, method. You likely have everything you need in your bathroom already:

Mix together one drop each of baby shampoo and water (regular jewelry cleaners, usually meant for the real deal, are too harsh to use on costume pieces). Use a soft toothbrush or Q-Tip to clean hard-to-reach spots. Rinse off quickly in cool water and dry with a clean, soft hand towel or microfiber cloth. Use a hairdryer on the cool setting to be sure each piece is totally dry. This will keep them from rusting. Use a warmer setting and the piece may warp, or the glue holding any gemstones in place could melt.

It’s important to remember not to use anything acidic like vinegar or baking soda. Because this type of jewelry is so fragile, using something harsh or with a lot of acid could ruin it rather than make it look like new again.

To get of verdigris (the fancy name for that green gunk that loves to invade costume jewelry) I suggest using a toothpick, Q-Tip or dry, soft toothbrush to remove it. These are good ways to get rid of that gross stuff without taking a chance on ruining the piece itself. If there’s still some left behind give the baby shampoo-water mixture a try.

For premium microfiber cloths, check out Maker’s Clean Cloth Bundle, on sale now!

How should I store these pieces?

Take off your jewelry at the end of each day and give each piece a quick wipe down (once will do) with a clean microfiber cloth.

Keep them in zippered plastic bags – one piece per bag – with all the air removed. This way they won’t be exposed to oxygen and should stay looking shiny and pretty longer between cleanings.

I would also invest in a good, velvet-lined jewelry box with a lid. Buying one of these (I found some for less than $30; most department and storage solution stores carry them) limits the oxygen that gets to your jewelry, while the soft velvet lining protects it from getting scratched.

And there you have it!

With a few easy steps, your gorgeous jewelry can look like new again!

If you’re looking to up your cleaning game check out our E-Book Bundle! It gives you three amazing e-books (The Complete Guide to Essential Oils, My 3-Wave Cleaning System, and 50 DIY Cleaning Recipes) and is the perfect gift for any cleaning fanatics out there!

Related Products:

Jewelry box: Leatherette Jewelry Display Case With Key Lock.

Baby shampoo: Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, 20 Ounce (Pack of 2)

Gold plating kit: Medallion Liquid Gold Plating Kit

Silver plating kit: Liquid Silver Plating System, Silverware Kit, Medallion Brand

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.