Hygiene is more important now than ever before, but have you considered what all those harsh chemicals may be doing to your fine jewelry? No matter what kind of jewelry you’re wearing, it’s important to know just how to care for it while caring for your own health. Here’s what we know on the subject right now.
There are basically two kinds of hand sanitizers currently in use: one is alcohol based and the other isn’t. The non-alcohol hand sanitizers tend to be made of an antibacterial agent plus a chloride-based cleaning agent.
These alcohol-free sanitizers can be incredibly hard on a wide range of jewels and metals. When the chloride in these concoctions comes into contact with water, it releases free chlorine radicals, which are highly reactive. This can cause tarnishing, especially with sterling silver, and stress corrosion cracking in golds containing nickel.
Alcohol-based sanitizers are much safer for a wider range of materials, though they can cast a temporary cloud on many different materials. This cloud is easily removed with an ultrasonic cleaning from your jeweler, so don’t panic if you’re in this situation already. Just stop by and have your rings professionally cleaned to get all the excess sanitizer off the ring.
There is one caveat, though: pearl jewelry is easily damaged in general, so you should always wait until any sanitizer is completely dried before you allow pearls to touch your skin. For most alcohol-based sanitizers, this is about five minutes. A pearl in a ring setting is slightly safer, but you should still remove them before applying any sanitizers. Pearls and non-alcohol based sanitizers are a big risk combo, so best to avoid.
What About Soaps?
Most mild soaps should be safe for your jewelry, but many soaps contain a variety of abrasives that are not. Abrasive soaps can damage jewelry surfaces and wear away the rhodium coatings that are busy protecting your softer base metal rings.
However, it’s a great idea to regularly soak your jewelry in warm water and dishwashing soap that contains no abrasives. After all, lots of settings have far too many places for germs to hang out and collect. If washing your hands is important for your health, so should be washing the things that go on your hands!
Best Hygiene Practices with Jewelry
Hand hygiene is important to maintaining good health, but it will require some care to ensure you’re staying clean while protecting your jewelry. No matter the metal or the cleanser, it’s always best to remove a ring before cleaning your hands or using hand sanitizer. Allow sanitizers to completely dry before replacing your ring, especially if you’re wearing a soft metal or a delicate stone like pearls.
When frequent hand washing or sanitizing is required, you may want to hang your ring from a necklace until you’re back in a relatively sterile space. If that’s not possible, leave your rings at home in a safe place. After all, hand sanitation can be a lifesaver in these strange days.
Maintaining Your Jewelry’s Shine
You can keep your jewelry shining for longer by being more mindful of it while you’re doing the hand washing, scrubbing-all-the-things dance. Remove your rings before you get anywhere near harsh chemicals, or even abrasive soaps, making sure to tuck them away somewhere you can find them again.
If you’ve already hit a snag and your jewelry is showing signs of tarnish or damage from chemicals you’ve been using to keep germs at bay, you’ll definitely want to see your friendly neighborhood jeweler for a consultation. Often, these rings can be saved with an ultrasonic cleaning, but depending on the nature of the problem, more work may be required.
For example, if a ring is cracking due to chemical corrosion, your jeweler may need to do more significant repairs, such as replacing damaged prongs or stones that are permanently clouded. Severely damaged jewelry can sometimes be salvaged by creating a new piece from the parts that are still in good shape.
Your Health is the Most Important Element
No matter what shape your jewelry is in today, remember that your health and hygiene is far more important than a ring that can be replaced. There’s no shame in putting jewelry up for a while until you know you’re not going to be using harsh chemicals regularly, especially if it’s an heirloom piece. That ring will still be there waiting for you, undamaged, if you need to stop wearing it for a while.
Indiana University Alumni : GIA Graduate Gemologist Student