How to Clean Costume (Fashion) Jewelry

Posted by Giving Tree Gallery | Feb 17th 2020

You’re getting ready for a night out, you scan your jewelry box for the perfect piece to complete your outfit and you notice something - they’re all looking a little meh. What was once silver is now looking a little more gray, gems that were once twinkling are now kind of hazy. It’s time for a good clean, you guys! 

Have to cover this one thing first: 

by far the easiest and best way to preserve your pieces is to keep them as clean as possible while you are wearing them. Sure, it can be a pain in the tushy to have to take off your pieces before you get in the bath, shower, ocean, or pools, but it really is worth the extra couple of minutes. Pools really are a torment for fashion or costume jewelry; chlorine and these pieces simply do not mix because plated metals easily degrade and tarnish. 

You should also do your best to avoid getting any soaps, lotions, or perfumes on your pieces as those added chemicals can tarnish plated metals and the icky residue collects around settings and dulls gemstones. If exposure is unavoidable, let your perfume dry completely and your skin absorb the lotion prior to adorning the jewels. 

Now take a look over your pieces and get to know what they’re composed of. A lot of fashion and costume jewelry are composed of plated metals, at best sterling silver.  If there are gemstones, check to see if they’re real or faux and how they attach to your piece. Understanding your pieces can help you keep them looking like new for longer. 

It’s important to get these facts down as the wrong method of cleaning can actually break down specific kinds of metals or stones. Once you get these things down you can be certain that the cleaning method you use is correct. We prefer to provide the most natural means of cleaning, preferably avoiding harder and more aggressive chemicals such as those in jewelry cleaner. If you are dealing with fine jewelry (14k gold, diamonds, etc.) please head to our guide for cleaning fine pieces !


Cleaning Sterling Silver Costume/Fashion Jewelry

You’re going to notice a theme happening when it comes to costume or fashion jewelry, even sterling silver, and that is to never submerge them in liquids. Pieces of this quality require special handling and are often more sensitive to solvents, cleaners, and getting wet. Try a DIY solution of mild dish soap in warm water and a soft toothbrush, gently dipping the toothbrush and lightly scrubbing your silver. Use a clean, damp cloth to clean off the soap, and hang to dry. You can also try mixing one teaspoon of olive oil with half a cup of lemon juice in a nonreactive bowl, dip a soft cloth in the solution and use it to lightly buff your piece. Again, be sure to use a separate water dampened cloth to clean off all of the solution and either use a soft towel or hang to dry.          

Shown above: Patricia Locke's Garden Path Bracelet & Bubble Tea Earrings

Cleaning Gold Costume/Fashion Jewelry

VSA Designs - Virgins, Saints and Angels

When cleaning your gold jewelry pieces, you can use the same methods as above using mild dish soap and either a soft toothbrush or a gentle cloth. Another option is to use a simple baking soda toothpaste, such as Arm and Hammer. (Make sure that the toothpaste you’re using is the white paste and not gel.) Take a soft bristled toothbrush to gently scrub the toothpaste on your piece for about 5-10 minutes, then use a damp cloth in clean water to wipe off all of the toothpaste residue. Be sure to dry thoroughly once you’re done!

Shown right: VSA Designs

Plated Costume/Fashion Jewelry

This subcategory covers your plated pieces; gold or silver plated over bronze or pewter, etc. How do you know if your piece is plated? The easiest way to know is by checking the stamps in the clasp or the inside of your piece. To check if your piece is sterling silver, look for the stamps “S/S,” “.925,” “925/1000,” “Sterling .925,” or something containing those details - if you don’t see that, the jewelry is more than likely plated silver and not sterling silver. For gold, again, check the stamps on your piece - if you see the letters GP that means “gold plated” (you may also see GEP, RGP, HGE or HGP which also signify plating). You can also try using a magnet - if your piece attracts to a magnet then you know that it is not solid gold, as gold is a non-magnetic metal. That is not to say that it is for sure solid gold if it doesn’t attract a magnet, it may be plated over another non-magnetic metal. If there are no symbols, it doesn’t attract to a magnet, and you still aren’t certain if it’s a plated product the best way to tell is to take it to a jeweler and have them do an acid test. They take a miniscule sample from your piece and use acid to determine the metals contained in the sample - pretty cool stuff! Okay, now onto the actual cleaning part!

The most important thing to note here is to avoid using anything abrasive, and - you got it - do not dip your pieces in any solutions! Plated jewelry means that there is a thin veneer of silver or gold over a less precious metal. That veneer wears down over time and using solutions contributes to that decay, making the veneer disappear much faster than is intended or necessary. Instead opt for a soft, untreated polishing cloth and mild soap mixed with warm water. Always clean off remaining residue from your pieces with warm, clean water, and dry them with a soft towel or microfiber cloth.                                                                                                                                              

Coeur de Lion Jewelry Adorned Costume/Fashion Jewelry

The gems used in costume jewelry are, more often than not, glued on. Getting water behind those stones can encourage the glue to loosen and the gems to fall out of their settings. Use wipes or a damp cloth to spiff them up a bit and let them dry by hanging so that no moisture can pool behind the gem and make the glue unstick. You could also use a very lightly dampened q-tip to get around finer edges of settings, just be sure to blot all excess moisture on the q-tip before and to thoroughly dry your piece after! 

Shown above: Coeur de Lion 

As we said in the beginning, keeping your pieces clean while you’re wearing them really is the best way to preserve their beauty - and to avoid having to keep coming back to this guide, though we are very happy to have you :) If you have fine jewelry to spruce up as well then head over to our handy guide on that subject. Happy cleaning, lovely people! 

How to Clean Costume Jewelry |