You've got the routine down pat by now. You scrub your hands multiple times throughout the day — for at least 20 seconds (The time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday") — making sure to clean between each finger and not just the palms. You thoroughly rinse your hands and dry off with a clean towel. And when you don't have access to a sink and running water, you use the next best thing, a squirt from your travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer.
Despite your best intentions to keep yourself and your loved ones safe by taking hand washing seriously, all that soap and hand sanitizer is probably wreaking havoc on your precious jewelry. Soapy residue may be adhering to nooks and crannies behind your rings, and the precious stones may be looking dull and lifeless. Perhaps it's time to show your cherished keepsakes the love they deserve.
Jewelry-industry experts offer these DIY tips on how to keep your jewelry hygienic and sparkling for generations to come. The biggest takeaway, you'll learn, is to "be gentle" to the gemstones and precious metals.
• Whenever possible, take off your jewelry before washing your hands. It's obvious that if your jewelry does not come in contact with soap or cleansers, it will stay pristine longer. (Be careful, though, to put your jewelry in a safe container and shut the drain so there is no chance of the jewelry being lost.)
• The Gemological Association of America says the safest jewelry cleaning methods are also the easiest. Most colored gems can be cleaned with warm water, mild dish soap (no detergents) and a soft-bristled tooth brush. (Be sure to get behind the stones where dirt can accumulate.)
A pulsed-water dental cleaning appliance and a soft, lint-free cloth can also be used. Notes the GIA, "Be sure to rinse your jewelry in a glass of water to remove cleaning solutions since you risk losing loose stones — or even an entire piece of jewelry — if you rinse directly in the sink."
Taking on the jewelry-cleaning topic, a Vogue columnist recently wrote that she puts her "beloved children" in a cup of warm water infused with a blast of Windex, explaining that she takes special pleasure in "watching little dirty specks float to the surface."
• It's especially important to keep organic gems, such as pearls, opals, turquoise and coral, away from harsh cleaners and alcohol-based sanitizers. These chemicals can dry out the gems and lead to cracking.
• Mikimoto notes that pearls, in particular, must be treated with the utmost care. "Pearls are organic gemstones that are vulnerable to acid, alkaline and extremes of humidity," says Mikimoto's official website. "To preserve your pearls' radiance, avoid letting them come into contact with cosmetics, hair spray, or perfume."
For this reason, the famous producer of cultured pearls advises women to put their pearl jewelry on as a final touch, after applying make-up and styling hair. Also, ultrasonic cleaners should never be used with pearl jewelry as it can damage the pearls.
Writing for the American Gem Society, Kristie Nicolosi of The Kingswood Company, a maker of jewelry cleaning products, offered tips on what NOT to do when cleaning precious jewelry.
• Don't use a toothpaste and a toothbrush to clean softer gemstones and other types of jewelry. The abrasives in toothpaste will scratch the surfaces and the toothbrush's long handle will place too much pressure on the piece.
• Don't use ammonia, Windex® or Mr. Clean® on softer gemstones. While these cleaning products may be useful in milder concentrations on harder gemstones, the risk is not worth it.
• Don't use hydrogen peroxide to clean jewelry. It's an effective disinfectant, but can react with sterling silver and harm the finish.
• Don't use bleach. It damages the metal alloys in gold and will cause irreparable damage.
• Vinegar and lemon juice should not be used to clean jewelry. Nicolosi says they are too acidic and too abrasive on metals and gemstones.
• Acids in Coca-Cola® can damage metals and softer stones. Another no-no.
• Baking soda is too alkaline for cleaning jewelry safely.
• Do not place your jewelry in boiling water on the stove. The jewelry could come into contact with the hot, metal surface of the pot, which can weaken or misshape the metal.
Credit: Photo via BigStockPhoto.com.