Bring back their sparkle and shine in no time.

Mackenzie Dunn
June 26, 2020
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Cheap jewelry might look super cute on the first wear, but it can easily become tarnished, dirty, and significantly less shiny after just a few wears. It’s a bummer, because even if they don’t cost much, sometimes those gifted or flea-market-find costume pieces are just as cherished as the real 14-karat gold, diamond, gemstone pieces you may have. But if you want to keep your less-expensive jewelry looking its best, it actually takes just as much care as the real stuff does to keep it in tip-top shape.

That’s because the plating (whether gold, rhodium, or another metal) on costume jewelry is typically thin, so it can easily break down when it comes into contact with everyday liquids. This includes ingredients in beauty products like perfumes, lotions, or dyes as well as sweat and water. The only way to ensure that cheap jewelry doesn’t become tarnished is to put it on clean, dry skin and store it away from other pieces or in anti-tarnishing bags. Make putting on your jewelry the last step of your morning routine, and avoid wearing it in the shower, at the beach, or in the pool, as the excess moisture will break down the shiny facade. You may also consider purchasing a sealing spray (like this one) that helps to protect your metals from tarnishing and your skin from irritation.

However, life happens, so if your jewelry does get dirty, dull, or tarnished, there are some easy ways you can clean it. Just beware. As Kim Kanary, jewelry industry expert and vice president of engagement at JTV, tells us, “The internet provides a multitude of DIY remedies for jewelry cleaning, but be cautious when evaluating what is best for your jewelry.” Some commonly suggested methods may be too harsh or abrasive (like baking soda, for example), while others suggest using ingredients with high acidity (like ketchup!) that can actually corrode the materials, changing the look of your fake gold jewelry into a rose gold or copper finish. “It's important to realize that any cleaning agent that can chemically attack the tarnish can also chemically attack the metal,” says Kanary. Instead, Kanary suggests you invest in a good soft-bristle toothbrush and try these simple methods that are gentle yet effective and safe on all types of affordable jewelry metals.

Easy ways to clean cheap jewelry:

1. Mild dish soap

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According to Kanary, the safest and most recommended at-home jewelry cleaner is a combination of mild dish soap and warm water.  To make the cleaning solution, she recommends two tablespoons of mild dishwashing liquid with one quart of warm (not hot) water. Then, soak your jewelry for 10 to 20 minutes to soften residue and dirt and gently brush the sides, top, bottom, and underside with your toothbrush. Once you're done, rinse with clean jewelry with water and pat dry with a clean, soft cloth. Before and after cleaning, you'll also want to inspect your jewelry to ensure all stones are secure since most cheap jewelry uses glue to keep these elements in place. If they do come loose, you can usually glue them back in afterward. And a word to the wise: Kanary says to always remember to plug the drain if you're doing your cleaning over a sink!

2. White vinegar

Madeline Fraser, founder and CEO of the jewelry company Gemist, says that she’s had success mixing about two tablespoons of white vinegar with warm water and soaking her items in it for five to 10 minutes (no more or you risk damaging the coating). “When you remove the jewelry from the soak, it’s important to use a toothbrush to lightly scrub the jewelry," she says. "This allows you to get to all of the hard-to-reach areas and remove any tarnish."

3. Lemon juice

No vinegar on hand? Try mixing one part lemon juice and one part warm water, then soak your jewelry in it for five to 10 minutes. When it’s finished soaking, gently use your toothbrush to buff away any oxidation; then, pat dry with a soft cloth.

4. Jewelry cleaner pen

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This on-the-go jewelry cleaner pen is easy to use and contains a natural cleaner formula so it is safe to use on all types of gemstones and metals. Simply remove the cap, press the click at the bottom of the pen until the brush is wet with cleaner, and brush your jewelry all around its grooves or setting. This convenient, on-the-go option allows you to keep the pen in your purse and give your jewelry the quickest clean. Or, you can store it in your jewelry box to clean your pieces before or after wearing them.

5. Silver care cloths

Kanary also recommends purchasing silver care cloths—even if your jewelry is not made of real silver—for their specific anti-tarnish and polishing properties. They’re specially designed to clean delicate jewelry, so you can trust that they are soft enough to not scratch your fake metals.

6. Microfiber cloths

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Keep some microfiber cloths in your jewelry box for cleaning metals like copper. "Do not rub [them] in circles, as this may magnify tiny scratches," says Kanary. Instead, she suggests polishing your jewelry using a back-and-forth motion. If simple polishing does not deliver the desired level of shine, try using warm, soapy water to get them extra clean.

Oils from your skin can break down cheap jewelry, so make sure to take your favorite jewelry pieces off and store them properly after wearing them. And remember to avoid contact with lotions, perfumes, and cosmetics to prevent further tarnishing!