The Care and Feeding of Your New Jewelry

Brass Spiral Earrings with Green Cats Eye
and Niobium Earwires
The holidays are over, and gifts have been exchanged. Kisses have been given, friends have come and gone, and relatives have been sent off to their respective homes. Now you have a house to clean up from all the merry mess-making, and hopefully a few family photos to show for it.

If one of the gifts you received or gave was jewelry, you may have a few questions about how to keep it looking shiny and bright for all the years to come.  Here are a few ideas for you.

For the purposes of this blog, I will focus on the particular metals I use in my shop which at this time include Niobium, Titanium, Argentium Sterling Silver, Brass, Bronze, and Pewter.

Cleaning & Polishing Your Jewelry

Usually when people ask about keeping jewelry clean, they're asking about how to polish it after it tarnishes. Here are a few ideas for you. You will find that the measurements are maddeningly imprecise, and there are various recipes available for the same job. I chalk this up to the home-spun nature of these recipes, which I find charming. To create a paste, just add enough baking soda (or flour) to give it some body, so you can smear it onto the jewelry. I am drawn to these recipes because they require only simple ingredients that are easy to obtain, and are non-toxic.

Keep in mind that shiny jewelry is not what everyone wants. There are many beautiful looks for brass, copper and silver that involve intentionally tarnishing new metal it to give it a well-worn look. These processes require the jeweler to use toxic ingredients to achieve what nature will do for herself, given enough time. I do not use these toxins, and I also do not coat my jewelry wire with additives or sealants to maintain their shine. Most metals will naturally tarnish or change over time. If you find that you want to seal them off with additives that are available on the market, you are welcome to do that. For my own jewelry practices, I find that keeping things plain is the safest thing for everyone.

Niobium & Titanium - Natural finish: These two metals have so many properties in common that I will talk about them together. The natural color of niobium and titanium is steel gray. The real beauty of these metals is that are non-corrosive, which means they don't get into your skin chemistry, even when you sweat ( and that's one of the things that makes them so wonderfully allergy-safe). As they age they do not tarnish. Niobium will turn a darker version of it's gray finish - some people call it blue. If this bothers you, you can wash these gently with a mild soap solution, and rinse thoroughly.

Handwrapped Rose Quartz Earrings with Argentium
Sterling Silver
Niobium  & Titanium - Anodized finish: If you see Niobium or Titanium in any color other than steel gray, it has been anodized. The nature of anodizing is that it changes the color of the outer layer of the metal -  it may be brown or gold, or it may have rainbow hues. The reason this is important to you when you clean it is that this outer layer is rather delicate. In fact, the color layer is only a few molecules thick, and will not stand up to hard scrubbing. The mild soap solution you use for your natural-tone niobium and titanium will work for these too, but take extra caution to treat it gently and use a soft cloth. 

Argentium Sterling Silver: This beautiful material was actually developed for its tarnish-resistant properties. In my experience and research, Argentium does not tarnish in the way standard Sterling does, but it does dull or "yellow" a bit after a long time. To bring it back to its original shine, you can either use a mild dish soap solution or use a home-made paste of baking soda and water. Use a soft cloth to apply and rinse thoroughly. The same baking soda solution will help with your standard Sterling also.

A little metal chemistry is called for here: "regular" Sterling Silver is a fabulous metal, but it is well know that it tarnishes and requires regular maintenance. Regular Sterling Silver contains 92.5% Silver, about 7.5% copper and it always contains some other metal (this is where nickel comes in) that acts as a hardener. Argentium Sterling Silver, on the other hand contains a slightly higher percentage of silver (the silver I use has 93.5% pure silver), the other measurable amount being 6.5% copper, and a tiny amount of germanium. The germanium has the effect of reducing the effect of tarnishing, and has the added value of guaranteeing that it does not contain nickel. It also shines as bright as platinum, and is simply beautiful.

Brass & Bronze: Brass and Bronze both use copper in their alloys, so they have some things in common. They will tarnish over time, though bronze will change color more slowly than brass. There are a few easy choices for shining these metals:

Option #1: Baking Soda and Lemon Juice
Option #2: Vinegar and Salt, mixed with Flour
Option #3: Tomato Sauce or Ketchup

You can make the ingredients into a small amount of paste, and apply it with a cotton swab or soft cloth.  Leave it on your metal piece for about 20-30 min, rinse clean and buff dry with a soft cloth. Please note that lemon juice and vinegar will ruin your gemstone beads.

Coating your jewelry with a tiny amount of olive oil will help it to maintain its shine.

Pewter: Pewter, like many other metals can be shined up a bit just be cleaning with a mild dish soap solution. It will get darker slowly and evenly over time. If you want to brighten it up, you can use the same recipes as brass and bronze to bring it back to its full shine.


Brass Donut Bead Earrings with Tiger Eye Accent
Other Suggestions For You: 

Storage: If maintaining maximum shine is important to you, store your jewelry in little plastic zip-lock bags. This will  at least reduce the amount of air that comes into contact with your jewelry when you're not wearing it.  These little zip locks are available at any craft store. Paper strips intended to preserve sterling silver are also available at jewelry stores or hobby shops. Oh, and you know those little silicon packs they put in with your new shoes? You can also use those in your jewelry bag to reduce tarnishing.

Techniques: Standard technique when cleaning jewelry is to use a soft cloth to apply your solution, and a soft cloth to dry. To apply, you may also find it useful to use a toothbrush to get down into crevices (use gently!) or use a q-tip.

Gemstones: Gemstones come in vastly different hardnesses and properties. Generally treat them as if they are fragile, and you come out okay. Gentle handling and mild dish soap will work with most types of gemstones. The difficulty is that gemstones are often nestled right up against the metal you are trying to polish. A toothbrush or q-tip may help get into tight corners, but do be careful not to get lemon juice, vinegar, or other acids and chemicals onto your gemstones. Pearls in particular will dissolve if they come into contact with vinegar.

Patina is Beautiful: Some things just get more beautiful with age. I think this just comes down to your own philosophy as to whether you think forever-new is best, or whether it's okay to let things show their natural age. Either way is fine, but if you find yourself in a frenzy over making your jewelry look new all the time, don't forget that there is another way to look at things.

A Word about Soap: We need soap to stay clean, and it is useful even with our jewelry. However you may or may not be aware that soap has a drying effect on your skin. This can cause a rash for some people all on its own, without any other allergy being present. The thing to remember about soap when you use it on jewelry (or yourself) is to rinse it all the way off, so there is no trace of it left on your jewelry. Using a mild solution of dish soap and water should also help.

I really hope this helps you answer a few lingering questions that may have been on your mind.  Enjoy your jewelry and have a fabulous new year!


As a thank-you and acknowledgement that we are always learning from each other, here are a few sites I have found helpful in learning some of this material: 

How To Clean Stuff
How To Polish Without Chemicals
How to Clean Rust From Brass Jewelry
Just a Few Natural Jewellery Cleaner Recipes
How to Clean Pewter


  1. Thanks Donna, that was very helpful information. The easy to find ingredients are appreciated.

  2. Good information dear. jewelery care is very important, some interesting stuff aboutBrass Jewelery Cleaning Tips to share

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