My Grandma’s Signature Jewelry Cleaning Recipe Cuts Through Dirt and Grime with Ease

published Sep 10, 2022
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There are two types of people in the world: those who change up their jewelry to match their outfits and those who sport the same pieces and rarely rotate. As the latter — I’m currently attached to two dainty gold rings — there was a period in time when a vintage silver bracelet took center stage. This bracelet traveled the ends of the earth, literally (it once fell off and got stuck in Elvis Presley’s piano during a tour of his Graceland mansion), and therefore saw some dirt and grime in its time. 

So like clockwork, whenever I’d visit my grandma, she’d head to her pantry and mix up her signature jewelry cleaning concoction, and my tarnished and dull bracelet came back looking shiny and new in minutes. 

Here’s my grandma’s pantry jewelry cleaning recipe: first, line a bowl with aluminum foil and add in about a tablespoon of baking soda (add more if necessary) and enough hot water to cover the jewelry item. Then, place your piece into the solution (ensuring it’s touching the foil) and allow it to sit for five to 10 minutes. Carefully remove your jewelry from the solution and rinse. If you notice any remaining spots, return it to the solution and allow it to sit for a few more minutes, or use a soft cloth to rub off the spots. 

There’s no magic to this recipe, but rather science. Through a chemical reaction known as ion exchange, the foil, baking soda, and hot water work together to remove tarnishes without damaging any underlying metals. While this recipe works best for silver, my grandma Gigi also uses it with gold, however, she warns not to leave it in the solution for too long. 

Gold doesn’t require the same chemical concoction as it’s “a precious metal that doesn’t oxidize or discolor,” explains Justine Lancon, the chief creative officer at Mejuri. When cleaning 14k gold pieces, she recommends soaking them in warm water and dish soap for five to 10 minutes before lightly scrubbing with a soft toothbrush. 

Alternatively, chemist Harry Lentin suggests using denatured alcohol (also known as methylated spirits) to clean gold. “Fill a small cup with the denatured alcohol and let it soak for about 10 minutes before using a soft toothbrush to dislodge dirt if necessary,” he says, adding that “the denatured alcohol will help to dissolve oils and hand creams.”

Various DIY jewelry cleaning recipes name acids like lemon as their hero product, however, Lentin advises against it, especially if you’re not educated on the needs of specific stones and grades of silver. “Gold will always be gold and nothing will happen to it except it will lose its luster over time if not polished,” he explains. “But when you use [an] acidic like lemon juice, it can damage the pieces.” 

For example, pearls can disintegrate due to the citric acid in the juice. As for sterling silver, the grade also affects whether the lemon will tarnish the piece and it can remove artist-intended oxidation to the color.