Whenever attempting to clean an item, be it loose beads or an item of jewellery, always test your chosen method on a sample or a small test area. Always look at the item as a whole, and not just the material you are planning to clean, as different cleaning methods will have positive and negative affects on different materials. Particular care should be taken when cleaning Amber, Coral, Drusy, Emeralds, Malachite, Mother of Pearl, Opals, Pearls, Peridot, Rubies, Sapphires, Tanzanite, Turquoise, and Zoisite as they are all particularly delicate stones.
- Bone, Ivory & Wood . . . should be cleaned with a soft dry cloth. Moisture should be avoided as the porous nature of these items lead to damage. Furniture polishes and clear waxes may have a positive effect but you should test first as their use may lead to discolouration.
- Copper . . . will darken to a rich reddish brown very quickly. If you prefer the ‘bright new penny’ look, just add a tablespoon or two of lemon juice to a cup of water along with a teaspoon of salt and soak the piece for a few minutes. Rinse and dry and it will be as shiny as shiny can be.
- Glass . . . will dull over time particularly when worn against the skin or left out on display. There are many different ways to clean glass beads but the following are the more common methods. Using a household glass cleaner spray sparingly a few beads at a time and using a soft absorbent cloth wipe the cleaner off the beads. Keep spraying the cleaner on a few of the beads at a time until all the beads are polished. You can also follow the same procedure with rubbing alcohol, using a small cloth to rub the alcohol over the beads until they are clean and shiny. A further alternative, and the safest option, is to clean each bead with a soft cloth dipped in a mild washing up liquid solution, then wiping this detergent solution away with another cloth dipped in clear water, finally drying them with a soft absorbent cloth. Note: When cleaning strung beads in this way it is important to pay attention to the thread or cable as if moisture remains it can lead to deterioration of the thread or staining of the hole of the bead.
- Gold . . . whether filled or solid should be treated with commercial jewellery cleaner to maintain its shine. Note: Gold, especially 22-carat, is one of the softest metals and like pearls it benefits from being stored away from other jewellery to keep scratching to a minimum.
- Leather . . . should be treated with shoe polish, cream or wax in the appropriate colour. This will re-nourish and condition the leather and reduce the likelihood of it becoming brittle and cracking. Note: Beads on leather thongs should be removed before the leather is treated to protect them.
- Pearls . . . should be cleaned regularly with a slightly damp soft cloth to remove the affects of wearing them against skin. For a more thorough clean use a soft cloth dipped in a mild washing up liquid solution. Wring out the cloth and gently rub the pearls, then, using another cloth dipped in clear water and wrung out, wipe away the detergent. Finally, gently rub dry with a soft dry cloth. Note: Although pearls are organic and love moisture, you should not immerse them when attempting to clean them. It is also worth noting that pearls are relatively soft and therefore benefit from being stored separately away from rougher harder surfaced beads and jewellery, but as mentioned they also like moisture so should not be kept in an air tight container – a cloth pouch or cotton lined box is an ideal storage solution. Pearls should be restrung on new silk periodically to reduce the possibility of impurities building up in the drill holes as these erode the pearls and can cause irreversible damage
- Plastic . . . should be cleaned with water, a mild soap solution, cloths or sponges. Note: Avoid abrasive cleaners which will adversely affect shiny plastic surfaces leaving them dull and clouded.
- Silver . . . will tarnish naturally through oxidisation, with higher silver content items tarnishing more slowly than sterling silver for example. To help prevent tarnishing in general silver items should be kept in air tight plastic containers ideally with an anti-tarnish strip when not in use. To clean silver there are several ‘scientific’ products available including anti tarnish cloths, ultrasonic cleaners and ionic cleaners. The later two methods use high frequency sound waves and electrically charged ions (in a special cleaning solution) respectively. For a more natural approach watered down lime juice or toothpaste can be used but should be used sparingly as it can be abrasive and should not be used on smooth or fine silver. Alternatively, add a heaped teaspoon of baking powder to a glass heat proof bowl lined with aluminium cooking foil and pouring over hot water. Stir with a non metal utensil while keeping the silver item in contact with the foil as far as is possible. Continue until the tarnish has been removed. Note: With any of these methods it is important to focus on the silver and safeguard any adjacent beads as they may be adversely affected. For example cleaning cloths can affect the AB finish on crystals and ultrasonic cleaners can adversely affect soft or porous materials such as stones or pearls.
In general avoid wearing jewellery while bathing or swimming and apply lotions, hair spray, make-up and perfumes before putting on any jewellery. Lightly wiping your jewellery as you remove and put it away will reduce the need for more concerted cleaning at a later date!
Anna Weller of Big Bead Little Bead