Sunday 5 May 2019

How to clean earrings

How to clean all types of earrings

Cleaning earrings both piercing & non-pierced types.

Cleaning earrings are important, not only for "used" earrings, newly brought, of both types but on the ones that you have been using for many years and you currently own.

Because we sell many earrings that have been used before. This is our guide to how we clean them as hygienically as possible.
Vintage clip on earrings with rhinestone
This guide can also be used to clean your own earrings also - as all vintage jewellery will pick up dirt and will benefit from a little tender loving care once in a while.
Our methods of cleaning means that pre-owned earrings will be cleaned several times before being catalogued for photographing and wearing.

  • The very first thing we do is remove any old pads or pillows from clip-on earrings and the backs from pierced earrings. Then we throw the old ones away. The only time we re-use backs/clutches is if they are of gold/silver/antique or are in a metal/style that is difficult to find a replacement. Once the earrings are cleaned we replace the backs with new ones to match the metal and earring design. Or replace the cleaned original backs (soak in antiseptic solution and use an ultrasonic jewellery machine) 
  • Replacement backs/pillows and pads in all our unique earring collections are then new.
  • First, identify what the earrings are made of before attempting to clean. This may mean using a jewellers' lens/loop and we also use a magnified craft mirror when cleaning them.
  • Using a strong antiseptic-disinfectant solution in water to clean the reverse of the earrings. Mix 1/4 part antiseptic such as Dettol with 3/4 parts water. Then using a cloth or soft brush get into all the crevices of the metal finding on the back. If possible and if the material of the earring allows - we soak them in the solution for a short while. 
  • After cleaning with the disinfectant solution, use one of the antibacterial wipes that are now widely available. Clean again the backs and fronts (if the material allow). If you have greening or the creases are not clean - we use a toothpick and wrap the end around the wipes to get into the corners. It helps to use a magnifying glass to do this. Dry afterwards with kitchen towel thoroughly. Stubborn bits may need to be rubbed with a cotton bud soaked in the antiseptic solution.
  • Then each individual pair are cleaned again according to the material it is made of. E.G Plastic fronts, diamante, rhinestone, etc. 
  • Note - For hygiene purposes sometimes it is possible to remove the old hook findings or posts on earrings (for pierced ears only). It may de-value something that is antique/vintage, but they then can be worn again. As this is a personal choice we may leave this method to the new owner. Though some we change automatically and this can be seen clearly in the description.

Earrings are cleaned again using the methods below:
All metal

All metal earrings that are riveted together (not glued) are cleaned in our ultrasonic jewellery cleaner. Once dry - we will clean them using a brought specific cloth or polish according to material I.E silver/gold or base metal using the cloth specific for that type. Then buff to shine.
Greening to metal - the green colour can sometimes be seen on a piece of jewellery. This means that the metal has some deterioration. To remove use a vinegar solution and wash off afterwards and dry well (you may have to do this more than once). This has just removed the green colour - but it does still mean that the metal has deteriorated and will be in a state that it can break more easily. One permanent solution is to replace all metal parts - but we will leave that up to the new owner.
Vintage cherry clip earrings by Exquisite
Rhinestones of glass
Using a small cotton bud and a "window cleaner" spray brought from a store (though you can use a solution of part water and white vinegar). Spray the bud and then blot onto kitchen paper until its just damp. Using the craft mirror we clean the rhinestones and all surrounding metal thoroughly. Then buff and dry with a dry cotton wool bud. Use a pair of tweezers to remove any cotton that may have got loose from the bud.

Rhinestones have foil backings. When this deteriorates, the stone becomes "yellow" or darkens. The yellow is the glue that has been used changing colour. The dark area is on unglued rhinestone and is the foil back deteriorating with the metal at the back showing through. Sometimes the "yellow" can be removed because it's not behind the rhinestone but dirt (usually nicotine staining)

But occasionally it is possible to restore the pieces by removing the rhinestones/diamante, cleaning and replacing them with new ones. This is something that is an art - finding the right size, shape, colour and era of the rhinestones to start can be difficult for some pieces. It may reduce the value of the piece overall - but if it is to make an unwearable piece wearable then well worth doing. It's not impossible but difficult (as is replacing a single stone that matches). So we leave this up to the new owner. 
diamante flower clip earrings 1960s

Identify and clean as specific. We use a Gem-tester to correctly identify between the glass and a gemstone. For our gemstone cleaning guide, view this link.
Our methods of cleaning apply to all our jewellery An added bonus for the buyer is that if a piece is in a fragile state it will break whilst cleaning. Therefore we are not selling earrings that will possibly break at first wear. Using a magnified craft mirror also means that we can make sure prongs on prong set rhinestones are in place. We also tighten loose clip earring mechanisms.
Garnet clip earrings

Plastic types.

Clean plastic beads and earrings made of any type of plastic. Use a soap solution and the cotton bud method. We usually clean all over and then dry the earring. However with celluloid pieces (they can be damaged with using water) we clean with a barely damp bud and dry straight away. Celluloid should also be stored not in a sealed plastic bag, but with airflow allowed.
With some plastics, we apply a tiny amount of petroleum jelly to the final buff to give shine. Minor scratches can be rubbed with abrasive toothpaste, rinse the paste of carefully and then buffed to shine.  
60s style earrings in plastic modern


After cleaning the metal clip mechanism or findings with the antiseptic disinfectant. Use a solution of brought "wood cleaner" from a store. Again using the cotton bud method clean thoroughly. Most wood jewellery has a varnish or clear enamel coating but this can get worn away over time. After cleaning and drying, we sometimes use a multi-surface wipe (Can be brought from a supermarket) to add shine. However, they are usually with a fragrance and can leave a residue. If the wood has no varnish and dull. Try rubbing damp coffee grains onto - it will bring back a rich brown colour and help get rid of any age markings. 

Paper Mache

Clean as for celluloid - as to not get water soaking into the earring if possible. Applying a coating of clear varnish will help to preserve the paper mache. Also, a coating of PVA glue instead will help to preserve.


Use brought leather wipes to clean and then buff with a dry cloth. Or leather cleaning solution and follow the instructions.

Bone and shell, including mother of pearl,

If water is used it will eventually dry bone and shell out. We use a small amount of vegetable/olive oil. It does not smell and can be used for cleaning bone and shell. Again using the cotton bud method, clean thoroughly. Leave the oil on for a short time to soak in as this benefits the bone/shell. We may do this several times until clean and the surface looks enriched. Buff dry with several cotton wool buds. then leave to air dry thoroughly before storage. Clean the metal part of a piece as already instructed above.

Using your earrings will require them to be cleaned. I hope the guide above is of value. 

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About Me

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Solihull, West Midlands, United Kingdom
I preserve the past. Researching family and local history. Finding about mine and other people's ancestors, is just one of my passions. I also love vintage costume jewellery made here in the UK. I write about my finds and like to research.