How to Clean Sterling Silver with Gemstones

how to clean sterling silver with gemstones

Sterling silver is one of the most stunning and common metals used for jewelry, especially jewelry with gemstones. Sterling silver is comprised of about 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. When properly taken care of and cleaned, sterling silver jewelry can last generations.

Sterling silver necklaces and rings containing gemstones are sometimes trickier to clean, depending on the type of stone. Many factors must be considered to leave your gemstone unscratched and in mint conditions.

Check out these simple steps and considerations to follow when cleaning your sterling silver jewelry with gemstones.

Beware: Vinegar + Aluminum May Damage Your Jewelry!

Vinegar and aluminum should not be used on any jewelry with gemstones. Some types of aluminum are partially made of silver and may damage your sterling silver. Abrasives also risk damaging your silver and gemstones.

Vinegar’s acidity can damage gemstones permanently, particularly porous or organic stones. Vinegar may also dissolve any adhesives on the back of the gemstone, depending on how the stone is set.

What You Need to Clean Your Sterling Silver Jewelry with Gemstones

 cleaning sterling silver jewelry using dish soap and a toothbrush

Cleaning sterling silver gemstone jewelry is easy if you have the right tools. Make sure that all the items you use are clean and lint-free. Don’t use towels, toothbrushes, or soaps that could scratch or damage your gemstones.

Below are the tools you need to clean your jewelry using the dish soap method:

  • Warm water
  • Dish soap (medium to low strength; watered-down)
  • Soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Lint-Free Cloth
  • Polishing Cloths
  • Towel 

Factors to Consider When Cleaning Your Piece

No two gemstones are the same. Only consider these as guidelines for cleaning an average piece of sterling silver gemstone jewelry. Your piece is different from everyone else’s. Because of this, there are a few factors to consider before you begin cleaning your jewelry, including the gemstone’s age, hardness, setting, and inclusions.

In general, jewelry more than a decade old should be handled with care. Heirloom pieces are especially at risk of damage when cleaning. Either clean older pieces gently or bring them to a jeweler for cleaning. If your stone has any inclusions like air bubbles, engravings, or crystals, consider having a jeweler clean it.

Various gemstones have different hardness levels on the Mohs Scale, which is important to consider before cleaning. Softer gemstones like fluorite and pearls will need to be cleaned more gently than tough gemstones like diamond and quartz.

The setting of your gemstone refers to how the stone is placed in the jewelry. If your gemstone jewelry is set with prongs or other thin metals, be careful around them when cleaning. If adhesives like glue were used, avoid any acidic soaps or cleaners.

Cleaning Methods for Sterling Silver Jewelry

a sterling silver ring with gemstone in a cup with dish soap and water

There are two methods for cleaning sterling silver jewelry with gemstones: the dish soap method and the toothpaste method. While both are moderately easy, we recommend the dish soap method. Toothpaste is abrasive and may damage your gemstone, depending on what type of stone your jewelry has.

These cleaning methods are efficient at cleaning rings, necklaces, earrings, and most other types of sterling silver jewelry. Double-check your specific gemstone’s needs before using any chemicals on it.

The Dish Soap Method

The dish soap method is the safest and easiest method to clean your sterling silver jewelry containing gemstones. As mentioned earlier, the dish soap method requires dish soap, a cloth, a toothbrush, water, and a towel. See above for more specific details.

We recommend watering the dish soap down before usage. Soap that’s too strong may damage your gemstone. Too much soap makes your jewelry slippery and hard to clean, so don’t use more than a tablespoon. Make sure your sink and any other holes are covered before beginning the cleaning process. Be aware that immediately after cleaning, sterling silver jewelry may appear gray. This color is entirely normal and you have done nothing wrong.

Here are the general steps for cleaning your sterling silver gemstone jewelry using the dish soap method:

  1. Heat the water. You’ll only need one or two cups of water, which should be very warm or lukewarm.
  2. Separate the water into two bowls. 
  3. Mix the dish soap into the first bowl. Remember to use a small quantity.
  4. Dip the toothbrush or the lint-free cloth into the first bowl. You may use one or both of these cleaning options in the process.
  5. Gently scrub the sterling silver and gemstone using the toothbrush or the lint-free cloth.
  6. Dip the jewelry into the second bowl until it is rinsed.
  7. Pat/dab the jewelry dry using the towel.

The Toothpaste Method

The toothpaste method is another efficient method of cleaning sterling silver jewelry with gemstones. Unfortunately, the toothpaste method is riskier than the dish soap method. As an abrasive, toothpaste may scratch or damage your gemstone in the cleaning process. 

Use toothpaste containing baking soda if possible. Avoid gel toothpaste or toothpaste with whiteners, tartar control, and similar chemical ingredients. 

These are the tool you will need for the toothpaste method:

  • Warm water
  • Toothpaste
  • Soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Towel

Once you have everything you need, follow these steps to clean your sterling silver jewelry with gemstones:

  1. Heat the water and put it into one bowl. You’ll only need one or two cups of water, which should be very warm or lukewarm.
  2. Put a small amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush.
  3. Dip the jewelry into the water.
  4. Gently scrub the jewelry using the toothbrush or the lint-free cloth. You may use one or both of these cleaning options in the process. Stop if you notice any damage or scratches from the toothpaste.
  5. Rinse the jewelry and toothbrush with warm water. Remove any excess debris or leftover toothpaste. Repeat as necessary.
  6. Pat/dab the jewelry dry with a towel.

What If You Want to Polish the Silver?

sterling silver jewelry set with yellow and white gemstones

After cleaning, your sterling silver jewelry may still look like it needs polishing. Fortunately, polishing sterling silver jewelry with gemstones is safe as long as you do it properly. For this process, you will need another lint-free cloth, a soft cloth, and a sterling silver polishing solution.

When polishing sterling silver jewelry with gemstones, DO NOT let the polishing solution touch the stones. Most sterling silver polishes contain chemicals that can harm gemstones. Do not polish the jewelry in a circular motion -- this may scratch the sterling silver. Refer to the directions on the back of your polishing solution for any other specific instructions.

To properly polish your sterling silver jewelry with gemstones, follow these steps:

  1. Apply a small amount of polish to a corner of the soft cloth.
  2. Using the soft cloth, rub the polish onto the jewelry in a steady back-and-forth motion. Make sure you don't let the polish touch the gemstone.
  3. Let the polish sit for around 5 minutes. The polishing solution directions may cite a more specific time.
  4. Use the lint-free cloth to wipe the polish off.

How to Properly Store Your Sterling Silver Jewelry

The best way to store your sterling silver jewelry is in a zippered plastic bag, such as a Ziploc bag. Only place one piece of jewelry in each bag to avoid scratching. For the best results, place the jewelry in the bag, zip it most of the way, push any remaining air out, then zip it air-tight.

Choose a cool and dark place to store your jewelry. If you cannot use a plastic bag, use any other air-tight container. Avoid using anti-tarnish strips, paper, cardboard, cotton, and plastic bags containing Mylar or polyethylene.

Keeping Your Sterling Silver Pieces Looking Good

sterling silver necklaces with different pendants

By properly cleaning, storing, and maintaining your jewelry, your sterling silver and gemstone should continue shining for years. Be aware of your gemstone and jewelry’s specific needs throughout the entire cleaning process and don’t let any dangerous chemicals get onto your skin or your eyes.

If you’re looking for a professional jewelry cleaner to take the guesswork out of your hands, speak to the experts at Lexie Jordan today!