The other day, a customer came in to show me a ring she had purchased just last week. The decorative oxidized plating had started to wear away already, showing the sterling silver below. Knowing that such micro-thin platings are destined to come off eventually, a week seemed like record time! After allowing her to exchange it for another ring sterling ring she loved, I set about to research the question...
Could it have been all the hand washing and sanitizing going on now with the Novel Corona Virus?
What effect do soap and hand sanitizer have on our jewelry, anyhow? Diamond rings in gold, sterling silver, gemstones... are we putting them in danger while keeping our health safe?
Not all hand sanitizers are created equal
The first thing I learned in my research is that there are two kinds of hand sanitizer: alcohol-based and chlorine-based. In general, alcohol-based is safe for jewelry, and chlorine-based is not.
When mixed with water, chlorine-based compounds react with the alloys in platinum, yellow gold, white gold, and sterling silver. They can leach away the alloy elements, causing tarnishing and, worse, damage. They can weaken the prongs on your diamond engagement ring, for example, potentially causing a disastrous loss to occur. This is why you shouldn't be wearing your jewelry in a pool or hot tub, either.
Chlorine can also damage gemstones like rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, causing them to dull. Your jeweler (like us!) can polish these gems back up, but a softer, porous gemstone, like opal, turquoise, or pearl, can be permanently discolored or dulled by chlorine.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, on the other hand, should be fine for silver, gold, platinum, and many of the hardier gemstones. Note that many sanitizers have moisturizers added, so these will likely leave a residue on your rings. Washing them in warm water with a gentle soap like Dawn should be sufficient to remove any gunk. We certainly recommend doing so regularly. Or the next time you come in, Jason at the Jacksonville shop is happy to put your diamond rings in the ultrasonic cleaner while you wait.
Not all soaps are created equal, either
Most hand soaps are gentle and perfectly fine for your jewelry. Just keep in mind that the more industrial-strength scrubbing soaps, which may have exfoliants or pumice in them, may be capable of scratching your soft metals and many gemstones. Even salt will wear down your sharp diamond facets. It's always best to remove jewelry when doing serious cleaning or when you're at the beach. And don't use toothpaste on your jewelry for the same reason.
Which gemstones do I need to watch out for when sanitizing or washing my hands?
Pearls, turquoise, amber, emeralds, lapis lazuli, and opals are all examples of soft or porous stones that you should either remove when you clean your hands with ANY cleaners and water, or be careful to wash/sanitize around the gemstones.
So by all means, go ahead and keep washing and sanitizing those hands! But when wearing jewelry on your hands, and excepting the soft stones mentioned above, we recommend soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers. Then clean that jewelry once a week or more in gentle soap and water to keep it sparkly!