Designing an ear-scape that suits your aesthetic is a fun way to elevate your personal style. From tiny to statement, earrings can add instant bling and sparkle to your everyday look.
Maintaining your earrings' luster, however, is super important, not only to preserve the integrity of your jewelry but also to prevent infection. So, we reached out to Kathleen Gray, vice president of design and service repair at Signet; jewelry brand founder Lisa Salzer; and Hillary Watson, senior director of sales and merchandising at Charles & Colvard to learn more about cleaning jewelry, specifically earring backs. Read on for a deep dive into the hygiene of jewelry.
Meet the Expert
- Kathleen Gray is vice president of design service and repair at Signet.
- Lisa Salzer is the founder of Lulu Frost, a jewelry brand that blends antique and vintage elements with modern influences to create meaningful, one-of-a-kind pieces.
- Hillary Watson is the senior director of sales and merchandising at Charles & Colvard, a fine jewelry company that specializes in lab mined diamonds.
Keeping Earring Backs Clean
Your bedtime routine most likely includes a nightly face wash and multi-step skincare regimen. But did you know that it's just as important to have a cleaning routine for your earring backs? "If you are wearing them every day, they can build up dirt and grime from your skin, hair products, and the environment," explains Gray. Yuck.
This is important for many reasons. "Cleaning earring backs, including stud posts and earwire hook style backs, is quite crucial for preventing infection," notes Salzer. This is especially important, she says, if you have a recent piercing. Proper and frequent cleaning is "essential to healing of the wound and to promoting a healthy piercing that will last over time." Additionally, Watson says that "keeping your earring backings clean is an essential part of owning fine jewelry. It not only helps the metal stay in prime condition, but it also helps prevent any bacteria buildup that could lead to further problems."
And just as you double cleanse your face, you can deploy a similar technique when it comes to your earring hygiene. Salzer recommends you give your earlobes a swipe at the piercing site, and then clean the actual earring backs. First, take care of your lobes. "If you are looking to simply keep your earring collection clean, I recommend cleaning [your lobes] right before you put a pair of earrings in your ears, with either a simple saline solution or an antibacterial soap." Apply the solution or soap with a non-woven gauze or cotton swab to prevent cotton fibers from getting tangled or snagging in your jewelry.
Then use a cleaning solution to treat your earring backs. When it comes to frequency, it's important to stick to a routine. "The best advice is to clean them regularly," notes Gray. "Experts recommend a minimum of a weekly cleaning with quality at-home products, and to combine that with an in-store cleaning and inspection every six months by a professional."
"After a night out on the town," notes Salzer, "once you remove your earrings, give the posts or earwire backs a quick swipe with your anti-bacterial solution on a gauze pad. An alcohol wipe does the trick as well."
The Cleaning Process
Cleaning jewelry itself is a two-step process that can vary depending on the jewelry type. "First clean, and then polish," says Gray. "When you are considering cleaning your earrings or other jewelry, choose a formula or product that is best for the gemstones and the piece, and then use a polishing cloth to give the metal a final polish and shine." She notes this will help your jewelry really sparkle and maintain its luster.
Salzer says "there are many all-purpose jewelry cleaners that work well for silver, gold, brass, and steel. Something like the Simple Shine Jewelry Cleaning Kit ($30) works across the board." However, note that each gemstone will have its own set of cleansing rules. If you choose to clean your jewelry based on metal type, there are a variety of products on the market to facilitate that choice.
"Once you have cleaned your earrings and other jewelry, remember to remove them before showering and to put them on after you have styled your hair to help to keep them sparkling in between regular cleanings," recommends Gray.
Cleaning Pens and Sticks
If convenience is a priority you can opt for a portable pen, which is also an inexpensive solution. "For convenience, my favorite is the jewelry cleaning pen, which makes it easy to quickly clean your earrings while on the go," notes Watson.
Gray also favors this method. "My personal favorite is Kay's Sparkle + Shine Stick ($8). This is great for cleaning all types of gemstones and works great on the settings for rings and earrings—both front and back—on the go due to its small, portable size."
A five-star reviewed product is Connoisseurs' Dazzle Stik ($8), which is a fan favorite of professional jewelers. It's made with a polymer gel formula system that contains micro-fine cleansers and polishing agents.
Cleaning Wipes and Solutions
Cleaning wipes are easy, inexpensive, and mess-free. "Cleaning wipes are great for wiping away grime and oils," says Gray. Salzer is a fan of cleaning solutions, which are quick and offer instant results. "A cleaning solution is also a great item to have handy for sanitizing pieces after wearing them, in particular earrings that can attract potentially harmful bacteria through wear," she says.
Home Remedies Based on Material
It's important to correctly identify the metal of your jewelry so you can use an adequate cleaning solution.
Silver Jewelry Cleaning Methods
Salzer likes a DIY solution made to clean silver earring backs. Here's her recipe: "Use a quarter cup of baking soda mixed with 2 tablespoons of water. Apply the paste that is made from this combination with a damp sponge, and rub gently to buff off any tarnish that has accumulated."
Gold Jewelry Cleaning Methods
Salzer's home remedy for cleaning real gold earring backs is to "cover the piece with a dusting of baking soda, and then pour a small amount of vinegar over that directly onto the piece over a sink. Finally, rinse clean under clear running water and your piece will shine like new."
Costume Jewelry Cleaning Methods
Costume jewelry, typically made from brass, requires its own cleaning method. "The Sunshine Cloth ($19) is excellent for removing tarnish and giving costume jewelry a nice general cleaning and shine." Jewelry cloths are inexpensive, convenient, and fool-proof. They're ideal for a no muss-no fuss cleanse.
Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaning
The most professional at-home cleaning results come from a device called an ultrasonic cleaning machine. "An ultrasonic cleaning machine will certainly give a piece the 'deepest' and most detailed clean," explains Salzer. Essentially, it's like a bath for your jewelry. "The high-frequency ultrasonic waves agitate the water the jewelry gets suspended in at a very high rate, allowing the water to 'power-wash' any and all grime and dirt from within all the crevices of your piece of jewelry," she says. While all earring backs should be fine in this device, be sure to double-check its use on particular gemstones, as it may cause damage to certain types of jewels.
Home Remedies to Avoid
Some DIY cleaning methods include toothpaste and ketchup. Watson says to avoid these at any and all costs, as these methods can damage your jewelry. "For years I’ve heard that toothpaste is an effective way to clean your jewels. However, this is completely false, It can actually damage your diamonds and gems. I prefer something much gentler, like foam or a solution applied with a soft-bristled brush."
The Final Takeaway
In addition to regular cleanings, storing your jewelry properly can protect it from bacteria build-up and tarnish. Gray recommends a couple of techniques to make sure you're keeping your earrings hygienic during storage, such as "storing in an air-tight bag or in an anti-tarnish pouch. Storing jewelry in a soft fabric jewelry box will help maintain the condition of your jewelry," she says. Watson notes that storing your earrings in "fabric-lined compartmentalized cases" is great for protecting the integrity of the jewelry, and keeping it clean.