Few things have helped increase the life of a gold piece while also expanding accessibility like the innovation of gold-plated jewelry. Contrary to solid gold, which contains a high consistency of gold alloy, gold-plated jewelry is “composed of a base metal (think: brass, copper, and stainless steel) and is later covered through a plating process with a thin layer of gold,” says Jianni Acosta, founder of House of Jewels Miami. The result is similar to a gold piece, but the thin plating often leaves wearers frustrated when it begins to reveal the underlying metal, resulting in discoloration.
But if you thought it's impossible to keep your pieces looking their best for longer than a matter of months, don't worry: Gold is one of the most valuable resources in the world and will last a very long time, as long as it’s cared for properly. While it is an extra step, cleaning plated gold is actually very simple and requires no high-tech materials. In fact, you likely already own everything you need to improve the shine of your gold-plated jewelry. Ahead, learn four easy steps and tricks to keep gold-plated jewelry from tarnishing, according to jewelry designers.
Meet the Expert
Jianni Acosta is a jewelry designer and the founder of House of Jewels Miami, which offers a range of modern, gold-plated pieces.
Marisa Hordern is the CEO and founder of London-based jewelry brand Missoma, which specializes in demi-fine jewelry with emphasis on craftsmanship and self-expression.
Amber Glassman is the CEO and co-founder of Bryan Anthonys, which offers meaningful jewelry pieces and memorabilia intended to inspire connection and storytelling.
Why Does Gold-Plated Jewelry Tarnish?
Before we discuss tips to prevent tarnishing, let's tackle why it occurs in the first place. This is largely due to the fact that gold plating is a thin layer above a base metal, which makes pieces stronger and less likely to bend. Unfortunately, over time, the base metal will eventually come to the surface, causing the metal and the gold to discolor. This process breaks the gold down and requires proper polishing and maintenance to restore its shine. Luckily, there are tips to prevent gold-plated jewelry from tarnishing so it keeps its luxurious look.
Invest in a Soft Cloth
Missoma has always used 18ct gold vermeil in its pieces. “[Vermeil] is the design and durability you love without the pure gold price tag,” the brand's founder, Marisa Hordern, shares. The brand recommends cleaning pieces at least once a year, and every three to six months for most-loved pieces. Jewelry can be cleaned with a “soft, non-abrasive, and lint-free cloth or chamois to keep the shine,” Hordern continues. Start by gently rubbing the surface of the gold-plated jewelry and clean or spot treat as needed. Amber Glassman, CEO and co-founder of Bryan Anthonys, echoes this lint-free cloth tip: “Do not use a polishing cloth, as this will strip away the plating.”
Meet the Expert
Sally Rong is the founder of Rellery, a jewelry brand that focuses on everyday pieces and ethical practices.
Suhani Parekh is the founder and creative director of Misho, a jewelry brand with a collection that references art and architecture, both in the traditional sense and as found in observing the body.
Sophie Monet Okulick is a Venice, California-based jewelry designer who founded her eponymous brand Sophie Monet, inspired by her experiences growing up in Los Angeles.
Gretel Going is the founder and designer of Fortune & Frame, which started as a line focused on pieces that hold messages close but has since grown into a full range of meaningful jewelry.
“Regularly cleaning and wiping down your jewelry after wear can help keep your pieces shiny and scratch-free for longer,” Rellery founder Sally Rong adds. However, if it’s gold-plated sterling silver, Misho founder and creative director Suhani Parekh suggests that regular wear can actually be part of your maintenance process. “The oils in our skin help prevent tarnish build-up on silver," she shares.
If you need a deep clean, Sophie Monet Okulick, founder of her eponymous brand Sophie Monet, suggests “mixing warm water and dish soap together in a small bowl, and soaking pieces for a few minutes before rinsing and wiping them clean.” It’s important not to use an antibacterial soap, as the chemical might tarnish gold-plating. If this still doesn’t do the trick, you can always take the piece in for professional cleaning or re-plating.
Avoid Unnecessary Contact with Water
According to Fortune & Frame founder Gretel Going, not all gold-plated jewelry is created equal. “There are a couple of approaches to plating, and the coating can range from the equivalent of a first coat of spray paint to extremely thick, and, therefore, less likely to tarnish or fade over time.” The more microns (read: one millionth of a meter) of gold used, the better, as it's less likely a piece of gold-plated jewelry will tarnish.
To keep your pieces from premature damage, be sure to take off gold-plated jewelry when showering or swimming. “Chlorine, salt water, and fresh water can damage precious metals by dulling or eroding them,” Hordern tells Byrdie. “Soapy water when bathing and showering can also leave a thin film, which makes the metal seem dull.” And because of the chemicals present in perfume, hairspray, makeup, deodorants, and other beauty products, Missoma's golden rule is to make gold-plated jewelry the last thing you put on and the first thing you take off.
Be Mindful with Perfume
Going encourages gold-plated owners to avoid spraying your plated pieces—or even solid gold pieces—directly with perfume. “Depending on the perfume, the chemicals can create a reaction similar to oxidation,” the designer says, “which basically means it can turn your gold black. It’s reversible, but can be a little shocking if you’re not expecting it.”
Store Gold-Plated Jewelry Strategically
Understanding how best to store your go-to necklaces or earrings is just as important as knowing how to clean your gold-plated jewelry. All our experts recommended storing jewelry in a pouch, case, or jewelry box to prevent tarnishing and fading. “If you want to take the ultimate care of your jewelry, store in a dark, cool, and dry place to avoid humidity and heat, which can cause tarnishing,” Hordern tells Byrdie.
In addition, storing jewelry in a pouch or dark area will prevent the opportunity to be exposed to daily humidity that could also alter the initial plating, according to Acosta. Make sure your pieces are somewhat separated to avoid contact with objects that can scratch or chip the finish, Glassman says.
Case in point: when gold-plated jewelry is exposed to external elements or chemicals, certain base metals may cause discoloration. “Brass, for instance, is a very reactive metal and when it’s exposed to high levels of humidity or salt water, the brass can begin reacting and breaking through the plating,” Going tells Byrdie.
How Long Should Gold-Plated Jewelry Last?
According to Rong, you should be able to maintain high-quality gold-plated jewelry for up to five years with proper care. “It’s really a matter of keeping it away from the elements—salt, water, sweat, and high humidity—and chemicals from cleaners or perfumes,” Going agrees. And if it starts to fade, you can restore your beloved pieces by learning how to fix tarnishing or making it like new again through re-plating.