You’ve received a beautiful opal set in a silver ring, and it has started to oxidize (turn dark or splotchy) and you’ve heard that if you put it in hot water, with baking soda and tin foil, it will become shiny again. But WAIT! If you place an opal in boiling hot water - the heat will cause the stone to crack!
How to protect your precious stones?
First off, knowledge is power! So let’s quickly educate ourselves on common gems and their qualities. Two main factors that will determine the gemstone's durability and care is the toughness and the hardness.
- Toughness - is the measurement to withstand mechanical shock like sudden heat or cold, or to be suddenly dropped from a height.
Hardness - is the test of how easily a mineral can be scratched by another mineral of equal or greater hardness. This is called the MOHs scale - 1 being soft (example talc which can be scratched by any mineral) or 10 being hard (example diamonds which can only be scratched by other diamonds)
Not quite the same thing, eh? Back to our opal that we’d like to clean. It has a Poor toughness rating, and a hardness rating of 5 - 6.5 Mohs. That means using any sort of heat to clean will crack the stone and it is best to stick to soap or silver polish cloths.
Common Stones Toughness and Hardness
We’ve put together a quick and easy to use chart to check how to clean your jewelry based on the stones toughness and hardness.
Recommendations for At Home Cleaning
Once you’ve identified your gem and consulted our care guide above for the recommended method for how to clean your jewelry you can now move forward to actually bringing back that shine you love.
Commercial Cleaners - Most commercially prepared jewelry cleaners are safe, but beware of those that contain ammonia or chemicals that can damage sensitive gems on the Poor side of the toughness scale.
Steam/Soaking your Jewelry - As a first step, let your jewelry piece soak for a few moments in warm water. Avoid using boiling water as radical temperature changes are dangerous for some stones and should be avoided. Use a soft brush (not a toothbrush) to gently scrub your jewelry using a mild soap or cleaning solution.
An untreated polishing cloth may be best for those extra sensitive stones.
Extra tip! A toothpick is quite good at picking out accumulations in the nooks and crannys. But don’t be too harsh! You do not want to knock the stone loose. Patience pays off.
Caring for your Gemstones Before Cleaning
Prevention is key in most cases and the more conscious you are of your jewelry, the longer you can go between cleanings.
Hot Tubs - Please for the love of all rocks do NOT wear your jewelry into the hot tub. Most stones will not survive the heat of the water, let alone the chemicals. Common side effects will be - cracking, discolouration, scratches, and loose settings.
Make sure you apply perfumes, colognes, and hairsprays before wearing any jewelry. Be particularly cautious with your pearl and opal jewelry because they react very poorly to acids and alcohols.
Remove jewelry before doing any household chores to avoid exposing to harsh cleaning chemicals and hot water.
And as always if you are not sure what type of gem your jewelry contains, ASK! There are many jewelers in your city or on the internet whose passion it is to identify stones and love it when people wish to learn more to better care for them!