How to clean thrifted jewelry

How to Clean Thrifted Jewelry: A 6 Step-by-Step Guide to Restoring Vintage Finds

Last Updated: October 22, 2023By

Today I’m sharing with you how to clean thrifted jewelry and other vintage ornaments like a pro! Cleaning thrifted and vintage jewelry can seem like a daunting task. After all, you don’t want to damage the jewelry while trying to make it look new again. But with the right supplies and techniques, you can get secondhand jewelry looking amazing!

In this ultimate guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to clean thrifted and vintage jewelry. From the best cleaning methods for gold, silver, diamonds, and gems to disinfecting and sanitizing jewelry, you’ll be an expert in no time. Follow these expert thrifting tips and let me know your comments if you have other hacks I might have left out.

Key Takeaways

When it’s time to revive and restore your impressive thrifted jewelry collection, keep these key tips in mind:

  • Scrub gently with mild dish soap, soft brushes and cloths to lift dirt and grime from delicate metals, gems and stones.
  • Disinfect completely with hydrogen peroxide, alcohol or UV light to sanitize pre-worn jewelry.
  • Research carefully how to clean each jewelry type, from gold to silver to pearls. Use specific methods to avoid damage.
  • Store safely in anti-tarnish cloth, sealed bags or compartment boxes to prevent future tarnish and tangling.

Follow this jewelry cleaning advice, and your thrifted treasures will stay shining like new for years.


1. Why You Should Clean Thrifted Jewelry

Here are some of the top reasons to clean any pre-loved or previously worn jewelry you buy from thrift stores, garage sales, and consignment shops:

  • Kill germs and bacteria – Used jewelry can harbor all sorts of germs from previous wearers. A good cleaning helps sanitize and disinfect the jewelry.
  • Remove built-up dirt, grime, odor, and stains – Cleaning removes unsightly debris, embedded dirt, soap scum, makeup stains, and other gunk on the jewelry. This brings back the jewelry’s natural shine and beauty.
  • Make the jewelry look brand new again – A good cleaning can really make vintage and antique jewelry look like new. It adds to the value and enjoyment of the pieces.
  • Prevent skin irritation – Dirt, grime, and body oils on used jewelry can cause skin irritation, rashes, and allergic reactions. Cleaning minimizes this.

So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty – cleaning thrifted jewelry is extremely satisfying and helps your great finds truly shine.

2. Supplies You’ll Need To Clean Thrifted Jewelry

Collect these basic supplies to have on hand for cleaning all types of secondhand jewelry:

  • Mild dish soap – Choose something gentle like Dawn dish soap to use with warm water for most jewelry cleaning. Avoid dish soaps with strong added fragrance or moisturizers. A couple of drops is all you need for a good cleaning solution.
  • Soft toothbrush – Great for scrubbing in crevices and getting into intricate areas of jewelry. Look for a brush with soft, non-abrasive nylon or natural bristles. Check that any paint or coating doesn’t scratch off.
  • Soft cloth – Have cotton cloths or microfiber cloths to polish and dry jewelry after cleaning. You want a fabric with a very smooth, non-abrasive surface. Silk or satin cloths are ideal but any very soft cotton or polyester will do.
  • Distilled white vinegar – For soaking and rinsing metals to dissolve built-up grime and residue. The acetic acid also kills bacteria. Use undiluted white distilled vinegar. Cider or red wine vinegar can stain jewelry.
  • Baking soda – Makes a mild abrasive paste for scrubbing metals. Also works with vinegar to dissolve tarnish. Buy common cooking-grade baking soda, nothing fancy is needed.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Excellent for cleaning sterling silver since it removes tarnish by converting sulfur compounds to dissolvable salt. Use the 3% drugstore hydrogen peroxide. Higher concentrations could damage metals.
  • Ammonia – Helpful for cleaning copper and brass jewelry. Acts as a solvent for dirt while giving the metals shine. Look for plain clear household ammonia without added cleaners or fragrance.
  • Alcohol – Isopropyl alcohol is useful for disinfecting jewelry and drying out crevices. 70% concentration is best. Higher percentages evaporate too quickly.
  • Ultrasonic cleaner – Uses cavitation bubbles to deeply clean jewelry. Optional, but makes the process easier. These range from small home units to professional jeweler’s models.
  • Sealable plastic bags – To store cleaned jewelry safely. Zip-top bags work well.
  • Jewelry cleansing cloths – Pre-moistened cloths for quick jewelry cleaning on the go.

Now let’s get into the specific methods for cleaning the various thrifted jewelry pieces you may find…

3. How To Clean Different Types of Thrifted Jewelry

The cleaning method you use depends a lot on the metal and gemstones involved in the jewelry. Here are some tips for cleaning common types of vintage, antique, and thrift store jewelry finds:

Cleaning Thrifted Gold Jewelry

Delicate gold jewelry with intricate filigree or settings needs a gentle touch when cleaning. Follow these steps:


  • Fill a small bowl with warm – not hot – water. Heat can damage the glue on jewelry. Add a drop or two of a mild dish soap like Dawn.
  • Submerge the gold jewelry fully and let soak for 2-3 minutes. This softens any dirt and oils.
  • Remove jewelry and gently scrub with a very soft bristle toothbrush. Carefully get into crevices and under gemstones.
  • Rinse thoroughly under warm running water while brushing gently with your fingers. This removes all soap.
  • Pat dry immediately with a clean soft cotton cloth. Air dry fully before storing it back in the jewelry box.


  • Soak gold long term or leave sitting wet. This can deplete the gold content over time.
  • Use a stiff bristle brush or anything abrasive that could scratch gold surfaces.
  • Employ ultrasonic cleaning. The intense vibrations can damage fragile gold jewelry.

For really tough dirt or tarnish on gold jewelry, you can try:

  • Make a thick paste of baking soda and water. Apply to grimy areas and sit for 1-2 minutes.
  • Gently rub the paste with a soft brush or cloth. Rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear.
  • Dry right away with a soft cotton cloth and check for any remaining gunk. Repeat if needed.

Harsh chemicals like bleach, ammonia, vinegar, or hydrogen peroxide can damage gold over time. So avoid using those for cleaning whenever possible.

Cleaning Thrifted Silver Jewelry

Sterling silver and silver plates both tend to tarnish and oxidize with wear. But silver is an easy metal to clean and polish using items from your pantry.

For cleaning thrifted and vintage silver jewelry, do:

  • Remove any gems or crystals first if possible – these can become damaged or loosened in cleaning solutions.
  • Make a bowl of warm water mixed with a few drops of mild dish soap.
  • Submerge silver jewelry and let soak for 2-3 minutes to begin lifting dirt.
  • Gently scrub with a soft toothbrush in crevices and chain links. Rinse.
  • For tarnish, line a bowl with aluminum foil. Fill with 1 cup very hot water and 1 tablespoon of baking soda.
  • Place silver jewelry in tarnish remover soak for 1-2 minutes until the black tarnish disappears.
  • Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with a soft cotton cloth. Check for any remaining tarnish spots and repeat the process if needed.
  • For polishing, rub a tiny amount of toothpaste or baking soda with a soft cloth onto silver. Rinse and buff dry.

Things to avoid when cleaning silver jewelry:

  • Acidic cleaners like vinegar, lemon juice or wine. These can damage and corrode silver over time.
  • Bleach solutions or ammonia can react with silver and cause pitting.
  • Rubbing aggressively with anything abrasive that could scratch the silver finish.

Cleaning Thrifted Gemstone Jewelry

Vintage and antique jewelry often features delicate gems like opal, pearl, turquoise, coral, and other porous stones. These require specialized cleaning methods.

Here are some tips for cleaning thrifted jewelry with gemstones:

  • Identify stones first and research if they have any special cleaning needs. If in doubt, have professionally cleaned.
  • Never soak porous gems like opal, pearl, turquoise, lapis lazuli, etc. Water can seep in and cause extensive damage.
  • For tough dirt, use a damp soft brush or cotton swab dipped in mild soapy water to gently spot clean stones.
  • Rinse with clean water and immediately pat dry with a soft cloth. Air dry completely before storing.
  • Be very careful around soft stones like emeralds or natural sapphires. Even gentle brushing could scratch them.
  • Avoid ultrasonic and steam cleaners which can fracture delicate gemstones and pearls from intense vibrations.
  • For diamonds, soak in warm mild soapy water briefly. Use a soft brush for stuck-on grime around prongs.
  • For costume jewelry stones like Swarovski crystals, gently clean with soapy water and a soft brush if needed. Dry thoroughly.

By identifying jewelry stones and learning their properties, you can safely clean antique and vintage gemstone jewelry finds from thrift stores. When in doubt, have it professionally cleaned by a qualified jeweler.

Cleaning Thrifted Costume Jewelry

For fun vintage and thrifted costume jewelry, you can use a more vigorous cleaning approach:

  • Examine pieces closely first for any broken areas, loose stones or damage.
  • Take apart necklaces or bracelets with clasps to fully access chains and charms.
  • Make a bowl filled with warm – not hot – water. Add several drops of mild dish soap like Dawn.
  • Place costume jewelry pieces fully into soapy water and let soak for 10-15 minutes. This loosens built-up oils, makeup, and dirt.
  • Gently scrub with an old soft toothbrush to clean crevices, engravings, and stuck-on grime.
  • Use a soft lint-free cloth to buff and polish costume jewelry after scrubbing.
  • Rinse very thoroughly under warm running water. Leftover soap residue can damage jewelry.
  • Pat dry with a clean lint-free cloth. Air dry fully laying flat on a towel before storing it back in the jewelry box. Moisture causes tarnish.

Things to avoid when cleaning thrifted costume jewelry:

  • Letting pieces sit in water too long – glues and adhesives can weaken if oversoaked.
  • Using any kind of harsh chemical cleaners or bleach solutions.
  • Rubbing too hard over glass “gemstones” like rhinestones – friction can eventually wear down coatings.
  • Putting through ultrasonic cleaner – can loosen glues and cause damage from intense vibrations.

4. How To Sanitize and Disinfect Thrifted Jewelry

To kill bacteria and germs on used jewelry, make sure to disinfect after cleaning using these methods:

  • Soak in a sanitizing solution – Mix 2 parts water with 1 part hydrogen peroxide or isopropyl alcohol in a bowl. Submerge jewelry and let sit for 5-10 minutes. This oxidizing solution will kill most microbes. Rinse and dry thoroughly afterward.
  • Use a UV sanitizing box or wand – Place jewelry inside and close the lid or slowly wave the UV wand over pieces for 1-2 minutes on each side. The UV light destroys bacteria and viruses but won’t damage jewelry.
  • Boil metal jewelry – For nonporous metal only, boil in plain water for 5-10 minutes to sanitize. Don’t use for gemstones, pearls, plastic beads etc.
  • Store in sealed bags – After sanitizing, place jewelry in zip-top plastic bags until worn. This prevents recontamination from hands or dust.

Be sure to use sanitized jewelry tools and handling methods after disinfecting jewelry to keep germs at bay. It’s a good habit for any thrifted accessory you plan to wear.

5. Tips for Cleaning Thrifted Jewelry

Follow these helpful tips when cleaning your secondhand and vintage jewelry finds:

  • Always test cleaners first on a small, inconspicuous area of the jewelry to ensure it doesn’t damage the piece. Look for loose stones, fragile areas, or coatings that could be compromised.
  • Take apart jewelry and lay out all the parts before cleaning – this allows full access to chains, charms, prong settings, crevices etc.
  • Work over a towel to catch any pearls, beads, loose rhinestones or small stones that may fall off during scrubbing.
  • Rinse very thoroughly after cleaning to remove all soap residue. Leftover chemicals like ammonia, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide will eventually pit or dull jewelry if not rinsed off fully.
  • Ensure jewelry is 100% dry before storing pieces together. Any moisture or dampness touching metals can contribute to tarnishing.
  • When in doubt about how to clean an antique or fragile vintage piece, have it professionally cleaned by a reputable jeweler. They’ll know the safest methods.
  • For a quick clean, use pre-moistened jewelry cleansing cloths to wipe down accessories. The solution disinfects and shines.

6. How To Care for Thrifted Jewelry Long-Term

To keep your thrifted jewelry looking fabulous long after cleaning, be sure to:

  • Store pieces carefully in a cool, dry place away from heat, humidity, and sunlight. Avoid bathrooms, kitchens, or anywhere moist.
  • Use a jewelry box with separated compartments to organize and protect your thrifted jewelry finds. This prevents scratches, tangles and metals touching that causes tarnish.
  • Wrap sterling silver pieces in anti-tarnish cloth or bags before storage. You can also place it in an airtight container with anti-tarnish strips. This prevents ugly black tarnish.
  • Have gemstones checked annually by a jeweler and re-set if any prongs or claws are loose. This ensures you don’t lose any stones from your thrifted jewelry treasures.
  • Clean regularly based on how often you wear the jewelry. Oils from the skin contribute to grime buildup over time.

By keeping your impressive vintage and thrift store jewelry collection properly cleaned, stored, and maintained, you can cherish these fabulous finds for years to come!

How to Clean Thrifted Jewelry – My Final Remarks

I hope this expanded guide gives you the confidence to revive and refresh all the unique thrifted and vintage jewelry pieces you uncover.

With the right gentle cleaning methods, disinfecting practices, and ongoing care, you can remove years of grime, sanitize jewelry, and make your fabulous finds shine like brand new again.

Now that you know how to safely clean even delicate materials like gold, gems and pearls, you can keep wearing your impressive thrifted jewelry collection without a worry.

What are your best tips and tricks for cleaning secondhand or pre-loved jewelry? Share your cleaning advice in the comments!

FAQs About Cleaning Thrifted Jewelry

Got questions about cleaning your impressive thrifted jewelry hauls? Here are answers to the top questions:

What are the best cleaning methods for gold jewelry?

Gently scrub gold with a soft toothbrush and mild dish soap. For tough grime, make a paste of baking soda and water. Avoid harsh chemicals that can damage gold over time.

How do I clean tarnish off silver jewelry?

Remove tarnish by soaking silver in aluminum foil lined bowl with baking soda and hot water. A paste of baking soda and water also lifts tarnish.

Is it safe to soak gemstones when cleaning jewelry?

Never soak porous gemstones like pearl, opal or turquoise. Even water can seep in and fracture gems. Spot clean gently with soft brush and mild soap instead.

How can I sanitize used jewelry before wearing?

Soak in hydrogen peroxide/water solution, use a UV sanitizing box, or boil metal jewelry only to kill germs and disinfect pre-worn pieces.

What’s the best way to clean intricate or fragile jewelry?

Gently scrub with a soft toothbrush and mild dish soap. Avoid ultrasonic cleaners or harsh scrubbing that could loosen stones or damage delicate metals.

Should I take jewelry apart before cleaning?

Yes, take apart necklaces, bracelets, earrings etc. This allows full access to clean all parts of the jewelry thoroughly.

How can I polish jewelry after cleaning?

Use a jeweler’s polishing cloth or make a paste of baking soda and water. Gently rub onto metals with soft cloth to buff jewelry to a shine.

What’s the best way to store cleaned jewelry long-term? Wrap metals in anti-tarnish cloth or plastic bags. Use a compartment box to separate pieces to prevent scratches and tangles.


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