A piece of jewelry doesn't need to be real gold or diamond-studded to be your favorite—here's how to take care of all your costume jewelry pieces.

By Stacey Leasca
Updated September 18, 2019
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how to clean costume jewelry
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Forget expensive engagement rings, rare diamonds, and shiny, 14-karat gold pieces for a second. Everyone's got that favorite piece of costume jewelry found at a flea market, passed down by a family member, or given as a gift by a loving friend, and that bauble deserves just as much TLC as any real-deal gem. Because while they may not cost as much as a Cartier bracelet, they hold sentimental value and should still last you a long, long time.

Caring for faux gold can actually be just as difficult as caring for the real gold too because it can easily tarnish, and its color could potentially fade more easily if the wrong cleaning solutions are applied.

"I've often heard that household items like baking soda or Coca-Cola do wonders on cleaning gold," says high-end jewelry designer Sheryl Lowe. "Unfortunately, I worry that those products could be too harsh or abrasive, especially if your gold has precious or delicate gemstones."

So, what should you do instead? Here are a few tips and tricks to making all your costume jewelry shine.

First, figure out what's real and fake in your jewelry box

Not sure if your gold is real or fake? It's simple: Real gold never tarnishes, while faux gold—or gold-plated metal—does. If your jewelry needs to be cleaned, it's not real gold. If you're still not sure, take it to your local jewelry store for a little assistance in identifying what it's actually made of.

Keep your cleaning solution simple

To clean your jewelry at home, Lowe recommends keeping it straightforward by soaking it in warm water mixed with just a few drops of mild soap. "I like Kiehl's Coriander Liquid Hand Soap because it's made from natural ingredients, so it's going to be very gentle," she says.

You could also try a bit of lemon juice, which can work wonders on oxidized jewelry. One more solution to try is a bit of white vinegar. It won’t only get your costume jewelry clean, but give it a high shine too.

If your jewelry has gemstones in it, you're going to need to be a bit more careful. Ensure the water isn't too warm as that could loosen the stones. Don't soak it for too long either, since this could loosen the glue used to keep them in place.

No matter which solution you use, don't forget to rinse your jewelry thoroughly in clean water afterwards to ensure there's no residue or lingering scent of vinegar left behind.

Use gentle tools to scrub

To clean her jewelry—costume or otherwise—Lowe uses a soft-bristle baby toothbrush to remove any dirt. After cleaning, she suggests thoroughly drying each piece by patting with paper towels. It’s important to remember to use a new toothbrush and clean paper towels to ensure you're not transferring dirt and germs back onto your jewelry. Another easy-to-use tool is a fresh Q-tip, which may also come in handy for swiping away grime from in between gems.

Get help from a pro if you need it

If something is really precious to you, or you're just unsure of what the material may be, Lowe suggests bringing it to a professional cleaner instead of making it a DIY project.

"To really get your gold and gemstones to sparkle I often tell customers to have their pieces professionally checked and cleaned every six months to a year," she says.

How to keep costume jewelry clean in the first place

To extend the time between cleanings, it's critical to take care of your costume jewelry just as well as you do the real stuff. That starts with storing it correctly in its own little home in your jewelry box. To take extra care, try wrapping it in a soft cloth before putting it in its spot. You could take this a step further by storing it in anti-tarnish bags to really keep things clean.

Be careful what you put on your body alongside your jewelry too. Try to remember to spray perfume or apply lotion before putting on your jewelry. Getting ready in this order will limit how much of the substance in question gets onto the pieces. The same goes for sweat: Always take off jewelry before a workout.