A piece of jewelry doesn't need to be real gold or diamond-studded to be your favorite—here's how to clean costume jewelry properly.
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Forget expensive engagement rings, rare diamonds, and shiny, 14-karat gold pieces for a second. Everyone has 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. While they may not cost as much as a Cartier bracelet, they hold sentimental value and should still last you a long, long time.

Learning how to clean gold-plated jewelry is just as important as caring for solid gold jewelry, because it can tarnish easily, and its color could fade 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's how to clean gold-plated jewelry the right way, so it will sparkle for years to come.

How to Tell If Gold Jewelry Is Real

Not sure if your gold is real or fake? It's simple: Solid gold never tarnishes, while faux gold—or gold-plated metal—does. If your jewelry has started to discolor and tarnish, or if it turns your skin blue or green where it comes in contact, then it's not solid 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.

How Often to Clean Gold-Plated Jewelry

It's a good idea to wipe down your jewelry with a soft cloth after each use to remove any sweat, residue from lotions, and smudges. Follow the steps below for a deep-clean whenever your gold-plated jewelry shows signs of tarnish or after exposure to chlorine, such as after taking a dip in the pool. (Hint: It's best to remove jewelry before going for a swim.)

What You'll Need:

  • Soft cloth or jewelry cloth
  • Small bowl
  • Mild liquid soap
  • Cotton swab or soft-bristled baby toothbrush

How to Clean Gold-Plated Jewelry

  1. Wipe down after each wear. When you remove your jewelry for the day, get in the habit of giving it a quick wipe with a soft cloth or a jewelry cloth.
  2. Soak the jewelry. In a small bowl, combine warm water with 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," Lowe says. Stir the soap into the water to create some suds. Add one piece of jewelry and allow it to soak for about five to 10 minutes.
  3. Remove dirt. If there is any dirt embedded in the crevices of the jewelry, use a cotton swab or a soft-bristled baby toothbrush to gently remove it. Then rinse the piece thoroughly.
  4. Dry thoroughly. Using a soft, lint-free cloth, dry the jewelry and buff the surface so it shines.

How to Clean Costume Jewelry With Gemstones

If your jewelry has precious or semi-precious stones in it, you're going to need to be a bit more careful. Avoiding soaking the jewelry and don't use water that's too warm, as both could loosen the glue that may be adhering the stones to the jewelry. Instead, use a soft cloth to wipe the pieces regularly. For a deep-clean, dampen a cotton swab in a solution of water and mild soap and use it to clear away any dirt or debris. Rinse and thoroughly dry the jewelry.

When to Get Help From a Jeweler

If a piece of costume jewelry is really precious to you, or you're just unsure 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. A pro will not only know the right way to clean your gold-plated jewelry, but they can also fix loose settings so you won't lose any gemstones. If the gold plating on your jewelry has worn away, it may also be possible to get the piece replated by a professional.

Tips for Keeping Jewelry Clean for Longer

  • Store your gold-plated jewelry properly. Give it a home in your jewelry box, and consider wrapping it in a soft cloth before storing it away. You can also order anti-tarnish bags that will prevent your jewelry from oxidizing and getting discolored.
  • Avoid applying hand lotions or sunscreens while wearing your jewelry. And try to remember to use hairspray and other products before putting on your jewelry.
  • Always take off your jewelry before a workout, as sweat can cause jewelry to tarnish.
  • Take off your jewelry before going in a chlorinated pool or hot tub.
  • When traveling, avoid tossing all your jewelry into one bag, as the pieces can rub against each other and get scratched.
  • Don't use silver polish, toothpaste, harsh chemical cleaners, or abrasive scrub brushes on gold-plated jewelry.