How To Clean Pearls and Pearl Jewelry

by M Khordipour February 22, 2018

How To Clean Pearls and Pearl Jewelry

Many gemstones need careful consideration about cleaning agents and methods, with pearl being no exception. Although classed as a gemstone, just like diamonds, sapphires and the rest, pearls do need a little extra care when cleaning.  

Too much vigor, or even just using the wrong detergent can destroy pearls completely.

What Makes Pearls Fragile

Pearl Drop Earrings

Most gemstones are composed of one or more minerals, but the pearl is an organic/inorganic substance created when mollusks sense a parasite or foreign particle in their shell. They coat the substance with layers of material called nacre (pronounced nay-ker). It is this substance which we know as a pearl.

Although strong from a structural point of view, the pearl is quite soft in comparison to other gems. With a hardness level of around 3 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, it is less than 1/500th as hard as diamond and only 8 or 9 times harder than talc, the softest mineral known.  This means it can be scratched quite easily.

More important, though, is that the nacre of both natural and cultured pearls is very exposed to even weak acids. In particular, vinegar can destroy a pearl very quickly.

Tips For Wearing and Storing Pearls

Natural Pearl Chandelier Earrings with diamonds

Because of the potential damage which can be done to pearls, it makes sense to take a precaution or two.

Because of the risk of scratching, pearls should only be stored in fabric-lined boxes or compartments. If you have a string, keep them flat to avoid them rubbing together. Pearls should always be the last thing you put on. Avoid applying makeup or creams/perfumes when wearing pearls.

Finally, pearls are okay with a little moisture. If stored for long periods they can dry out, which can also cause damage. Wear your pearls and enjoy them like they deserve to be!

Cleaning Your Pearl Jewelry

When giving advice on cleaning jewelry, we always advise to try and keep it free of oils and other substances. With pearls, though, your body's natural oils can help to enhance the shine and luster. However, this doesn't mean you should never clean them! It's a good idea to give your pearls a quick wipe with a damp cloth when taking them off. This will take any dirt off, but leave the oils deposited from your body mostly in place.

Although pearls were created in water, your pearl jewelry should never be submerged in water for even short times. As soon as a pearl is brought to the surface, it is no longer of the same strength and durability as it was when it was created. Instead, dampen a soft, lint-free cloth with warm water and simply wipe your pearls down gently. If possible, dry them with a chamois cloth or other soft, dry cloth and leave them to finish air-drying.

If your pearls are particularly dirty, or you feel they need a little more than a damp cloth, you can use a very mild detergent solution instead of plain water. Never use a toothbrush or other abrasive tool to clean your pearls, or they will scratch. The beauty of a pearl comes from its luster. If you damage the nacre, the luster is the first thing lost. If you have any doubts at all, take it to a jeweler to be cleaned.

What Not To Do

Under no circumstances use any chemical cleaner. This especially applies to Windex, which is often recommended as a cleaning product suitable for gemstones and jewelry.

Windex, as well as containing ammonia and alcohol which can both damage a pearl, often also contains vinegar. Vinegar is acetic acid, and this is known to be especially damaging to the surface of a pearl. Even in weak formulations, the damage is rapid and irreversible.

Natural or Cultured Pearls

There's actually little difference in the way natural pearls should be cleaned, compared to cultivated. Although natural pearls are slightly more resilient due to the much thicker layers of nacre, the outer layers on both are essentially identical.

Cultured pearls can benefit from a very light coating of baby oil to promote their shine and luster. Just add a small drop onto a cloth and apply gently. Otherwise, treat them exactly as you would natural pearls.

Your pearl jewelry needs looking after, and yet doing so is easy. Don't wait until it's too late.

M Khordipour
M Khordipour


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Antique Fashion Blog

Natural Pearl Jewelry
Natural Pearl Jewelry

by M Khordipour January 31, 2018 4 Comments

Continue Reading

Kashmir Sapphires - Knowledge and Buying Tips
Kashmir Sapphires - Knowledge and Buying Tips

by M Khordipour January 31, 2018 2 Comments

Continue Reading

Understanding Antique Tiffany Lamps
Understanding Antique Tiffany Lamps

by Dev Eloper November 30, 2017 2 Comments

Continue Reading