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Frequent hand washing and jewelry care

I was a steady hand-washer before the 2019 CDC advisory which is now being reinforced globally. In today’s climate my attention to my hands, what I touch and how often I clean them has reached new heights. And of course, each time I clean my hands, I’m aware of the rings I am wearing.

To that end it was wonderful to see Brittany Siminitz from JCK Online compiling input from respected experts regarding jewelry care under the umbrella of frequent hand-washing and sanitizing. And, aside from a warning to those wearing pearl bracelets and rings, there’s good news ahead for jewelry wearers as it relates to sanitizing frequently.

First things first – Remove those pearls.

Peggy Grosz is senior vice president at Assael, a company specialized in pearls and corals. She suggests to remove pearl jewelry from the hand-sanitizing process entirely.

Sanitized skin should not come into contact with your pearls until completely dry and evaporated—wait about five minutes before putting on your pearls. As with perfumes and hairspray, the alcohol in the hand sanitizer can change the surface of the pearl, the two noticeable differences being a loss of luster and a change in color—white pearls, for example, will become yellowed if repeatedly exposed to such chemicals. Pearl rings should be removed when applying hand sanitizer, but because they have a mounting which separates them from direct contact with the chemicals, it is safe to put rings back on after a few minutes.

Assael says the best way to clean your pearls and coral is with a soft cloth. Do not use ultrasonic cleaning devices, avoid contact with cosmetics, lotions, perfumes and hair spray, as well as household cleaners, harsh chemicals, over-exposure to strong light and dry heat.

Sanitizer safety

Shan Aithal, a metallurgist at Stuller, advised those wearing jewelry that alcohol-based hand sanitizers are their best option.

Hand sanitizers come in two varieties: alcohol-based and non–alcohol-based. The ones with alcohol are benign to jewelry items as alcohol is the main germ-killing ingredient. However, non–alcohol-based ones typically use chlorine-based compounds as germicides. These chlorine compounds could react with water and release free chlorine. Free chlorine radical is very reactive and could cause tarnishing of jewelry, especially if it is made of sterling silver. Also, halogens are known to cause stress corrosion cracking in low karat golds, in particular, nickel white golds.

Photo credit: Rush University Medical Center

This is good news, indeed, since studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers. To that end my home, car and purse have been chlorine and germ-free zones for a number of years.

But what about the rumor that hand-sanitizers can eat away at rhodium plating?

To my knowledge, hand sanitizers are not capable of removing tough, albeit thin, rhodium that’s on a piece of jewelry.

Beware certain soaps

Soaps, according to Aithal, are a different story.

Soaps can contain abrasives, like Lava or that orange goo dispensed near hand-washing stations, that could damage the surface of jewelry and cause rhodium to be worn away.

Brittany Siminitz noted that diamonds and sapphires are not vulnerable to abrasive soaps but that soaps, lotions, etc. tend to leave a residue that builds up and dulls the sparkle of any gemstone.

Photo credit:

So true!

I use lotions. I use soaps. I use hairspray. And, while I adorn myself after spraying and spritzing, residue in daily wear still occurs. In the spirit of this post I am noticing less with my more frequent sanitizing, but it’s unavoidable. My “chicken-soup” for daily grease, perspiration, dirt and film buildup is the friendly ultrasonic cleaner on my nightstand that purrs every evening as it restores my jewelry’s dazzle to full strength.

Again and again and again

Jewelry designer Susi Smither of The Rock Hound would appear to approve of my daily cleaning habit.

If anything, people should be cleaning their jewelry more. Think of all that horrid buildup of crud under rings and behind the setting of claw-set earrings. Hand sanitizer kills the baddies then evaporates fast—this shouldn’t have any detrimental effects on your gemstones, even materials such as gemstones and pearls. If you’re worried, at the end of the day give them a rinse and dry when you get home.

Usage warnings

Reinforcing Peggy Grosz’ advice from the top of this article, never expose your pearl jewelry to chemicals or solvents. When you remove it be sure to store each piece in a soft bag. And one should not expose colored gemstones to chemicals, solvents or ultrasonics without knowing their specific cleaning requirements.

In fact, don’t store jewelry pieces next to each other. That has to do with relative hardness and is covered in this post – Never do this with your jewelry.

Health and jewelry – hand in hand

So there you have it. Thank again to Brittany Siminitz for the advance work in gathering information that’s especially useful to share at this moment in time. As we’re working to protect our health it’s comforting to know the measures most highly recommended by the authorities will actually benefit the treasured symbols we wear.

Photo credit: Elizaveta Dankevich

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