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How To Clean Pearls

Safe Ways to Clean Pearl Jewelry

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Profile of young woman wearing pearls
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The pearls most of us wear today are cultured pearls, their existence initiated by humans who insert a bead or other object into an oyster or clam. The clam coats the foreigner with nacre, the patina that gives pearls their unique appearance.

The depth of the nacre coating depends on the type of creature involved, the water it lives in, and how long the intruder is left in place before it is removed. As nacre thickness increases, so does the quality and durability of the pearl.

Caring for Your Pearls

Even cultured pearls with thicker coatings are more fragile than most other gemstones, so you must handle them carefully to keep them in the best condition.

  • Your pearls will stay cleaner if you put them on after you've applied your makeup and perfume.
  • Be sure to take off your pearl rings before you apply hand and body creams.
  • Wipe your pearls with a soft, lint-free cloth as soon as you take them off. The cloth can be dampened with water or it can be dry. If damp, allow the pearls to air dry before putting them away.
  • Dirty pearls can be cleaned with a mild soap and water solution (try Ivory flakes).
  • Never clean your pearls with solutions that contain ammonia or harsh detergents.
  • Don't put pearl jewelry in an ultrasonic cleaner.
  • Don't use abrasive cleaners or rub pearls with abrasive cloth. Both can wear away the nacre coating, leaving you with a plain looking bead.

Storing Pearls

Don't store your pearls with other jewelry, because they can be scratched easily when metal or gemstones rub against them. Find a special slot in your jewelry box for the pearls, or keep them in a soft bag made from chamois or another non-abrasive material.

Your fine pearl necklaces should be restrung periodically so that you're sure the silk or nylon cord holding them is in good shape.

Did You Know: Natural pearls are sold by carat weight, but cultured pearls are sold by their size in millimeters.

Read How Pearls are Formed for more details about natural and cultured pearls.

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