How to Care for Pearls (Plus Cleaning Tips)

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Wondering how you should care for your pearls?

You're in the right place. In this Learning Guide, I'll give you everything you need to know about keeping pearl jewelry looking its best for years to come, and answer questions like: 

how to care for pearls
  • Should I soak my pearls?
  • Can you fix damaged pearls?
  • How often should you get pearls restrung?

Why Do Pearls Need Extra Care?

Pearls are organic gemstones. This means that they are the product of living organism. Various pearl types are produced by different species of mollusks- usually mussels or oysters.

If you know anything about pearl jewelry, you've probably heard that they are soft gemstones. More and more jewelry buyers are educating themselves about the Mohs scale of hardness. But the Mohs scale is only a piece of the puzzle to a gemstone's overall wearability.

Mohscale

Image by the National Park Service. Public Domain.

You see, the Mineral Scale of Hardness only tells us the scratch resistance of a mineral, but has nothing to do with its resistance to chipping or breaking. Pearls don't have a high scratch resistance. They rate between a 2.5-4.5. That's a far cry from diamonds, the most scratch resistant mineral in the world-which rates at a 10 on the hardness scale.

Pearls have an iridescent sheen called luster on the surface. The most beautiful pearls have the best luster and beauty. But the beauty of these magical sea gems are very delicate and can be damaged without proper care.

How to Clean Pearl Jewelry

The most common way you'll hear me tell you to clean jewelry is to use mild soap and warm water. For some stones, you can submerge them in a bowl of the soap solution. Other jewelry cleaners can involve steam, ultrasonic waves, or a gem-safe chemical solution. Take a soft bristled brush and gently clean the stone.

Not with pearl jewelry.

Take everything I've told you about cleaning gems and throw it out the window. Yes, even the mild soap and water solution. The truth is, even that is too harsh on pearl jewelry.

Keep your pearls away from water. It seems kind of counterintuitive since pearls were formed in the water to begin with. That's precisely why they can't get wet. We're not just talking about water when cleaning either.

Avoid swimming with any type of fine jewelry, not just pearls. Harsh chemicals in pools like chlorine can severely damage your pearls. Most people might think of that as a no-brainer.

But a lot of people don't consider the damage make-up, hair spray, sweat, and perfume can do to the luster of a pearl. Pearl pieces should be put on after you get ready, not before. Promptly clean them after you wear your pearls.

You should use a soft cloth to keep your pearls clean. Gently wipe your pearls with the soft cloth, and do it slowly. Any type of dust or dirt that sits on your pearl jewelry could be scratch your pearl when being wiped too quickly or roughly, even with a soft cloth.

There is no type of deep cleaning for pearls.

How to Store Pearls

A pearl's surface is very delicate. In order not to damage the surface, you need to store your pearls properly when you're not wearing them. The rules for storing your pearls are pretty much the same as storing other gemstones and jewelry, with some minor additions.

Cultured Tahitian Pearl Earrings

The best place to store pearls is in a jewelry box. Not just any box though. A jewelry box lined with silk, satin, velvet or another soft lining is recommended for keeping your pearl jewelry from getting scratched.

Avoid hanging necklaces/bracelets and always lay your pearls flat. Avoid presenting a pearl ring on a finger display. A pearl ring should be placed inside lined slot of a jewelry box. Don't use plastic bags to store your pearls. Yes, they're stored separately but a plastic bag can create its own humidity inside the sealed bag. 

Don't store your pearls with other gemstones and jewelry. Keep your pearl jewelry pieces separate so they don't scratch by rubbing against each other. Don't store pearl jewelry loosely unless its a necklace or bracelet.

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Routine Maintenance for Pearl Jewelry

In addition to watching out for your daily routine damaging your pearl jewelry, there are a couple repairs you'll have to do for your pearls over the course of time. Especially if you love your pearls and wear them often.

Restringing Pearl Necklaces

The biggest routine maintenance you'll need to do to keep your pearls is to get them restrung. If you wear your pearls often, you'll need your pearls restrung more often. The general recommendation is 2 years for if you wear your pearls regularly.

You shouldn't wait until the pearl strand breaks to restring pearls. If it breaks, you could lose one pearl, or the entire necklace if they don't knot it after each pearl. Observe your pearl necklaces and bracelets for any signs of the string fraying or discoloration.

Silk strings can be damaged by a lot. Keeping your pearl necklace or bracelet wet can soften the composition of the pearl strand. Avoid hanging and avoid stretching a pearl necklace or bracelet.

Repairing Pearl Necklace Clasps

Both pearl necklaces and pearl bracelets require clasps to keep your pearls around your wrist or neck. They are usually made of white gold, yellow gold, rose gold, platinum, or sterling silver.

The biggest misconception about jewelry care is that if it has good craftsmanship, then it shouldn't break. That's just not true with jewelry because its crafted in natural materials from the earth. Jewelry metals are mined, just like gemstones.

Pearl Jewelry Care FAQ

Can Pearls go in an Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner?

There are many different ways to clean gemstones. Some involve jewelry solution cleaners, steam cleaners, ultrasonic cleaners, or good old fashion soap and water-which is usually the best recommended. You shouldn't clean pearls in any sort of cleaning machine, especially an ultrasonic cleaner.

An ultrasonic jewelry cleaner is an electronic cleaner that involves a mixture of water and jewelry solution cleaner. When turned on, ultrasonic waves are sent through the machine, shaking loose any dirt off your jewelry.

Many chain retailers have a free cleaning and inspections for jewelry. When I worked at Kay Jewelers, we used an ultrasonic machine to clean our jewelry. If the gemstone couldn't go in the machine, we wouldn't turn on the waves or do a quick dip and clean.

Make sure that a jewelry associate doesn't put your pearl jewelry in an ultrasonic cleaner or submerge it in water. Many jewelry store associates aren't trained properly. We used to watch pearl necklaces, pearl earrings, and pearl rings in jewelry solution cleaner.

Can Pearl Jewelry Fade in Sunlight?

Pearls that have been artificially colored can fade in prolonged sunlight. The luster of any type of pearl jewelry can happen due to prolonged sunlight or high humidity. Now, if you're going inside and outside into the sun throughout your day running errands, I wouldn't be too concerned about fading.. Though I don't recommend pearl jewelry for errands either.

Low impact jewelry like pearl earrings have less vulnerabilities because they're hidden from direct sunlight. Pearl necklaces, pearl bracelets, and pearl rings on the other hand, not so much.

Can I Restore the Luster of My Pearls?

If you haven't cleaned your pearls, they may appear dull or turn yellow. Cleaning them with a soft cloth should restore their shine. However, if the luster of your pearl has been damaged by chemicals, sweat, etc, it can't be restored. Once pearls are damaged, they're ruined. That's why it's very important to follow pearl care to the T.

How to Care for Your Pearls: Final Dos and Don'ts

  • DO practice storing your pearls in a soft lined jewelry box
  • DON'T store pearls in airtight plastic bags
  • DO lay your pearls flat
  • DON'T hang or stretch your pearls
  • DO put your pearls on after your makeup routine
  • DON'T expose your pearls to prolonged sunlight
  • DO wipe your pearls with a soft cloth
  • DON'T submerge pearls and avoid exposing them to water
  • DO clean your pearls after each time your wear them
  • DON'T swim, exercise, clean, wash, or do outdoor activities while wearing pearls.

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