The Complete Guide on How To Clean and Care for Pearls

pearls will retain their beauty and luster with proper care

Now that you've purchased a meaningful jewelry piece for your loved one, you’re probably wondering, "How can I ensure that my cultured pearl necklace gift can bring my loved one joy for many decades?" We often receive this question from our customers, so we decided to compile a guide with all the tips and suggestions we've accumulated over the years.

Diamonds might be "forever", but pearls can also last a lifetime with proper care. In this complete guide to pearl cleaning and care, you’ll find helpful tips and techniques that will keep your pearls in pristine condition for many years to come.

Sharing these tips with your loved one can also be a great bonding experience, especially if your gift recipient is a young girl who’s eager to learn how to care for her new jewelry. She’ll feel responsible and grown up when she knows how to care for her pearls, and she’ll fully understand the value of her sentimental jewelry gift.

Our guidelines reveal the best methods to store, handle, and clean your pearls in order for their beauty to shine forever. Find out how to care for your pearls and properly tend to pearl jewelry for a luster to shine bright throughout the years.

Why do pearls require special care?

Pearls are known to be timeless. To maintain their beauty, proper care is needed. Before you start cleaning your pearl necklace or pearl jewelry, you should first know what makes them unique. Pearls are organic gems formed inside of living organisms. The process begins when an irritant finds its way into the oyster or mussel and becomes embedded into the walls of the oyster. If you’d like to learn more about the different types of oysters that produce pearls, you’ll definitely want to read this blog post.

To soothe itself, the oyster secretes a fluid that forms around the irritation. Layer upon layer is deposited around the center, resulting in the formation of a pearl. These layers are called nacre and constitute the outer shell of a pearl. Nacre is composed of crystallized carbonate and an organic protein called conchiolin. Conchiolin is a sticky substance that acts as a glue or adhesive to bind the nacre layers together. Calcium Carbonate contains aragonite. In its crystal form, aragonite ranks low 3-4 on the hardness scale, but once it’s combined with the organic binding agents, the substance becomes notably resilient.

The surface of a pearl has the unique ability to refract and reflect light. Each beam of light that comes into contact with the pearls’ platelets acts as a tiny kaleidoscope of colors, breaking up the light beam and refracting rainbow colors from the surface of the pearl. The layers of nacre govern the ability for light to penetrate and reflect. Therefore, care must be taken to protect the nacre by avoiding exposure to strong light, excessive heat or chemicals. In addition, pearls are organic gems and need moisture, so they don’t dry out. They should never be stored in plastic or air-tight containers, which would cause them to dry out and possibly crack.

The hardness of gems is ranked by the Mohs Hardness Scale by numerical rankings of 1-10. Minerals are graded for toughness on a scale of exceptional, excellent, good, fair or poor. Even though pearls are relatively soft, ranking 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, their toughness is good due to the structural binding of aragonite platelets. Hardness and toughness relative to gems are vastly misunderstood concepts. Hardness and toughness are generally mutually exclusive meaning a gem ranking high on the hardness scale can have poor toughness. Nacre has special self-assembly properties that produce remarkable toughness and high resistance to fracture. But, aging, dehydrations and bleaching treatments could result in fragile pearls susceptible to peeling or cracking.

Do pearls lose their luster or become dull? It’s possible that pearls can lose their shimmer and shine over time, but you can prevent it from happening by learning how to clean your cultured pearl necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings.

How to Care for Pearls

As mentioned, pearls are ranked 2.5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale which means that a pearl is considered a soft gem and can easily be scratched. But with adequate care, pearl jewelry can last for a lifetime and be passed down through generations. The good news is that special care is not hard to do. You only need to follow a few simple suggestions to keep your pearls in top condition.

As with other items of value, you’ll want to be careful how you wear and store them. A little bit of knowledge and good judgement will reward you with the lasting luster of beautiful pearls to be consistent. Here are some simple tips on how to take care of real pearls:

1. Last on, first off - This is the golden rule of pearls care. Always put your pearls on last, after getting dressed, applying perfume, make-up, lotions, and hairspray or hair products. Also, always remove your pearls first before getting undressed.

2. Before putting your pearls away, wipe them with a soft chamois cloth to remove oils and perspiration.

3. Do not wear your pearls if the string is wet. A wet string can stretch and detract from the beauty of the necklace. A wet string can easily absorb dirt or grime, which will be nearly impossible to remove, so be sure to wait until the string is completely dry before wearing your pearls.

4. Avoid wearing pearls with clothes made of rough fabrics or threads that can become entwined with the string. They may cause scratches and create difficulty removing fabric fibers enmeshed with your pearl necklace.

5. Do not wear your pearls in the pool, bath, sauna, or shower. Pearl jewelry should never be submerged in water. Keep in mind that pearls mounted on rings or earrings are normally glued to a post. Even though water won't destroy the pearls, it will dissolve the glue, ultimately causing risk of loss.

6. You should remove your pearls before engaging in sports or exercise to avoid exposing your pearls to perspiration or risking the chance they will break.

7. You should remove your pearls before going to bed. Do not sleep in your pearls. The string can become weakened and strained increasing the risk of breaking.

8. Wear your pearls often. Pearls benefit from the moisture from the body so wear them often to keep them looking their best.

9. If you wear your pearls frequently, you should restring them once a year to keep the string clean and strong.

How to Store Pearls

Properly storing your pearls when you’re not wearing them will help ensure the longevity and beauty of your precious jewels. Here are a few simple tips to help you:

1. Avoid storing pearls in plastic bags or plastic jewelry boxes. Plastic can emit a chemical that can damage or erode the surface of your pearls. Ideally, store your pearls in a soft chamois cloth or a pouch made of silk or cotton. Make sure to store your pearls separately away from other jewelry or hard metals to prevent scratches. If you don’t have a chamois pouch, you can transform a pretty photo-storage box from a craft store or office supplies center by lining the center with a soft color-tested fabric such as felt, velvet, cotton or satin to safely store your pearls. Make several quarter-sized holes in the lid for ventilation, allowing air to circulate, so your pearls can breathe.

2. Designate a special space just for storing your pearls. Most of your other necklaces and bracelets can be hung on a jewelry rack, but pearls, especially pearl necklaces, should be stored flat and away from contact with other necklaces to avoid getting tangled together. Always be sure to close the clasps to prevent tangles. A velvet or satin-lined jewelry box with designated compartments or a spacious jewelry drawer is ideal. Be sure to store your jewelry in a discreet place away from curious eyes or burglars.

3. When traveling, wrap your pearls carefully and carry them with you in a soft-lined pouch. A soft, organic fabric will protect them from other belongings or objects. Be sure the fabric you choose is 100% pure to prevent any possibility the color could fade or bleed onto your pearls.

4. Store your pearls in moderate-temperature environments and away from excessive heat or cold. Keep pearls away from direct sunlight to prevent damage from UV rays. Extreme heat can dry out your pearls leading to discoloration or brittle nacre, which can eventually cause cracking.

5. Do not store your pearls in a safety deposit box for extended periods of time. Remember, nacre has an organic composition and needs moisture to breathe. Dried out nacre ultimately becomes brittle and can peel, crack, or discolor. Sometimes, dried out nacre causes a yellowing or aged appearance.

How to Clean Pearls

Keeping your pearls clean is important for preserving their luster and to ensure they will last a long time in top condition. Cleaning your pearls can be done yourself easily at home without the use of costly products or equipment.

Steps to Clean Pearls

1. Prevention is #1. To keep your pearls clean, be sure you always put them on last and remove them first.

2. After wearing, gently wipe your pearls with a damp cloth wipe to remove any perfume, makeup, or grime that might have come in contact with your pearls.

3. After wiping them, store them safely in a designated space away from your other jewelry. You can create your own velvet-lined keepsake box or lay your pearls flat, if possible.

What if they need deep cleaning?

1. If more intense cleaning is necessary, we suggest using a small mixture of organic or environmentally friendly dish soap or eco-friendly laundry detergent mixed with a quart of warm, not hot or cold, water. Mix the solution well and gently rub it over the dirty pearls in a soft circular motion for approximately 15 – 20 seconds. Do not pull on the pearls or rub too harshly. Do not use vinegar, lemon, or baking soda because they contain acids which could erode and damage the nacre.

2. Then, with a different damp clean cloth, softly rub the pearls carefully to be sure any soap or residue has been thoroughly removed. Gently massage the cloth around the pearls to completely wipe the surface of every pearl.

3. Finally, dry your pearls with a clean, dry towel to ensure any excess moisture has been absorbed. As a last step, lay your pearls flat to air-dry completely. Do not ever use a blow-dryer to expedite the drying process. Forced heat and pressure will damage your pearls.

4. To keep your pearls in good condition, do not hang your necklaces or bracelets in order to let them dry. Keep them on a flat surface to avoid weakening or stretching the string.

5. Do not use an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner to clean your pearls. The heat, chemicals, and vibrations will be harmful to your pearls.

6. Never use ordinary household products such as vinegar, ammonia, bleach, rubbing alcohol, or nail-polish remover to clean your pearls. Those products contain chemicals that will erode your pearls. Pearls are organic and sensitive to many types of products.

7. Metal parts of your pearl jewelry such as 14K gold clasps or 14K chains can be cleaned using the same methods mentioned above. If needed, metal parts or chains can be cleaned with traditional jewelry cleaner. Look for a cleaner that has pure ingredients and is environmentally safe.

Pearls have the unique ability to compliment a woman’s complexion. They exude a soft glow that brings warmth and vitality to the wearer like no other gemstones can. So, if you’ve been storing yours or haven’t worn them for a long time, now’s the time to take them out of storage, clean them off, put them on, and show them off! Wearing them is one of the best ways to maintain them.

If you’d like to know more about “pearl manners” or the practice of wearing pearls in regular, day-to-day life, then you’ll definitely want to check out our blog post “Pearl Manners – How To Wear Pearls In Your Everyday Life” as well. Pearl earrings are just as appropriate as a casual lunch with the girls as they are for a special occasion like a wedding. Pearl necklaces definitely don’t need to be saved for formal occasions, and pearl rings are beautiful on their own or in a ring stack (just be sure to remove your pearl ring when you wash your hands).

Ultimately, keeping your pearls looking their best is simple to do. By following a few basic tips, your gems will retain their shimmer and shine for generations. Be sure to wear your pearls often to maintain your beauties from the sea! The next time you buy a cultured pearl necklace for your loved one, share this blog post and use the experience as a chance for bonding and making new memories.


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