Cosmetics, hair spray, perfumes, body lotions and household chemicals can damage delicate stones and coat metals with a film. Always put on your jewelry after all grooming is complete and remove it before doing any housework or strenuous chores.
When your jewelry is not being worn, store it in a jewelry box to keep it from becoming dusty, damaged or lost.
Metals do develop a darker patina over time. But you can minimize the tarnishing of sterling silver by wearing it; silver loves being next to your skin! Between wearings, store your sterling silver, copper and brass in closed zipper bags. For the best of both worlds, store your pieces in a jewelry box or travel roll with an anti-tarnish lining! (Check out QVC or HSN to find anti-tarnish jewelry storage options.)
The easiest way to keep your sterling silver and copper wire pieces clean and shiny is to polish them regularly with a jewelry polishing cloth, such as the popular Sunshine polishing cloth or, my favorite (especially for Argentium sterling), Goddard's Silver Polishing Cloth. (Gold can be polished, also, to remove dirt and residues, but it doesn’t oxidize and change color like sterling and copper do.)
Most of my wire-wrapped jewelry can also be safely cleaned with a little bit of mild dish soap or baby shampoo and lukewarm water, if needed. Do not use toothpaste, which is too harsh and abrasive. If your piece needs a deeper cleaning than a swish in soapy water can provide, try a clean, very soft toothbrush used v-e-r-y gently with the soap and water to help remove dust, dirt, body oils and lotion residues. Be careful not to damage the delicate wire work. Please note that brushing or rubbing deep in the grooves of the piece can remove antiquing treatments I have added!
Beads and most gemstones can be wiped with a soft, damp cloth, except for stones such as jasper, for example, which should not get wet or the finish may be damaged. If it looks like the color of the gemstones you are cleaning is coming off, they may be dyed, so clean those pieces with a dry cloth. Start by testing one bead with a tiny bit of water to be sure your beads are colorfast. Soft gemstones and materials that must be carefully handled include things like opals, turquoise, amber, coral, malachite, lapis lazuli, onyx, jade, emeralds, pearls and seashells. Also, do not get resin photo pendants, organza ribbon or satin pendant cords wet!
My soldered and riveted mixed metal pieces have typically been given an acrylic or wax treatment, (this will be noted on the tag) so don't get them wet or rub them too hard. Just give them a quick swipe with a soft, dry cloth.
For heavily tarnished sterling silver or copper pieces that contain metal only and no beads, soak the piece in one cup of vinegar or lemon juice to which a tablespoon of salt has been added. Rinse very thoroughly in water with baking soda added to neutralize the acidic action of the vinegar or lemon, then rinse again, very thoroughly, in clean water and dry. Keep in mind that this process may remove antiquing treatments that have been used to add depth and dimension. To clean antiqued pieces, just swish your piece for a few seconds to brighten the high points of the piece without removing the treatment or simply polish them with a cloth. Be careful not to rub the antiquing out of the recesses of the piece.
Another way to remove tarnish from sterling silver (without beads) is to crumple a piece of aluminum foil and lay it in the bottom of a glass baking dish, creating peaks and valleys in the foil. Add a tablespoon or two of washing soda and enough very warm (but not hot) water to immerse the foil completely. Add your sterling piece so that the silver makes contact with the foil. You will see bubbling occur as the mixture removes dirt and tarnish from your jewelry. After the bubbling stops, remove your jewelry, rinse it very well and dry. (As above, this process also may remove oxidation treatments.) Since many gemstones are too delicate to withstand high temperatures, I'd only use this method on silver pieces without beads, unless you know for certain that the beads in your piece will be safe when immersed in warm water and subjected to the chemical reaction of the foil and washing soda.
Lastly, some people prefer the deeper, richer look of antiqued metals, so feel free to allow your pieces to darken naturally, if you wish, not polishing them much or at all.
“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” — George Bernard Shaw