How to Clean and Take Care of Costume Jewelry
It can be a little difficult to know how to properly take care of costume jewelry. Costume jewelry is a blanket term for jewelry using most kinds of beads (glass, acrylic, etc) and any jewelry with metals that are nickel-plated (i.e. "fake" silver and gold). Commercial jewelry cleaners that can be bought at department and jewelry stores are meant for real silver and gold jewelry, and can seriously damage costume jewelry if used to clean them.
So how do you clean a tarnished or dirty piece of costume jewelry, and properly take care of it so it tarnishes less in the future? There are many inexpensive methods, using items you probably already have at home.
This is my preferred method for cleaning items that have tarnished while I store them (before they are sent out to customers). Use a simple toothpaste (nothing fancy is required, and you shouldn't use anything too abrasive) along with a clean, soft bristled toothbrush. Simply put a small dot of toothpaste on the toothbrush, and scrub your item with it - just like you brush your teeth. Brush until you see the tarnish rubbing off, then rinse in some warm water and quickly dry off. You can repeat this until you feel your jewelry is clean and tarnish-free. This is best used on nickel-plated silver (like my Awareness Necklaces), and should not be used on coated glass beads (i.e. beads with a finish on them).
2. Baby Shampoo and Water
Mix together a drop or two each of baby shampoo and water, and use a soft bristled toothbrush or clean Q-tip to clean hard to reach places. Rinse off quickly in cool water and use a soft cloth to dry.
3. Hot Water and Baking Soda
Mix together a small amount of baking soda and hot water to create a paste. Repeat the step from above of scrubbing with a soft-bristled toothbrush to get the hard to reach places. Quickly rinse and dry with a soft towel.
For a few more methods, I reference this WikiHow article quite a bit when I need to clean items that have started to tarnish in my stash before I've gotten to use them.
Once you have cleaned your items and gotten them shining like they're brand new again, how in the world do you keep them from tarnishing again? Can you do anything to keep them from tarnishing?
Unfortunately because of the fact that these items are created with resources that are on the cheaper side, tarnishing may always be an issue. But with a little extra care, you can try to avoid it as much as possible.
1. Keep them dry
Moisture is one of the worst things for fake metals. Even the moisture in air can speed up the tarnishing process. You should remove all your costume jewelry before taking a shower or bath, and keep them as dry as possible at all times. If your pieces do get wet, you should dry them off with a soft towel as soon as possible.
2. Store them away from air
As previously mentioned, even the moisture in air can speed up the tarnishing process on costume jewelry and fake metals. If you're going to store them for periods of time, storing them wisely can keep them from tarnishing as quickly. One good tip is to store your pieces in Ziploc bags with as much air drawn out as possible before sealing them up. While it's not very pretty, neither is wearing tarnished jewelry. You can also buy anti-tarnish strips (Amazon, non-affiliate link) to place in your jewelry box or drawer that will help keep your jewelry from tarnishing as quickly while it's store.
3. Use a protectant
You can also further try to stop items from tarnishing by using some kind of protectant on them. Some people have had great success with simply coating their jewelry with clear nail polish. This protects it from the moisture in air, and keeps it from tarnishing as quickly, and can also protect your skin from turning green as a reaction to chemicals in fake jewelry. It can be an inexpensive and easy method, but you will have to reapply it to your pieces every so often. However, you can also now buy a few products special made to do the same thing - like Alchemy (Amazon, non-affiliate link) or ProtectaClear (Amazon, non-affiliate link), or you can search Google for "jewelry protectants" to find others.
At the end of the day, with so many pretty pieces of costume jewelry out there, it is worth the effort to learn how to properly clean and take care of them, and make them usable for years to come.