With All This Hand Washing, What Is Happening to Our Jewelry?

Under the current circumstances, there is never, ever a bad time to wash your hands. This results in a few things we may not have noticed right away, but are now thinking about—one being soothing chapped skin, and another the impact increased hand washing has on our rings, bracelets, and watches—especially those that are sentimental. Since these are pieces most people typically don’t remove before washing their hands—especially when doing so 20+ times per day—we consulted with some experts for their insight on how all this soap and water affects our favorite pieces.

Cov-alums Shelley Sanders and Olivia Landau know *a lot* about jewelry. Sanders worked her way up through the industry, lending her creative eye to several major brands before founding millennial favorite The Last Line. Landau studied at the Gemology Institute of America and later launched The Clear Cut, which began as a blog and is now a direct-to-consumer engagement ring and jewelry company. While, according to Sanders, “the best protection is to remove them,” their tips don’t stop there. Ahead, the two jewelry buffs share how soaps and hand sanitizers actually affect your jewelry, and how best to clean everything from gold and silver to the diamonds on your engagement ring.


What does increased hand washing do to our jewelry?

Shelley Sanders: “To be honest, it’s not the worst, but it’s not the best. You want to avoid putting chemicals on your jewelry, especially lotions and perfumes, because they often lead to buildup on your pieces and may dull a little of the shine. Ideally, I would recommend you remove your jewelry before washing your hands. If not, it’s OK, but rinse and dry your hands super well. We say we like our jewelry and our champagne the same—extra dry!”

How do soaps and hand sanitizers affect diamonds versus other stones?

Olivia Landau: “Soap and hand sanitizer may create some slight residue on your diamonds and gemstones until they are completely rinsed off; however, they will not have a damaging effect on either. It is good to note that soap and sanitizer can have a negative effect on organic gems such as pearls, amber, and coral. So for these items, it is best to keep them away from soap and hand sanitizer as much as possible.”

Is hand sanitizer just as bad as soap?

SS: “I think hand sanitizer is almost worse, given the alcohol percentages, which are good for getting germs, not good for gems. Anything fine, should be fine (no pun intended), but do your best to avoid it on all of your pieces.”

OL: “Excessive exposure to sanitizer can cause the finish on your white-gold jewelry to wear slightly faster. Some non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain chlorine, which under certain circumstances can cause silver jewelry to tarnish. However, both of these circumstances just require normal jewelry upkeep, and your pieces will get back to shining like new!”

Are there certain soaps or hand sanitizers that we should or shouldn’t be using to protect our jewelry?

OL: “Soap and most hand sanitizers will be completely safe for both gold and silver jewelry as long as they do not contain abrasives! In terms of abrasives, we recommend staying away from soaps and sanitizers that have small, fibrous materials that are intended to exfoliate the skin. If these are used while wearing your jewelry, they could potentially scratch the metal on your jewelry. The alcohol itself can cause the finish on white-gold jewelry to wear more quickly if used in excess, but shouldn’t have a negative effect otherwise. And this is something that can be fixed during routine maintenance!”

Is there a certain percentage of alcohol in hand sanitizer where it becomes harmful for your jewelry?

SS: “Alcohol can dry out and damage certain gemstones; it’s best practice to avoid it entirely on your jewelry as much as possible. Given the times, we must use it, [but] try your hardest to avoid [getting it on] your colored gemstones. If you have the option, it’s better to wash your hands than to use the hand sanitizer with alcohol when wearing jewelry.”


How do you recommend cleaning gold and silver jewelry?

SS: “My cleaning recommendation for all fine jewelry is [to] use non-abrasive jewelry wash and a soft cloth to dry and polish. If you don’t have either at home, you can use warm water, mild dish soap, and a very soft toothbrush, and give your jewels a quick soak and scrub, and then dry with a soft cloth. I just use my children’s gentle organic baby soap that is unscented and chemical free, or Seventh Generation gentle and unscented dishwashing soap. We recommend once every week or two for a little self-care.”

Is the way you clean gemstones different?

SS: “Some stones, like emeralds, pearls, turquoise, and opals, are more delicate than others. For delicate gemstones, it’s best to have them professionally cleaned. Very mild, chemical-free soap and water should be OK, but just remember to be extra careful! Also, make sure clasps are secure and stones are intact after cleaning before you wear.”

Are engagement rings safe to wear while washing our hands?

OL: “Yes! Just treat them gently, and be sure to wash all soap off of your ring to give it its best sparkle.”

Can you share any tips for cleaning engagement rings specifically?

OL: “The best and simplest way to clean engagement rings at home would be to fill a bowl with warm water and a squeeze of dish soap, then soak your ring in there and scrub with a clean toothbrush to get into the nooks and crannies of your ring. Then rinse in a bowl of warm water (without soap), and set to dry on a clean paper towel.”

Does washing your hands more frequently affect how often you should have your settings checked?

OL: “We always recommend having your settings checked approximately every 18 months, and washing your hands more frequently should not have a significant impact on this. As always, if something seems off, it’s a good idea to have it checked.”

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