With all the weddings, graduations and occasions to eat sheet cake, we’ve been living in our pearls lately. (Pearl studs have become permanent fixtures on our lobes.) They’re summer’s answer to every dress code. But warmer weather leads to increased perspiration, and the acid from sweat can damage a pearl’s luster. Routine cleaning and proper storage will prevent damage and keep your pearls looking like new. Read on to get the 411 on pearl maintenance, including how to safely clean your pearls and what to do if you splash pinot on your princess pearl strand. Consider this your June (pearl month) debriefing.
Save your toothbrush for your other pearly whites—a soft cloth will do.
After each wear, gently wipe your pearls with a soft cloth, like a microfiber cleaning cloth or chamois, before storing. Perspiration and the skin’s natural oils can damage a pearl’s luster.
Wipe your pearls immediately if they are exposed to common acids like fruit juice and vinegar. Acids break down the crystalized calcium of the pearl.
When routine care is not enough…
Your pearls may require a more thorough cleaning. Apply a natural, non-detergent soap and water using a microfiber cleaning cloth. (Unscented, liquid castile soap works like a charm.) Do not submerse or soak your pearls in the soap-water solution; instead, use the cloth to transfer the soapy water to the pearls. Use distilled bottled water, not tap water. The chlorine and other chemicals present in tap water can damage your pearls. Do not use a toothbrush or any other type of bristle to clean your pearls—you risk of scratching them. Handle with care while cleaning. Do not pull on the stringing material. Lay flat to dry. Allow pearls to air dry completely before wearing or storing.
We’re not the boss of you, but…
Do not use an ultrasonic cleaner on your pearls—the vibrations can damage the nacre. Do not use a steam cleaner—the heat can damage your pearls.
Storing Your Pearls
The surface of a pearl is soft and easily scratched. Store each piece of pearl jewelry in its own soft container to prevent contact with metal or other gemstones. Silk pouches, chamois bags and pearl folders are ideal—they prevent scratching and permit air flow. Do not store pearls in resealable plastic bags. Plastic bags release a chemical that can cause deterioration. Do not store pearls in a see-through jewelry box. Long-term exposure to sunlight can cause pearls to yellow.
Store pearls lying flat. Hanging pearls in storage puts unnecessary tension on the silk or nylon cord, accelerating the wear and making it prone to breakage. Always fasten the clasp and pin before storing to prevent tangles and scratches.
Do not store your pearls in a safe. Safes are humidity-controlled to protect paper. Pearls need to draw moisture from the air to maintain their beauty. When pearls are deprived of moisture, tiny fractures form causing fragility and discoloration. If your pearls must be stored in a safe, put a glass of water in the safe with them. If you live in a dry climate, you may want to consider storing your pearls in the bathroom, as it is typically the most humid room in the house. However, be sure to store them away from cleaners and cosmetics.
Heat will deprive pearls of their moisture and can lead to discoloration. Do not leave pearls around a direct source of heat, like a fireplace or on a laptop.
With a little TLC, your pearls will last a lifetime. Keep your ivory baubles looking beautiful with gentle, routine cleaning and careful storing.