Jewelry Making Tips: Polishing and Cleaning Jewelry

Have you ever noticed how your sterling silver jewelry can slowly become soiled and tarnished without you realizing it?  The tarnishing process is so slow that you sometimes forget how shiny and beautiful your jewelry was when it was newly cleaned and polished. Over time, makeup, oils, and sweat will take its toll especially in crevices.  Polishing jewelry with a cloth works but it’s hard to polish chain and to clean hard to reach crevices.  Cloth polishing can also strain connectors, prongs, and other weak spots. In addition cloth polishing may not clean as well as you would like. You would think that there must be a better way and there is.  Tumble polishing is easier, faster, and more efficient and it takes care of cleaning and polishing simultaneously. It produces an amazing result.

All of us are probably familiar with or have heard about rock tumblers used for grinding, sanding, and polishing rocks.  Actually, tumbling rocks is a fairly laborious 3 week long messy process using silicon carbide grits to create beautifully polished stones. Interestingly enough this same tumbler can be used to clean and polish jewelry using a process that’s short, clean, and simple.  Instead of using multiple silicon carbide grits you simply use a mixture of stainless steel shot, water, and soap.  Here’s all that you need:

  • A small barrel tumbler like the one in this photo. Chicago Electric Power Tools 67631 3 Lb. Rotary Rock TumblerYou can purchase this tumbler at Harbor Freight for about $30 on sale. It has a rubber barrel and measures about 5 inches x 5 inches. It runs quietly and at low speed.  Click this link for more details:

  • Stainless steel shot from Rio Grande:  Purchase one pound of mixed stainless steel shot from Rio Grande Jewelry Supplies.   This shot mix includes 1/8 inch to ½ inch long stainless steel balls, rods, and pins which will clean and burnish silver without damaging stones and beads. One pound of mixed stainless steel shot will cost about $16 and you can purchase it from Rio Grande Jewelry Supplies.  The following link provides more details: assetName=339388

  • Dawn liquid soap:  If you don’t already have it, purchase a small bottle of Dawn liquid soap. This soap has an amazing ability to clean jewelry and will help reduce friction between the shot and jewelry surfaces.
  • A stainless steel strainer:  A strainer is used to separate water from the jewelry and shot mix. The one in this photo was purchased at a local grocery store for about $10.  


Here are the steps for cleaning and polishing:

  • Put the stainless shot and up to 10 or so pieces of jewelry into the tumbler barrel.
  • Add enough water to barely cover the jewelry and shot.
  • Add about ½ teaspoon of Dawn Liquid Soap
  • Tighten the barrel lid and start tumbling.
  • After 2 hours or so the polishing will be complete.  Empty the contents into the strainer and rinse thoroughly.  Rinse each piece of jewelry individually and dry it with a towel to prevent water stains.
  • Wash and let the stainless steel shot dry for future use. 

You will be amazed at the how clean and polished the jewelry will look. Repeating this process once every 6 months or so will keep your jewelry looking new. However, here are some tips on what not to do:

  • Do not tumble soft stones or beads like pearls, opals, or extra soft turquoise. Normal or harder turquoise can be tumbled with no problem. 
  • Do not tumble leather, cord, satin, cotton, or other non metallic necklace materials.
  • Do not tumble small necklace chains that may tangle easily with other jewelry.  It’s better to tumble small chains by themselves or with materials like rings or smooth bracelets.

This might not be a practical method for someone with a small amount of jewelry. But, if you have several necklaces, bracelets, and rings, it makes a lot of sense.  The investment of $60 or so will last a lifetime. Using tumbling every 6 months or so is a fast, easy, and effective way to keep your jewelry investment looking new.  

You will be more beautiful than ever!

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1 Response to Jewelry Making Tips: Polishing and Cleaning Jewelry

  1. DLik Kafa says:

    Jun nineteen, 2009· necklaces is among the nearly all misspelled phrases within the british vocabulary…. So how do you mean it and how in the event you mean the idea let’s say you sell jewelry on the webjewelry

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