If you want to keep your favorite necklace, bracelet, or ring in good condition for a long time, the one thing you must do is to care for that piece of jewelry correctly. Often, this means cleaning that piece frequently and ensuring that there is no gunk in the crevices and crannies. Cleaning is also important because it helps in getting rid of the tarnished layer that discolors your jewelry, making sure that your jewelry looks as good as new, always.
Unfortunately, there are cases where regular cleaning with warm water + soap, baking soda, or aluminum foil and many other recommended strategies will not work, and when this happens, you’d have to get that piece of jewelry cleaned using an ultrasonic cleaner. This is also the case when you take jewelry to be cleaned at the jewelers.
Although ultrasonic cleaners work well in getting rid of all the gunk, leaving you with a nice and shiny piece of jewelry, there are times when it’s not the very best cleaning option.
In this article, we look at the kinds of jewelry and materials that you can clean in the ultrasonic cleaner and the ones that you’d have to clean using alternative means.
What is an ultrasonic cleaner?
Ultrasonic cleaners can be defined as powerful cleaning equipment that uses cavitation bubbles that are introduced using high-frequency pressure (and) sound waves to agitate the liquid. This agitation (cavitation results in the production of high forces directed to the contaminants that could be adhering to the pieces being cleaned, leaving them sparkling.
The agitation also penetrated cracks, recesses, and blind holes, among other hidden areas on the jewelry, which is why it’s the preferred option for most of the highly tarnished pieces of jewelry.
Unfortunately, ultrasonic cleaners shouldn’t be used for all types of jewelry. This is because the cavitation from the ultrasonic energy, the collapse of the small bubbles, and the huge burst of energy can knock off or break apart some types of jewelry or elements in jewelry.
What not to put in ultrasonic jewelry cleaner
Ultrasonic jewelry cleaners use transducers that convert electrical energy into high-frequency sound waves or ultrasonic energy. This cleaner then scrubs off contaminants and dirt from the jewelry in a liquid environment through cavitation – again, cavitation involves the production of microbubbles through the engagement of the positive and the negative pressure waves that create the microbubbles in a liquid medium. Think of cavitation as the action of a spinning boat’s propeller and the foam created in water as the propeller spins.
Now, unlike the propellers, ultrasonic cleaners make use of amplified vibrations from powerful high-quality transducers. These transducers and the high-frequency waves create alternating pressure waves, hence the cavitation process. The microbubbles created implode and collapse just as fast as they are formed, and in the process, they create vacuum energy in the form of heat and pressure. This combination of heat, pressure, and the high velocity that the bubbles travel will clean the jewelry by knocking debris loose. This is what gives the ultrasonic cleaners their power and capability. Unfortunately, this combination is also the reason why you cannot put any kind of jewelry in the ultrasonic cleaner.
Some of the jewelry and gemstones that shouldn’t be cleaned in the ultrasonic cleaner include:
- Organic Gems
Essentially, you shouldn’t clean organic gems in the ultrasonic cleaner. This is because most of the organic gems like Jet, Amber, and Coral are obtained from living things/ organisms, and they are generally porous, meaning they would be damaged easily.
- Brittle Gems
The brittle gems such as the ones listed above – Emeralds, onyx, opals, lapis lazuli, topaz, turquoise, and amber; shouldn’t be cleaned in the ultrasonic cleaner. They are too brittle, and they would break apart when exposed to the powerful forces in the cleaner.
Note that emeralds are soft gemstones, and they are often oiled and also riddled with inclusions. Oiling refers to the process of filling up open inclusions, resulting in an enhanced look for the emeralds. If the emerald is cleaned ultrasonically, the oiled layer is removed, leaving you with an ugly piece of a fractured emerald.
This beautiful, blue-violet gemstone is heat-treated for color enhancement, which means that cleaning it in the ultrasonic cleaner would wash away and fade the gorgeous color off the tanzanite. Tanzanite is also one of the softest gemstones, meaning it would fracture when cleaned ultrasonically.
- Onyx and Lapis
These two are the other stones that are very fragile, and they’d break from the heat and the pressure of the cleaner. There is also the fact that these stones are often dyed for enhanced color, and they’d not only be dull but also shatter in such powerful cleaners.
This applies to other stones like jade, turquoise, malachite, amber, marcasite, coral, and agates.
Opals are also quite brittle, and they’d break easily in different conditions, which is why you should never expose them to the high-pressure, high-heat agitation cleaner. This applies to black opals and mosaic pearls.
And you also need to keep in mind the fact that the opals can be doublets or triplets, meaning they are made of slices of opals glued together. So, ultrasonic cleaning would be a terrible idea.
- Pearls (including chocolate pearls, freshwater pearls, dyed/ black pearls, and Mother of Pearls)
Though tempting, you shouldn’t clean your pearls in the ultrasonic cleaner because pearls are softer than most of the stones that are used in jewelry making. In some cases, the pearls may be partially dissolved, or they could be eroded in the cleaner, especially if the pearl is the Mother of Pearl. So, to avoid such risks, don’t put the pearls in the cleaner.
- Treated Stones
The defective, synthetic, or treated stones may have cracks or even fillings, and you shouldn’t clean them in the ultrasonic cleaner.
Keep in mind that the synthetic or the treated stones have been heat-treated for enhanced color, which makes them look fuller. There also are gems that are filled for the feathers and the cracks to be covered up. In such cases, the stones in question may be severely damaged or broken apart if exposed to agitation units like what you have in an ultrasonic cleaner.
What this means is that you shouldn’t clean jewelry with colored stones in the ultrasonic machine, same with the color and heat-treated diamonds.
Also, the stones with fracture fillings should be cleaned in these high-energy cleaners because the filling material might dissolve during cleaning.
- Stones with inclusions
If the stones in the jewelry have big inclusions and/or feathers, you shouldn’t put them in the ultrasonic cleaners – the high-energy sound waves may knock the stones and cause cracking.
In a nutshell, the reason why you cannot clean most precious stones and organic elements in these cleaners has to do with the flaws and imperfections in the pieces.
The others to add to your list include:
- Lapis Lazuli
Metals that shouldn’t be cleaned in the ultrasonic cleaner
- There is only one metal on this list – tungsten. Though it’s one of the hardest minerals, it’s unsafe in the ultrasonic cleaner.
- The other is the silver alloy – sterling silver. Specifically, tarnished sterling silver.
It’s not advisable to clean costume jewelry in ultrasonic cleaners, and you should never put these kinds of jewelry in this cleaner. This is because most costume jewelry is made of synthetic, fake, and imitation gemstones that would crack under heat. Also, most costume jewelry is glued together, and this paste would be dissolved or eroded, ruining the jewelry.
You may think that your stainless steel watch needs to be cleaned ultrasonically, but you really shouldn’t. Some watches like diver’s watches and Rolex watches might be waterproof, but they are not water-resistant, and they would be damaged in such powerful cleaners.
Finally, don’t put anything with loose parts in the ultrasonic cleaner.
What jewelry you can put in ultrasonic jewelry cleaner
Now that you have a list of the things that shouldn’t be put in the ultrasonic cleaner let’s look at what you can clean in the ultrasonic cleaner.
- Gold, Silver, and jewelry made of other precious metals, like platinum
- Diamonds (Inclusion-Free)
Most of the best quality, non-colored diamonds can be cleaned in ultrasonic cleaners as long as there are no inclusions or feathers. As mentioned above, these are weak points that put the jewelry at risk of cracking or dulling. So, unless the diamond boasts the best clarity grade, you may want to look at alternatives first.
That said, you shouldn’t clean colored diamonds in these powerful cleaners.
- Non-organic gemstones
Some of the non-organic gemstones that could be cleaned using an ultrasonic cleaner include hard gemstones such as Rubies, Sapphires, Garnets, and Amethyst.
- Cubic Zirconia
It doesn’t have any inclusions or fillings, and you can clean it ultrasonically.
Though effective, ultrasonic cleaners aren’t to be used on all kinds of jewelry. If you are unsure about whether to use an ultrasonic cleaner for your jewelry or not, this exhaustive list will guide you.
Tiger is a fashion&jewelry lover. He is also a fashion jewelry manufacturer that help thousands of small business to grow and also do business with some big fashion jewelry brands. He is a truly metal expert and he will share some information you are looking for.