How To: Clean Vintage Earrings

Buying vintage jewelry is probably one of the most exciting things ever. You can find really unique, amazing stuff for insanely cheap (obviously depending on what it is/where you’re buying it). When I first came across these amber resin-looking clip-ons I was a bit sketched out at first, because wearing preworn, grimey-looking earrings sounds really gross, but after fully sanitizing and cleaning them to look sparkly new they’ve instantly become one of my favorites. Oh yeah, and they were only $4!

Keep reading for more pictures and a step-by-step!


While you always want to clean all your vintage jewelry, like necklaces, bracelets and rings, it’s really extra important to properly disinfect items like earrings that could possibly cause an infection. If possible, for post back earrings you might want to consider completely replacing the posts, and if there are pads on the clip-ons, then those should be removed and replaced as well.

Here are the supplies I used to clean my vintage earrings:

The good thing is that you probably already have most of this stuff at home. As noted, please do not use alcohol on pearls or other porous gemstones because it could dull, damage and discolor their delicate surface. Please do not ruin your jewelry & then blame me. If you do have porous gems, you may want to just use clean water or buy a cleaning solution specifically made for them.

The main thing you want to keep in mind is to always keep the jewelry as dry as possible the whole time you’re cleaning it. Especially if there are any rhinestones, you don’t want to ever completely submerge the jewelry in whatever solution you are using, because it may be difficult to get completely dry and may damage and loosen the foil backing.

Here are the steps I took to clean my earrings:

  • First wipe off all dust or obvious dirt with a tissue.
  • Then do a general, overall sanitizing using a cotton swab dipped in the alcohol.
  • Try to gently scrub in all the grooves to loosen and clean off as much as possible.

This may be enough if your earrings are in great condition and were pretty much already clean to begin with. After this it’s pretty easy to see how much grime is left.

Unfortunately, I took my detailed “before” pictures a bit in advance & somehow lost/can’t find them and didn’t realize this until now… so you’ll just have to imagine the nasty green gunk (verdigris, which is caused by moisture) that was completely encasing the edge of the stones as well as the backs and clips.

  • Use the sharp end of a toothpick to pick out larger pieces of stuck on dirt and verdigris.

  • Make a mini-qtip: Poke the fluffy part of a cotton swab with a toothpick, then pull & twist the cotton onto the end of it.

This was really helpful to use to get into all the smaller crevices.

  • Dip the end of the mini-qtip into the alcohol and use it to clean all of the tiny, hard to reach parts.

This is also a great way to clean all the areas around the clip back and the spaces between the open backing. The clip backs or posts are the most important parts to make sure are completely disinfected.

  •  Once all the green gunk and grime is gone, do another overall cleaning with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab and then dry with a tissue.
  • You can also use a microfiber cloth to help dry and polish your jewelry.

Your earrings should now be sparkling clean, free of bacteria & finally ready to wear!

I really hope this post was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or if you have or would like any other tips for cleaning vintage earrings!


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