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Three Foolproof Methods for Removing Verdigris from Fine and Costume Jewelry

Since the pandemic started, I haven’t been wearing a ton of jewelry. I put some minimalist pieces in my ears and around my neck and have been wearing them pretty much constantly. If you’re like me, you might be looking at your untended jewelry stash after a long period and noticing it has some green junk on it.

This is verdigris.

Verdigris is what happens when copper, brass or bronze is weathered and exposed to air or seawater over time. Verdigris has been used as a natural blue-green pigment throughout history, and is even used as a patina to protect copper or bronze objects, especially in art and architecture, like the Statue of Liberty or The Spirit of Detroit.

Verdigris on jewelry can be passed from one piece of jewelry to another, a good reason to pay attention to and remove verdigris when you see it.

The bad news is that evidence of verdigris is evidence of damage. The affected metal is compromised. Verdigris on prongs means they may not have the strength and structure hold stones in place. The damage means that functional parts like bails and clasps may come apart due to brittleness.

The good news is that it’s easy to remove, and it’s easy to remove from costume jewelry and fine jewelry alike. All of these methods use home materials with an acid base to break down the verdigris, then you gently pluck and clean the green away, then your pieces should be dried thoroughly to prevent more verdigris from coming back.

Caveats

  • Pearl jewelry: If you’re dealing with real pearls, pay for a professional restoration.
  • Rhinestone jewelry: Rhinestones should never be soaked in vinegar or lemon juice, because the liquid will damage the foil backs of the stones.
  • Stanhope jewelry: Any exposure to liquid will dissolve the tiny images in Stanhope jewelry.
  • Silver and silver-plate: These pieces can be cleaned with soap and water, polished with a silver-polishing cloth, or polished with a silver polish you can find at the grocery store in the cleaning section. Here are some tips on identifying silver jewelry.
  • Gemstones: “Gemstone” and “metals” are huge categories, so do a little research to ensure the hardness of the thing you’re cleaning is amenable to your chosen cleaning method. Here’s a handy chart showing some of your gemstone cleaning options.

Three easy methods for removing verdigris from jewelry:

Lemon juice

Lemon juice is great for glass, metal, and copper jewelry. Lemon juice has the bonus of smelling nice, but it can turn sterling silver black which will create more clean up for you later. Soak your pieces in the liquid for 15-20 minutes, then (gently!) use a toothpick, q-tip and soft toothbrush to remove the remaining verdigris. Dry your pieces thoroughly when done.

White vinegar

Vinegar is quite acidic and can also be used on jewelry as you would lemon juice. It is a fine choice for glass beaded jewelry and metal jewelry if you can stand the smell of it. As with lemon juice, soak your pieces in straight vinegar for 15-20 minutes and use a toothpick, q-tip or soft toothbrush to get into tight areas. Sterling silver and some gemstones should not be soaked in vinegar, so be sure to identify your metals and gemstones and do a quick google if you need to.

Ketchup

The biggest benefit of ketchup is that is doesn’t move around like a liquid – it pretty much stays wherever you put it. This means you can dab it in sensitive and small areas with a toothpick and not worry too much about damaging surrounding materials. It is a bear to clean up, but use a soft toothbrush to scrub it out of tight places, rinse, then dry your pieces thoroughly.

Afterward

Once your jewelry is cleaned, dry, dry, dry, dry it off and store it in a clean, dark, dry (dry!) place, like a jewelry box. Verdigris happens on jewelry due to exposure to a mixture of moisture and makeup and skin oils on metals, so it’s important to clean and dry (!) that jewelry when you put it away.

If you catch verdigris early and keep it clean, you can keep nature at bay and enjoy your pieces for a long time.

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Lauren Bruce • June 2, 2021


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