Here are a few ways to maintain your metal jewelry so that your skin and the jewelry always looks beautiful:
Clean jewelry regularly as the environment, skin oils and finger-prints can damage the finish of any jewelry. Avoid commercial jewelry cleaners for silver, particularly the dipping kind or the ones you can purchase from the hardware or grocery store, as they can permanently ruin the metal and gemstones. Wiping with a soft cloth (a clean, well-worn cotton rag) after each wearing is ideal, or, if it hasn’t been cleaned in a while, gently clean the piece with blue Dawn dish soap or other gentle dishwashing detergent and a soft toothbrush. If the silver is very tarnished you may have to use a cleaning/polishing paper or cloth (available from TerrAdore and other jewelers) and spend some time with the piece to bring back the color and shine. Copper cleaning products (Bar Keep or Penny Brite) will clean copper, but tomato-based sauces such as ketchup also work.
Always rinse thoroughly after cleaning, dry with a clean soft cloth and then blow dry (if the piece is special or expensive) to remove all moisture before protecting and storing.
To reduce the pace of oxidation (tarnish) or skin discoloration, you need to create a barrier between the metal and your skin, chemicals or air. After cleaning coat your jewelry with a soft or liquid wax such as car or furniture polish. Rub the metal with a small amount of wax using a soft cloth, wait a few minutes, and then buff with a clean soft cloth. Copper and brass jewelry in particular develops a beautiful warm glow that improves over time. If your jewelry is decorative, you may want to test a small area first just to make sure the results are what you want. If you don’t like the look when waxed, you can just wax the parts that are not seen to create a barrier between the metal and your skin.
Longer term protection can be achieved by applying clear nail polish or polyurethane spray on the parts of the jewelry that cannot be seen and touch the skin. You can also use a commercial jewelry sealer such as ProtectaClear or ProCraft Lacquer, found at jewelry supply stores and Amazon.
Store your jewelry individually in anti-tarnish bags or small plastic bags with a piece of anti-tarnish paper with as much air removed from the bag as possible. Anti-tarnish bags and papers can be obtained by TerrAdore, other jewelers, jewelry supply stores or Amazon. As an option you can use the moisture absorbers in pill bottles if you cannot find anti-tarnish paper; however, they are not as effective or long lasting. Having more than one piece of jewelry per bag may result in scratches.
Avoid wearing copper or silver jewelry on the beach, when swimming or when bathing. Salt, chlorine, and chemicals can corrode, pit or accelerate oxidation. Therefore, when in salt environments, it is even more important to wipe metal jewelry after use and store in plastic bags with anti-tarnish paper. Best to take your costume jewelry on seaside vacations.
Be careful when wearing your jewelry while preparing food, particularly salads. A splash of vinegar, lemon juice, tomato or other acidic liquids can damage soft gemstones like opals and turquoise and potentially spot the metal. I take my rings off and hide pendants inside my clothes when working around acids. Earrings are usually not a problem unless you get squirted by a wayward lemon.
I hope you don’t find these guidelines daunting. I have included a lot of information but it really isn’t difficult or time consuming to keep your metal jewelry looking polished and beautiful. If you encounter problems that are not addressed here, please feel free to contact me for other suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.