Caring For Jewelry In The Time Of Constant Handwashing

Photographed by Jessica Garcia.
By now, if you're following orders, you’ve likely spent a lot of time washing your hands over the past few weeks. Touched a doorknob? Washed hands. Received a package? Washed hands. With so much washing and hand sanitizing, your hands are bound to be getting pretty dry and cracked, but according to experts, the moisture level of your cuticles isn’t the only thing being affected. Your rings and bracelets are likely to be feeling it right now, too. 
Alcohol-based sanitizers and harsh cleansers aren’t always a friend to gemstones, especially soft ones. Pearls — which have been trending as the engagement stone of choice thanks to Emma Stone — aren’t even supposed to come into contact with water at all. Experts, in fact, recommend putting them on as the very last step of your daily routine. But since we’re now washing our hands on a much more regular basis, it can be easy to skip a step and end up leaving vulnerable jewelry on during our hourly trips to the sink. Mikimoto, a leader in the pearl market, strongly advises against skipping said step. “A pearl is a living jewel,” the brand’s website reads. In the case that your pearl jewelry does come into contact with water, direct sunlight, high temperatures, vinegars, or detergents, Mikimoto suggests you immediately wipe them clean with a soft cloth. 
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For harder gemstones like diamonds, rubies, and sapphires that are set in solid gold or platinum, you can disinfect your jewelry with regular household isopropyl alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, according to an expert from Simon G. Jewelry. “Take care with any other kind of stones and use a gentler form of cleaning,” they suggest. Soft stones like opal, kunzites, pearls, tourmalines, and emeralds cannot withstand this type of cleaning process. The brand also notes that while, yes, hand sanitizers can be used when wearing gold or platinum jewelry, simply rubbing it on your hands won’t necessarily sanitize the jewelry itself. Given the fact that most jewelry contains multiple surfaces and small crevices, germs can easily stay hidden on rings and bracelets. To truly disinfect your jewelry, the brand advises that you remove and sanitize it before putting it back on. “Pearls and opals should absolutely be kept away from alcohol, which means hand sanitizers,” advises Yi Guo, the founder of jewelry brand Yi Collection
As a general rule of thumb, most jewelers recommend using warm water and mild dish soap to clean jewelry once every few weeks. With the threat of COVID-19 on everyone’s minds, though, if you want to take extra precautions, Simon G. Jewelry proposes that you ramp up your cleaning regimen. To be really sure that your jewelry is clean, place any pieces made with hard gemstones and solid gold or platinum settings in boiling water, mixed with a bit of bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or alcohol. To be clear, though, this kind of cleaning won’t kill bacteria or germs, but it will remove them in the same way that soap and water does when you wash your hands.  
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According to Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, removing jewelry prior to washing hands, or perhaps, avoiding jewelry altogether at this moment in time is a wise move. In addition, the CDC reports that some studies suggest the skin underneath rings contains more germs than other areas on your hands without rings. The report goes on to say that further research would need to be done to determine if wearing rings results in a statistically higher risk of spreading germs. 
For some, though, wearing jewelry during this very confusing and erratic time is an easy way to restore a sense of normalcy to their daily routines. Despite having removed most of my hand jewelry early last week, I continue to wear an heirloom diamond ring given to me by my mom, as well as a strand of pearls around my neck. In my experience, it’s the little things that help to keep us going right now. One thing’s for sure, though: From now on, I’m going to think twice before I forget to remove my jewelry and sanitize it (gently) during my very frequent 20-second hand washing routine. 
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
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