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Cleaning out gunk!

The posts about draino has brought up a question that I would like to

I am doing some work in a shop to help them out. They do not have a
steam cleaner, and I am frustrated by the length of time needed to
clean rings in the ultrasonic. (It is good and large and operating
properly.) The rings that concern me are the ones that need repair
close to bead or channel set diamonds, but they are full of the gunk
that accumulates from being worn and not regularly cleaned. This gunk
ranges from greasy to rock hard.

Suggestions for solutions or chemicals to dissolve away this gunk
would be greatly appreciated. Please include any warnings about their
use, and any hazards to the jewellery and or me and the people around

Thank you in advance.
Franklin Cox

I spent the first years of my career in a trade shop doing work for
retailers who didn’t have their own jewelers. We had a small
facility with limited equipment. Here’s what we did: We kept a 1
quart stainless steel saucepan, half filled with tapwater, gently
simmering on a hot plate. Dissolved in the water was about 2
tablespoons of powdered “Spic-and-Span” household cleaner. We simply
hung the articles to be cleaned from the edge of the pan on little
"S" shaped copper wire hooks, hanging the articles so they were
covered by the solution. The “cookie-dough” under stones would foam
away like magic. The only drawback is this: certain articles
shouldn’t be cleaned this way. These are things like

					sterling silver

You get the picture. Those things had to be soaked for long periods
of time in luke-warm Joy dish detergent. We did have a steamer, but
no ultrasonic. You can get an “atmospheric” steamer these days for
under $600 like the Hoffman Gem Clean of the Steam Dragon which
require no plumbing hook-ups and use distilled water from a jug. I’d
look at investing in one of these.

Spic & Span cleaner is mostly tri-sodium phosphate, and the safety
concerns are minimal with it in these concentrations. There is the
obvious environmental concern, however, as phosphates get into the
water system and encourage rampant algae growth which can smother
other aquatic life forms. I believe you could safely put this on
your flower garden if you watered it down a bit, as phosphates are
excellent fertilizers.

David L. Huffman

Hi, More on getting the ‘gunk’ (technical term) out from under
stones: I use a small container of warm water, and drop in a couple of
Efferdent tablets with the jewelry to be cleaned. Works great-
remember the Efferdent commercials where they baked a strand of pearls
in a blueberry pie, and then cleaned them in Efferdent? I bet it’s
not as toxic as Draino!


Frank ! I have been cleaning Jewelry for many years with House Hold
Ammonia. Just put pieces in Glass jar pour enough Ammonia to cover
jewelry and let set a few minutes and take tooth brush to each pieces
until it clean and put in a bowl of water as water kills the ammonia.
Let dry and polish to suit . Now when you get all cleaned and ready to
polish pout the remainder of ammonia in a gallon water and pour out
back or down the stool. There is another way to do it but I don’t want
to put Gem Stones in hot water. and I would never use Drano want even
put it down clogged drains. nuff said. Have fun

Bill D.

Hello David L!

My first years in the trade were as a polisher. The process for
cleaning polishing compound was the rather new fangled "ultrasonic."
We also cleaned all the incoming jobs (repairs) for the jewelers.
These items for the most part went in the “boil out.” A simmering
brew of common Lye. If it wasn’t metal or gem, it came loose in that

When I was laid off for the last time in the late seventies I worked
independently for retailers. The little money I could afford went for
the most necessary equipment first…a rolling mill. Without an
ultrasonic I used tri-sodium phosphate (TSP available at the hardware
store) and a boil out of Lye. It is sold alongside Drano at the
grocery store. The product we have in my area is “Red Devil Lye.” Our
grandparents (maybe great-grandparents) used it in part to make soap
back then. Stones you know are oiled or porous should not be put in
Lye. Anything epoxied will of course loosen. It doesn’t need to boil
to be effective. The fumes will bother you if you go from solution to
steam. Rinse well before steaming. If you are going to boil Lye, do
so under a hood or well ventilated area.

At work we have suspended in a plastic container (jerryrigged with
wire in one corner) a solution of concentrated lye (level teaspoon to
one cup water). Shortens cleaning time in the ultrasonic considerably
for hard to clean pieces.


I recommend staying away from the toxic chemicals or ammonia that
will eat away at metals and soft stones. Instead use the concentrated
solution of Simple Green. It works incredibly well on removing caked
on gunk, compounds… If you want to kick it into turbo-charge, heat
the solution. You can buy it in gallon sizes at Costco or your local
grocery store and it’s environmental. It also has a nice sort of
licorice smell. Give it a try!


Amonia does a fine job of cleaning polishing compound but amonia
will pit brass if you leave it in too long. (I left a finished piece
that was fabricated in sterling and brass in a solution of water, dish
soap and amonia overnite- the silver was fine, but the brass looked
like swiss cheese). Also- be careful of putting some stones in
amonia- it is rather harsh. Keep in mind that the combination of amonia
and bleach can be lethal.

-Kate Wolf