Health hazards from Customer Jewelry?

I seldom see the customer, & have no idea if the ring has been spit
on or bleed on or whatever! Hepatitis B will “live” on a floor for
over 30 days & still be contagious. Yet I regularly steam rings as a
first attempt to clean them, blasting all that crud into the air.
Blatant stupidity perhaps! Mark Chapman

Dear Mark, I was the first in this fairly recent thread to ask the
question about health hazards from customer jewelry. The replies
have been wonderful and some quite enlightening.

As for my approach, this has changed a bit since the first question
was posed here on Orhid. Now, at the very least a bottle of alcohol
based “hand sanitizer” is available and that is a simple “offer” to
the customer before and to the store person also.

As for steaming, surely that will kill the bugs. At the pressure of
my steamer, I calculate the temp in f to be about 330 degrees. But,
the first option is to ultrasonic, either directly in the tank or in
a plastic baggie full of alcohol then the regular tank. I admit, this
is not an autoclave but should be effective most of the time.
Perhaps we are making a mountain of a small ant hill but some ants
build mighty large hills!

All together, I will simply say that since that first post, I am
practicing more cautious means of taking in and handling jewelry.
All is done in good taste but is not overkill. To prevent a single
transfer of disease is not overkill and I believe that may be done
in a tactful and reasonably effective manner.

After all, we really do not know what the risks truly are. I have
seen nothing reported on that.

professional bench jeweler,

I have been reading all of these posts and I am… disgusted,
actually. But I have a dandy that I thought that I would toss out to
you all.

Several years ago, I worked for a jewelry repair business that was
located in a kiosk at one of our local malls. We did repairs in an
hour, or so. We had some customers that would come in every week and
bring us their broken chains. Many of them were 10K and most of them
were hollow. After a while, the chains were stiff and had doubled in
weight with the addition of solder. After a while we started to
offer making nuggets from chains that were beyond hope.

Word spread and soon we were making several nuggets each day. It
wasn’t any big thing. We would melt the chain on a charcoal block
and push it around a bit with a solder pick until it made a
reasonable shape. With the addition of a bale, they weren’t too bad.
We also did this with wedding bands that had too many bad memories
attached to them. Anyway… One day, this lady came up and asked if I
would make a nugget for her. She asked if we could use dental gold.
I told her that we could but many crowns and such didn’t have that
much gold in them and they wouldn’t make very big nuggets. She said
that wouldn’t be a problem. She reached into her purse…

Now, I was expecting a crown or two, maybe a bridge… She pulled a
cloth bag out of her purse. It was not a small bag either. This was
a bag like they bundle money in at the bank. It was about the size
of a bread bag. I am sure that my jaw dropped, (No pun intended.) as
she dumped the contents onto the countertop. Teeth, hundreds of
them, began to skitter and hop across the countertop. There were
teeth of every shape and size.

I asked where she had gotten all of these teeth. She told me that
she worked for a mortuary and since it was illegal to bury someone
with any precious metals on them, the teeth had to be pulled. I was
told that most people are offended if you offer them the teeth of
their beloved, so she had kept them.

I kept my composure, as best that I could. I told her that she would
have to remove all of the teeth, and any residue, herself. She
wasn’t too happy. I didn’t care. She collected her scavenged prizes,
mumbled something about a hammer, and went away. I didn’t see her
again. I count myself luckier for it.

Blessings, and wishes for a happy (and healthy) holiday season,


 As a general rule though, pathogenic bacteria and viruses simply
do not live on clean, hard, dry metal surfaces and only a few might
survive if the surface was moist and warm.  (The only exception to
this of which I am aware is the prion of BSE & Creutzfeld-Jacob
disease fame.  It seems to survive sterilization procedures!  But
then, we don't ingest jewelry or use it in brain surgery.) 

I must point out that the Hepatitis C virus is another nasty bug
that will live for quite a while on a dry metal surface. It is also
very difficult to kill and has such a long period of incubation
that sometimes it is impossible to tell where one originally acquired
it. Earrings and other jewelry for piercings are an ideal way to
spread such an infection, and since I am not set up for hospital
sterilization I do not allow these items to be tried on before
purchase, and if I must accept a return I destroy the ear wire.

Brigid Nelson

Hello Orchid land,

Regarding the comment that the HVC (and HVB) virus lives quite a

while on dry metal surfaces, it is environmentally stable for 7 days
according to my reference. However: the surface would have to be
dirty as the virus would be in some sort of body fluid, usually
human blood. Dried blood on a needle for example. Then the dirty
needle (or earring?) would have to penetrate the skin or enter an
open sore to infect a person. Point being, common sense dictates
that we don’t do the following with dirty jewelry: puncture/ scratch
ourselves or put it in any of our body orifices. We clean up the
jewelry to remove all gunge before working on it… which has to be
done anyway. Then we wash our hands after handling dirty things -
the most important infection control action for everyday activities.

I don't want to discuss this to death, so I will refer those

interested to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publication
on Hepatitis C:

It's rather dry, but covers HVC.  Although dated 1998, the CDC is

pretty careful to update materials that have lost validity. Judy in
Kansas, who just wants to keep it simple.

B, They may not survive on clean dry metal but they sure as hell must
survive in the moist disgusting underworld behind and in the
crevices of jewelry, eyeglasses and watches. I swear I observed with
a ten power loupe the start of a small city behind a ring. All
kidding aside I actually had a woman bring a ring in that had a
marijuana seed sprouting (a friend told me what they look like) in
the mass of grey matter behind her ring. Is that legal? Just a few
things to ponder the next time a piece of that stuff smacks your
bottom lip while steaming.

Regards J Morley Coyote Ridge Studio