Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Successful diamond scum cleaning

Kudos to Orchid! As a retail shop doing lots of custom and repairs,
this issue has always been a thorn in our side. We just posted a
consumer oriented blog on the subject, you can view at

After reading all the good responses about cleaning that pesky scum
off diamonds, I decided to experiment with some of the methods

Started with an Art Deco platinum ring that had not been cleaned
properly in years, needed tipping & repairs that would most likely
darken the diamonds. Tried soaps, strong ammonia, TSP, heating, etc.

The only thing that really worked well was to boil the ring in lye!
Worked like a charm!!! I used about 2 heaping tablespoons of
powdered lye in 2 cups of cold water, stirred to dissolve the lye,
put the ring in the pan and brought it to a slow boil for about 40
minutes (safely outside, on my gas barbq). Cleaned the diamonds
perfectly and all the little cracks and crannys underneath!

I have questions for the experienced and/or chemistry/metallurgy
literate Orchidians. My goldsmith questioned the use of lye on gold
alloys and solders-- sodium hypochlorite, I believe. We all know the
issues of free chlorine with gold alloys. Will this lye technique
create problems with gold alloys and solders?

Next, while the lye presented no issues with diamond, what about
other gems?

Would lye be all right with sapphires and rubies with no surface
reaching cracks of signifigance or glass fillings? What about other
faceted gems? I probably wouldn’t use it on emerald, because of the
oil/resin treatements or any of the porous gems like turquoise and
opal, but what about silicates like amethyst, garnet, iolite, also
aqua, and the like. When set in jewelry and worn, a lot of these
materials will develop a scum that is very difficult to remove.

I would appreciate feedback on these questions and the following
proposition. We do not charge clients for ordinary cleaning of
jewelry, but what about charging for extraordinary methods like
this. Does anyone have a good name for this type of cleaning,
something that will not insult the client but let them know this type
of cleaning is out of the ordinary? Time consuming and some cost and
risk involved.

Jim Sweaney

Hi Jim,

I really liked your blog on the importance of cleaning jewellery. I
printed it out after reading it yesterday, with a view to giving it
to a friend of mine. She wears a lot of gold jewellery which she
never takes off and certainly not to clean it. I cringed when I
visited her last, as she used some hand cream and just proceeded to
rub it into all her rings. I exclaimed NO to her and asked her how
often she cleans her jewellery (she’s a good friend and so I can be
frank with her) and she proudly announced that she never cleans it.
She seemed genuinely pleased that her jewellery goes through
whatever she goes through as though it lends it some sort of gravitas
or something - a little like a patina on an antique! Perhaps this is
a common misconception? Sadly, her lovely diamond rings are all black
and dull, as is another lovely ring which has three pieces of
previously lovely tanzanite stones. They are all horribly cloudy,
with absolutely no sparkle left whatsoever and I would imagine that
the stones are probably quite scratched as a result. I doubt she
realises what damage she may be doing to her jewellery. I think
another common misconception is that of soaps used for hand washing
and the notion that washing one’s hands will keep your rings clean,
when all it does is just add to the gunk.

I’m hoping that your blog entry will do the trick. Maybe this whole
cleaning thing needs much more publicity so that customers
understand the importance of cleaning - and your blog is definitely a
great idea.


How about…

Does anyone have a good name for this type of cleaning, something
that will not insult the client but let them know this type of
cleaning is out of the ordinary? 

“Ultra High Intensity Jewelry Cleaning… for your grandmother’s
antique brooch or the diamond wedding ring you forgot to remove
before gardening!”

I just made that up :-).



First of, you are confusing lye (NaOH or Sodium Hydroxide) with
household bleach (typically about a 5% concentration of Sodium
Hypochlorite, NaClO with some NaOH to stabilize the chlorine). The
chlorine in bleach (this bleach is seen in many places from common
cleaners to swimming pools) can damage gold alloys by dissolving out
the alloying metals and in severe cases attacking the gold directly

for a rough explanation see

Your question regarding which stones are safe is a but more
problematic. If the stones can take the heat, are not included,
porous, fracture filled, or reactive (like all the carbonates), then
they stand a chance. Sodium hydroxide is a powerful chemical will
etch glass and in high temperatures and concentrations will dissolve
aluminum oxide (corundum is an aluminum oxide). That said, a simple
fast boil in a weak lye solution should not harm diamonds, amethysts
or corundum that meet the above conditions. I would be cautious with
other complex aluminum silicates like beryl and iolite (not sure
about garnets, also a complex aluminum silicate).