Gold filled can last a very long time, but it is heavily dependent on several lifestyle and environmental factors. I've written an extensive and honest review about my knowledge and experience with gold filled in order to help you best care for your new, beautiful piece of jewelry! There is also a short section at the end regarding care of sterling silver jewelry.
In the end, it comes down to the big three:1. What ends up on your jewelry.
Things that cause tarnish (what ends up on it)
1. Pools/hot tubs/chlorine: This one is very possibly one of the worst offenders. I’ve seen gold filled ruined after just a couple dips in a heavily chlorinated hot tub before, and sterling silver can tarnish almost immediately in a chemically laden public pool. I personally wouldn’t even wear solid 14k gold in hot tub or chlorinated pool. If there's one thing you just don't do to your jewelry, it's this.
2. Body chemistry: Hormones obviously vary from person to person, everyone is different. While it might be an issue for one person, it might not really make a difference for another. This is a hard one to understand because there really is no way to know if it will effect you or not until it does, but for the most part, this is really only an issue with less than 10% of people. Unless you’ve had experience with how 14k gold reacts with your skin, theres only one way to find out and that’s to try!
3. Sweat: Consistent exposure to all the salt and chemicals in your sweat can really be rough on your jewelry. It’s best to try to remember to remove your jewelry before working out.
4. Hair products, lotions, sunscreen, etc: This can vary from product to product, but in general, the less mild a product is, the harsher it will be to your jewelry. A rule of thumb is to simply try to remember to put on your jewelry after you’ve applied any products such as lotions, perfumes, makeup, etc. and if you are sunbathing with sunscreen on, it’s best to simply remove your jewelry for the duration of your activity. Sunscreen is probably one of the worst culprits in this category. One of the exceptions for this category is mild dish soap. More on this in the cleaning section, but it is harmless if washed off thoroughly right after use.
Personal experience: I’ve been wearing some of my 14k gold filled pieces for over 5 years now and they are still in great shape. I’m not super fantastic about taking care of my jewelry, I’ll be honest. I will sometimes take them off before I sleep, and sometimes I will take them off before I shower (note: I always use very mild soaps when showering. If you don’t know how mild your shampoos and body soaps are, I would suggest taking the jewelry off before showering, just in case), but I always dry them off thoroughly when I hop out of the shower or after washing my hands.
Some things that I never do though: I never wear jewelry when I’m wearing/applying sunscreen. I never wear my jewelry when getting into a hot tub, pool, sauna, or steam room. Lastly, if I knew I was going to be out and about in a very humid and hot environment and probably sweating much more than normal, I would probably skip the jewelry for the day. The combination of humidity, sweat, and salt, over extended periods of time would undoubtedly start tarnishing your jewelry. As a final note on extended wear, in general I would say that my gold filled jewelry is at 90% shine and sparkle as it was when it was brand new. Although it's not perfectly identical to how it looked when I first made it, it's so unbelievably close that I wouldn’t be able to notice while wearing it. I only notice it a bit when comparing old vs new on a bright white background while photographing for instance.
Cleaning (and how often)
Daily maintenance, to keep your piece in the best shape, would simply include wiping the piece down with a soft cloth after each use. If you know that it has been exposed to a bit more that day than normal (ex: skincare/hair products, sweat, etc), I would suggest rinsing it off with some warm water and drying thoroughly with a soft cloth. Making sure you take your jewelry off before you sleep will also help it last a lot longer.
If you know that your piece has been exposed to even more than normal (ex: sunscreen, extra humidity, chlorinated pools, salt water, etc.) or it's just been a while since you’ve last cleaned it, you can do a deeper clean by following the steps below:
1. Prepare a bowl of warm water with just a tiny squeeze of a mild, clear dish soap (I have personally used Palmolive Pure + Clear, and Seventh Generation CLEAN, in the past, but anything similar should work just fine).
2. Let your piece soak for about a minute.
3. Gently brush off your piece with a very soft toothbrush and pay extra attention to the areas where the dirt builds up such as chain loops, under bezels, etc. A soft cloth would also work on less detailed pieces if a toothbrush isn't available.
4. Rinse thoroughly, several times if necessary, to make sure all of the soap is off.
5. Dry off piece completely before wearing or storing your jewelry.
If your piece has developed a darker tarnish or needs a little more TLC than the above bath can provide, you can clean your piece chemically in a couple different ways.
Polishing Cloths: These are very soft cloths that have a polishing compound already in them. Our favorite here in the studio are Sunshine Cloths, but any that say they are compatible with gold should be fine. The less abrasive the better. Many of our pieces we ship with a polishing cloth included in the order. If you didn’t receive one, or would like additional cloths (there may be an additional fee for extras) please feel free to contact us! Remember, be gentle, you shouldn’t have to buff aggressively. Harsh and/or excessive polishing can be damaging over time. Firm, but gentle, and only use as needed. You will know the polishing cloth is working when it starts turning black. Side note: the black on the polish pad is not all from the dirt/tarnish from the jewelry, it is simply the cloth being activated.
Polishing Liquids or Creams: There are many different types of liquid and cream jewelry cleaners. Make sure to choose one that is meant for the type of jewelry you will be cleaning (ex: gold cleaner for gold jewelry, sterling silver cleaner for sterling silver jewelry).
Please Note: Always check before chemically cleaning a piece with gemstones or pearls in it. It is usually safe to gently go over pearls and stones with the polishing cloths (rinse them with gentle soap and warm water afterwards to make sure you remove any remaining chemicals), but never submerge jewelry with gems or pearls into a liquid or cream cleaner without checking compatibility first. Some gemstones and almost all pearls can be damaged by strong liquid jewelry cleaners.
To properly store your gold filled jewelry when not in use, you’ll want to place it in an airtight container or bag (such as a small ziplock) after you’ve completed the daily cleaning of the piece (make sure it is completely dry - never put a damp or wet piece into a sealed bag - this will cause rapid tarnish). Here’s the deal though… I know remembering to put your jewelry in little containers every night is asking a lot, and to be honest, I rarely do it. However, if you really want to maximize the life of your piece, this is a great step to take.
Note: It does become much more important if you live in a high humidity area. Excessive humidity can cause accelerated tarnish, so storing it in a airtight, low humid space becomes considerably more vital. I live in a very dry area and regularly leave my jewelry out without any immediate issues, but people living in humid areas should take this extra step if possible.
While sterling silver is not a chemically reactive metals itself, it is easily attacked by common environmental compounds. In a lot of cases, it will tarnish quicker and darker than gold filled would, but it is also easier to clean. If your sterling silver begins to look dull, or starts to turn yellowish or black, its time for a quick polish!
There are several home recipe/DIY silver cleaning methods. Feel free to google them and find the best one for you! Please note I am not responsible for any damage that may occur if you try DIY cleaning methods. Do your research before trying, and feel free to contact us if you’d like suggestions or would like to know if we’ve personally tried a method before.
Our favorite, and the easiest method in our opinion, is to use a polishing cloth or a sterling silver liquid jewelry cleaner.
Polishing Cloths: These are very soft cloths that have a polishing compound already in them. Our favorite here in the studio are Sunshine Cloths, but any that say they are compatible with silver should be fine. The less abrasive the better. Many of our pieces we ship with a polishing cloth included in the order. If you didn’t receive one, or would like additional cloths (there may be an additional fee for extras) please feel free to contact us! Remember, be gentle, you shouldn’t have to buff aggressively. Harsh and/or excessive polishing can be damaging over time. Firm, but gentle, and only use as needed. You will know the polishing cloth is working when it starts turning black. Side note: the black on the polish pad is not all from the dirt/tarnish from the jewelry, it is simply the cloth being activated.
Note: While polishing cloths are great in general, if your piece has tarnish in small areas such as chain links that are hard to reach with a cloth, I would definitely recommend a polishing liquid.
Polishing Liquids or Creams: There are many different types of liquid and cream jewelry cleaners. Make sure to choose one that is meant for sterling silver jewelry.
As far as daily care and storage of your sterling silver pieces, the same suggestions I made above for gold filled jewelry also applies to sterling silver jewelry. The only little difference being: it’s harder to permanently damage sterling silver vs. gold filled. Repetitive forgetfulness or accidents pertaining to care of your piece are a little more irreparable with gold filled versus sterling silver.
What is 14k gold filled? And how does it compare to gold plated jewelry?
14k gold filled is a solid layer of 14k gold that has been pressure bonded unto a base of quality jewelers brass. Gold filled is legally required to be at least 5% gold (1/20 of the total weight), which is significantly more (easily 100x more) than gold plated items which are often only have a 1/2 micron worth of gold, about 20 millionths of an inch, over a base metal and have been electroplated (a far less durable process). The amount of solid gold on gold plated items is virtually worthless and can often rub, flake, and fade away, fairly quickly after you start wearing it. There are fewer and varied legal requirements for the amount of gold on gold plated items, so far too often you’ll see items with even less than the normal 1/2 micron. Often it’s impossible to know what you are receiving and the base metal used is often not disclosed or monitored.
Gold filled, on the other hand, is durable and will never rub or flake off. If gold filled ever develops a tarnish, it is usually a surface tarnish which can be cleaned or polished off. It has a thick layer of solid 14k gold that offers a wonderful, quality piece without paying the solid 14k gold price. It is the next best thing, in terms of quality and durability, to solid gold jewelry. It is also a much more economical choice!