I am always surprised to find out that many people don’t clean their diamond jewelry. This tutorial will help you understand what makes a diamond become dirty, as well as tell you how and why you should clean your diamond. I will be looking at the different ways to clean a diamond, what is best, and how dirt, dust, and oil on your diamond affects its light performance.
Everyone wears diamond jewelry differently. Some people take lots of care and remove their ring often and others wear their ring whilst doing almost anything. No matter what you do, over time, the diamond will get dirty. In fact, the number one thing I hear when someone shows me their diamond is “wow, it’s very dirty”. Apart from keeping the diamond sparkly, knowing how to clean a diamond well will help you when you try to assess your diamond’s clarity.
What makes a diamond dirty?
It’s no secret that the diamond on a ring will get dirty after being worn for a while. The simple reason a diamond gets dirty is because the diamond ring has an electrostatic charge. This charge builds up the more you touch the ring. The technical explanation is due to the ‘triboelectric effect’.
Simply put, when two materials touch, one material becomes more positively charged and the other more negatively charged. Rubbing two materials together makes this worse; think about how you can rub a balloon on your shirt and get it to stick to your hair. What this means is that the more you touch and play around with the ring, the more it is going to attract dust, dirt, and oil. This is the chemistry of adhesion.
The same thing happens when you touch the diamond with your finger. The oils that have adhered to your fingers get transferred to the diamond because they are more attracted to the diamond. Diamonds are hydrophobic, meaning that they do not like water.
But whilst diamonds are not very attracted to water, they are particularly attracted to oil. Another way to think about this is that diamonds cannot be ‘wet’ by water but they can be wet by oil. One reason for this is because water has a high surface tension and has a tendency to form droplets.
How do you clean a diamond?
The answer is to use dish detergent! It sounds simple and it really is. Why be surprised because dish detergent is designed to deal with oily substances.
The explanation is because in order to wash something, you need to get it wet. But since we know that diamonds get dirty, dusty, and oily and cannot be wet by water. Dish detergent is a type of ‘surfactant’, meaning that it lowers the surface tension of water, effectively meaning we can get the diamond wet with water to wash the diamond.
Now if you have a simple setting like a solitaire, this is the only thing that you’re going to need to do. The other things are all things you need to avoid. Mainly, you need to be careful what household cleaners you use to clean your diamond. Never use any kind of oxidizing agent to clean your diamond, as you will make the metal in the setting tarnish quickly. Examples of household cleaners that are oxidizers that you should never use to clean a diamond ring with are: bleach, chlorine, and hydrogen peroxide. Many household cleaners such as Clorox contain chlorine and must be avoided!
What you can do to clean the diamond is to use a soft toothbrush. Don’t go crazy with it because you can scratch the setting, but gently brush around the diamond and setting. Cleaning the setting underneath the diamond is important because the diamond will reflect this dirt so that it looks like the diamond itself is still dirty. If you have a complicated setting and dirt is trapped in places you can’t reach with a toothbrush, then you’re left with few options.
Ultrasonic cleaners are popular to try to loosen up the dirt that is stuck on real good. Always be careful when using ultrasonic cleaners to clean pavé rings as the small diamonds are known to fall out occasionally. Some people like to add a drop of dish detergent or a bit of ammonia into the ultrasonic cleaner. My advice is to follow the instructions on your particular cleaner. However, ammonia is generally safe to use on the diamond even though I think it is unnecessary if you get into a habit of cleaning your rings.
You may find that if you air-dry your diamond, then the water will leave a water-stain. What you can do is to try rinsing your diamond with de-ionized water or filtered water. Use a cloth to dry the shank of the ring. A good trick is to use a hair drier to dry the diamond. If you see a droplet of water, you can use the tip of a tissue remove the droplet without leaving any fibers on the diamond. If you are a photographer then you can use your lens blower and quickly blow the water off the diamond and this is even better than using a hair dryer!
How does oil affect the light performance of a diamond?
Now I don’t think I need to tell you what dust and dirt will do to the diamond so what I am going to focus on is oil. When your diamond is covered in a layer of oil, the affect it has is to lower the refractive index of the diamond. It is sufficient for us to know that the refractive index of an oil-covered diamond is much less than diamond.
The proportions of an ideal cut diamond have been calculated based on diamond’s refractive index of 2.417. When we change the refractive index, it basically means that the diamond we worked so hard together to pick is no longer ideal. Think of it as having the same effect as making a diamond’s crown/pavilion angles steeper. This is the scientific basis for Gary Holloway’s claim that a slightly shallow diamond remains cleaner looking longer. Unfortunately there isn’t a way for me to personally test his claims.
So we’ve talked about a lot more than anyone actually needs to know about cleaning a diamond. All you really need is a toothbrush and some dish detergent. If you have a complicated setting, regularly cleaning your diamond once a week will go a long way to prevent the accumulation of old dirt and oils that gets stuck on and becomes very difficult to clean. If you have a special way to clean your diamond please share by leaving a comment.