The Biggest Mistake Pearl People Make

Pearls and acid DO NOT get along.

(WARNING: Science Alert!) Nacre, the luminous substance that pearls are made of, contains some organic proteins and also calcium carbonate, which dissolves when it comes into contact with acid. Even mild acids can take their toll over time, and when you’re dealing with a gem that is traditionally passed down through generations of wearers, keeping your pearls safe from acid exposure becomes an important consideration.

Ok, so why does this little science fact apply to you, dear reader?

Well, first off, let us tell you a little bit about some of the sad and damaged pearls that customers bring us to repair. These poor pearls have often lost their gorgeous luster and have areas that appear cloudy and dull. Occasionally, these damaged areas can be repaired through an intensive polishing process, but all too frequently, the damage done through contact with acid is permanent.

How does this acid damage happen?

As far as we can tell, most these pearls are victims of the various acids that can be found in personal grooming products–perfumes, lotions, hairspray, and makeup. All of these products contain mild acids that, over time, can weaken the structure of the pearl’s nacre and eventually dissolve its beautiful shine.

Another way that pearls become damaged is through exposure to chlorine from swimming pools and even tap water. The chlorine used to purify water is actually sodium hypochlorite, the same stuff you find in household bleach. This particular type of chlorine is highly oxidizing, and has a tendency to destroy a pearl’s luster on contact.

The third and somewhat unexpected cause of acid damage is from contact with food and beverages. If you tend to dribble your lemonade while drinking, you could be putting your pearls at risk.

Here at Pearls International, we decided to do an experiment. We wanted to see what would happen if we pulled a Cleopatra and dunked a pearl in vinegar. Since chlorine is also a culprit of acid damage, we decided to expand our experiment to include chlorine as well. Check out our series Pearls International Destroys Pearls in the Name of Science to see photos of the results!

So how do you prevent your pearls ending up as tiny squishy nuggets of once-beautiful gem? It’s actually very easy to keep pearls looking beautiful!

First, wait to put your pearls on until after you have applied any cosmetics, lotions, or perfume. Let those products dry for a while before decorating yourself with your lovely pearl jewelry. Remember to remove your pearls before swimming or showering, and for heaven’s sake, please don’t dribble your lemonade on your nice pearl necklace!

For more information on what NOT to do, check out Eight Proven Ways to Wreck Your Jewelry for Good.

Even if you are stupendously careful with preventing your pearls from coming into contact with cosmetics, chlorine, and food, your own body oils are slightly acidic and can damage the surface of pearls over time. To prevent this damage from occurring, periodically remove those oils and keep your pearls clean by dipping them in ordinary household ammonia (a pearl-approved non-acidic cleaner).

00051 Ammonia Clear 64oz

Here’s how to do it:

At Pearls International, we use the dip-and-swirl method. Fill a bowl or glass with a cup or so of ammonia, drop your pearl jewelry in, and gently swirl for about thirty seconds, alternating direction occasionally to ensure that all the nooks and crannies are sufficiently cleansed of acidic oils. Don’t leave silver or gold plated jewelry in this ammonia for too long, because it can damage the finish. Sterling silver and real gold will be just fine.

When you are finished with the dip-and-swirl, rinse your jewelry under clean running water until it no longer feels ‘slimy.’

Tip: We put a clean washcloth over the drain while we rinse. It allows the water to run through, but prevents chips and cracks if you accidentally drop your slippery pearls into the hard sink. It has also saved an earring or two from a watery grave at the bottom of a drain!

When all of the ammonia, dirt, and oils have been rinsed away, carefully pat your pearls dry with a clean cloth. If your pearls are knotted on a silk cord, lay them out in a straight line to dry for at least 24 hours before wearing. This will prevent them from developing kinks and ensure that they lay beautifully against your skin.


Can’t stand the smell of ammonia? Check out our gardenia-scented jewelry cleaner, which is safe for all metals, including your plated jewelry. We also use and recommend Klean Karats polishing cloths, which are champions at shining up your tarnished jewelry.

Pearl Juice

Alternatively, you could always bring your pearls to Pearls International, where our experts will clean them for you, free of charge! We hope this little tidbit will help you enjoy your beautiful, shiny pearls for years to come.

26 thoughts on “The Biggest Mistake Pearl People Make

  1. how do I get my fake pearls white again after accidentally spraying them with perfume they are now pink

    1. Hi Alanna!

      We offer pearl polishing services which can somehow help with very minor surface damage. The cost is $1 per pearl. Let us know how we can help!

  2. Hello. My mother and grandmother each had a matching set of pearls. I have one of the strands and I think they could be the “natural” pearls that people used to have before cultured. Maybe not, but how do I find out when I don’t know who to trust? I don’t know any jewelers personally and I have heard so many horror stories. Any suggestions? We live near San Antonio, Texas.

    1. Hi Linda!

      For starters, check out this very helpful post to find out a little more about whether your pearls are real:

      If they meet most or all of the criteria, then the next step is to find a reputable jeweler who can take a look and tell you a bit more about them.

      The best way is always going to be to get a recommendation from someone you trust. You can also check online reviews to gauge other people’s experiences, and if you’d like, you can even send your pearls to us here at Pearls International and we’d be happy to have our pearl experts take a look for you!

      Let us know how we can help, we are at your service!

  3. After opening the box with my wedding veil that was preserved 40 years ago, I discovered that a few of the pearls were discolored – a tan color. I was told that formaldehyde was sprayed on it. Don’t know if this is true, but would like to whiten the few pearls that are not white. What do you suggest?

    1. It depends on whether the pearls are genuine or faux. If genuine, there’s a possibility they could be polished to remove the substance that caused the discoloration. We wouldn’t recommend this for faux pearls, however, as it could remove the paint.

      Even genuine pearls will begin to show some candlelight coloration over time, however, so the best thing might be to embrace the vintage charm!

  4. I cleaned my pearls by dipping in a jewelry cleaner and rinse with water. They now do not have any luster. How do I get the luster back?

    1. Hi there!

      Oh no! That’s just horrible.

      Many jewelry cleaners are far too acidic for pearls and can damage their delicate surfaces. If the damage wasn’t too deep, it may be possible to remove the cloudiness with gentle buffing, but if you left them in the cleaner for too long, the pearls’ structure may be compromised.

      We offer pearl polishing services which may help to improve the appearance, but we’d need to take a look at your pearls to get a better idea of the extent of the damage.

      In general for pearl cleaning, we recommend a gentle wipe with a damp cloth after wearing, and then for more extensive occasional cleaning, a dip in ordinary household ammonia or Pearl Juice.

      Let us know how we can help!

      Pearl Girl Sophie

    1. First, try giving them a bath in a mild solution of warm water and a couple of drops of dish detergent. Gently rub the pearls to remove any surface dye. Rinse them thoroughly and lay them out flat to dry for 24 hours. If that doesn’t help, depending on how deeply the dye has settled, it may be possible to polish your pearls to remove the discoloration. Pearls International charges $1 per pearl for polishing services.

      Let us know how we can help!

      Pearl Girl Sophie

  5. I used a DIY jewelry cleaner of dish soap and baking soda with water. I decided to try to clean my generations handed down pearl necklace that I inherited. never been cleaned before. and now I know why. they were fake and now I have quite a few peeling. how do I fix this mess I made.

    1. Hi Tammy!

      Unfortunatly, once the paint begins to peel, it’s very difficult to rescue them. Our recommendation is to store them flat in a safe place to limit additional friction, and wear them only for special occasions–or, wear them all the time and enjoy! Your pearls have obviously been well-loved. 🙂

  6. I have a beautiful sterling bracelet with a large mother-of-pearl cabochon. It’s about 40 years old and it appears to have lost the layer of nacre (??). Is there any way to restore it, apply some finish to mimic the luster? Or is it possible it can be buffed to the original shine? Thank you so much for your expertise. (I’m assuming the culprit was perfume.

    1. Hi Sally!

      You may be in luck! Mother of pearl is one of the easier materials to restore through buffing, as long as the cabochon is thick enough to handle losing a bit of depth. Most damage from chemicals will be confined to the surface and your local jeweler should be able to spruce it up for you, or you can send it to us at

      Pearls International
      3114 So. Atlantic Avenue
      Daytona Beach Shores, FL 32118

      Good luck!

  7. I have some pearls set in silver I wanted to clean with the boiling water and baking soda , aluminum foil trick. Will this damage the pearls do you know ? I guess common sense should tell me pearls and boiling water are not a good idea? Thank you!

    1. Hi there!

      We don’t recommend drastic temperature changes for pearls, as this can cause small surface fractures that can lead to flaking and later damage. Your best bet is a polishing cloth or gentle pearl cleaner. Learn how to clean your pearls here!

  8. I wore two pearl necklaces together and twisted them around each other(freshwater) one was dyed, the the other was not. The dyed ones look like they have scratches the other doesn’t. Would the dyed one be scratched by my twisting technique that wraps both stands in a spiral or might it just be birth marks(the marks look like lines)

  9. This article contradicts itself, in the beginning it mentions that the chlorine in tap water damages pearls yet the instructions say to rinse them in the sink????

    If I spent a fortune (even a small fortune) on such beautiful pearls then I’m going to rinse them with spring water (no purified or distilled since those are over glorified/over processed tap water)

    1. Hi there!

      The chlorine in tap water can and will damage your pearls’ luster over time, especially if subjected to daily exposure. However, the quantity present in tap water is small enough that for annual cleanings it will not pose a significant risk. Even when subjected to pure bleach it will take about three days for a pearl to dissolve. A quick rinse likely won’t cause lasting harm, but if you’d like to go the extra mile, feel free to use spring water!

  10. I left my freshwater pearls in my jewelry box flat 45 years. Old woman jewelry. Did not want then. Yellowed, not very shiny now. How long wearing on skin to get the luster back? Had jeweler clean .

    1. Hi Susan!

      Unfortunately, once pearls have yellowed, there is no way to restore their original color. However, this new color, referred to as “candlelight” is very charming and desirable in itself, as it shows their heritage and authenticity. Wear them and enjoy!

  11. I bought some very large baroque pearl long necklace two years ago.. they had a pinkish hue to them.. very rare color.. I had them in a pouch and haven’t worn them for at least a year or more.. I looked at them today and they have totally changed color to a grayish blue.. they have beautiful luster but look entirely different.. they r real and natural.. what could of caused this to happen??

    1. Also.. I haven’t exposed them to food or drink or any harmful agents of any kind and have taken very fmgoid care of them.. they now look more champagneish but blueish grey and much darker .. the luster is still very high and beautiful but can’t understand what would change the color.. they were definitely pink

      1. Hi Terri!

        Are you viewing your pearls in artificial or natural light? Sometimes this can make a big difference!

        Also, what kind of material were they stored in–dyes from fabric may have changed the surface of your pearls. And were any color treatments disclosed when you purchased them?

        Pearl Girl Sophie

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