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How to Keep Costume Jewelry From Tarnishing

Laura is a technical writer. She enjoys playing the piano, traveling, fine art, and making jewelry.

Pure copper bracelet, lined with clear nail polish to prevent oxidation (tarnish) from turning my wrist area green.

Pure copper bracelet, lined with clear nail polish to prevent oxidation (tarnish) from turning my wrist area green.

How to Keep Costume Jewelry From Tarnishing

Many people want to wear jewelry, but can’t see spending the prices for “the good stuff”—real gold and silver. But dime-store-quality jewelry will leave green or black marks on your skin after a short honeymoon. The rate at which things tarnish will vary depending on your body chemistry: how acidic or basic it is and how much you sweat.

To prevent tarnishing on this kind of cheap jewelry, you can either coat the parts of the jewelry that are next to the skin with clear, chip-proof nail polish, spot-paint the piece with clear enamel paint, or spray the whole piece with clear spray paint, as I explain in detail below.

Two Cautions

  1. These tricks are not likely to work with pieces that mix metal with string, beads, and jewels. They may even permanently ruin your piece. For complicated pieces that incorporate stones or unusual types of metal, I have no good advice for you.
  2. If you have an heirloom piece of jewelry or an expensive piece, do NOT follow the procedure I’m giving you here! Instead, take your piece to a professional jeweler at a reputable store and ask them to restore it for you. Those of you who watch Antiques Roadshow on TV will already be aware that any attempts at restoring an old piece if it's truly valuable and not just a nostalgic item, will ruin its value for collectors.

Tarnish (Oxidation) in Action

Here is an example of what copper looks like at various stages of oxidation (tarnishing). The change in color is called a "patina" by artists. Note that the newest penny appears at about 8 o'clock, whereas the oldest most-tarnished penny appears at about 7 o'clock on the circle (as if the circle represented a clock).


1. Using Nail Polish

For example, I got a pure copper bracelet at an art show and knew that it would soon look like a copper penny—which I liked, but I knew it would also leave marks on my wrist. My solution was to use clear, hard-topcoat nail polish on the inside of the bracelet only. I put two coats of nail polish on, because I wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed any spots or that it would wear off too quickly. I wear this bracelet often and haven’t had a “green” wrist since then. It’s gradually aging gracefully on the outside.

Semi-tarnished bronze hair clip

Semi-tarnished bronze hair clip

2. Clear Spray Paint

Another solution to this would have been better if I had wanted the bracelet to remain shining like a new penny. I would have used a piece of string to suspend the bracelet inside a cardboard box "spray booth" and spray-painted the whole thing with clear paint, working outdoors on a calm, warm day, and following all precautions and directions on the paint can. After the bracelet had dried, I would have flipped it over and tied the other end with the string and sprayed the whole bracelet again, turning it as I went along. This would have kept the entire bracelet a shiny copper color until the paint layers wore off.

This method would work similarly for rings, earrings (especially earring posts and hooks), and necklaces made out of copper, bronze, brass, or inexpensive metal coated with a thin layer of gold or silver.

3. Remove Tarnish and Then Use Spray Lacquer or Nail Polish

Furthermore, you can take a simple but tarnished piece, polish it, and then apply nail polish or spray lacquer paint and it will look like new. Keep a close eye out at garage sales: most people will sell “old” tarnished jewelry, not realizing that they can polish it and it will look like new again—and stay looking new if it’s coated with nail polish or clear spray lacquer. You can afford to be more adventuresome with garage-sale jewelry because you can buy a piece similar to the one that you want to rejuvenate, try the process out on the garage-sale piece, then if the results are acceptable you can try it with your own piece of jewelry. Krylon is one good option for clear-coating cheap jewelry; just apply a very light coat.

A note about stones: don’t clear-coat pieces with gemstones in them, or if you do, cover the gemstone so that it doesn’t get coated. The results with gemstones, beads, and string are generally not good.


For More Information About Removing Tarnish and Cleaning Jewelry:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do you clean fashion jewelry that has a "silver" chain with "diamonds" in it?

Answer: Given that it is “fashion” jewelry, the silver and diamonds may not be real. I recommend using a cotton swab and placing a tiny dot of salt-vinegar water on an inconspicuous spot, such as near the clasp of a necklace or back of a pendant. If the metal comes clean with a moment of gentle rubbing with the swab, then this method will probably work. Never use this method on fine or precious, sentimental jewelry without performing this test. If you have any doubts, seek the advice of a jeweler regarding your specific piece of jewelry.

Question: Wouldn’t lacquer irritate the skin?

Answer: The lacquer does not irritate my skin, but everyone is unique. I recommend testing this by costing a small piece of jewelry or a small part of a larger piece and trying it to see it your skin reacts. Thanks for the excellent question!

© 2012 Laura Schneider


@INFECTA on July 07, 2017:

Thank you so much, this works ideal for me. God bless

Hadie L. on March 02, 2017:

Spray TARNISH-ME-NOT !! It's a hypoallergenic clear coating that prevents tarnish, discoloration, AND allergic reactions! I send out thousands of pieces of sterling silver a day to my customers and EVERY single one is coated with Tarnish-Me-Not :) the formula is some kind of patented biotechnology that went through yearss of testing.

Steph on December 03, 2016:

I used to use this method (along with a bunch of other home remedies) but I found a product that is actually MADE for this purpose. It's called Tarnish-Me-Not and you can use it on literally any type of jewelry to prevent tarnish or allergic reactions. You should try them out!

fairykat on May 04, 2016:

Yea, Laura, aren't you fabulous! After looking at the first dozen results for my search request on "How To Keep Silver Beads From Tarnishing", and realizing that all but one really did not answer this question (the only one was a company called Ever Brite Coatings~ 1 oz. bottle=$12.95... yeah, no thanks), and I was saying to myself: Can't I just use clear nail polish or clear spray paint (both of which I Already own!), I saw Your listing And Voila!! (Was that the longest sentence Ever written?!) Anyway, Thank You for confirming what I thought might work. I will test it out on a few silver plated "flower" beads, that are too cute... until they turn a kind of dirty blackish color! Right? I'll do my best to remember to do an update on my success (I believe in Positive Thinking!). And I will be checking out more of your blog. When I went to register, it said that My name was already taken, and I thought: How Rude! HA, turns out It Was ME! I didn't even remember that I had registered... just had to reset my password, which is... HA, I'm not telling! Honestly, the Fibrofog that comes along with Fibromyalgia is So Annoying, really Gets On My Nerves! Anyway, Thanks Again. Blessings & Purrs~

Summer LaSalle from USA on June 01, 2015:

Whenever I buy Stella and Dot, I store them in plastic bags, which keeps them from tarnishing. I am 'that person' where if I wear cheap jewelry, I turn green- deep green! This is a very informative hub, voted up and useful!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 13, 2014:

Good options for not telling the world you're wearing inexpensive costume jewelry. Voted up +++ and pinning.

Laura Schneider (author) from Minnesota, USA on January 01, 2014:

Thank you! I'm glad you like it!

vipin on December 31, 2013:

I must say that overall I am really impressed with this blog.It is easy to see that you are impassioned about your writing.

Laura Schneider (author) from Minnesota, USA on June 09, 2013:

I think so, too! Thanks for commenting

megha-agrawal from Pune on June 08, 2013:

Nail polish appears quite useful and simple.

Laura Schneider (author) from Minnesota, USA on April 16, 2013:

Wow! Thanks for all of the great ideas, KJ!

Let me know how well mail polish or spray works, too!


kjforce from Florida on April 15, 2013:

Laura Schneider...I am allergic to some metals..and have used moleskin cut and glued to the inside of the bracelet...another idea I have done..I made a felt bracelet from olive green felt ( any colour of your choice) added a snap button/or Velcro strip......I can wear one bracelet or multiples at a time..use the base bracelet to compliment the others...I will try your clear spray idea also...thanks for the share....

sumonislam943 on December 05, 2012:

costume jewellery Costume jewelry is often made of inexpensive or base

metals that corrode quickly. As a result, they are prone to reacting with

your body’s oils or sweat to produce an unpleasant odor. Some people are

naturally more apt to pick up on the scent than others, but everyone should

notice an improvement with regular use of a jewelry cleaner designated for the

metal in the jewelry. If that doesn’t work, give this simple trick a try:

(Thanks You)

gayle rush on April 30, 2012:

thanks for the nail polish tip. it was just exactly what i was looking for. gayle

Laura Schneider (author) from Minnesota, USA on February 02, 2012:

Thanks, Red Elf!

RedElf from Canada on January 31, 2012:

I have used the clear nail polish trick for years on the underside of jewelry, and it works well. I have a lovely carved copper cuff bracelet from my mother that I regularly coat the back of to keep from turning green. Nicely done.