How to Keep Costume Jewelry From Tarnishing

Protecting Inexpensive 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. | Source

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 nail polish or spray the whole piece with clear 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.

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.

Semi-tarnished bronze hair clip
Semi-tarnished bronze hair clip | Source

Tarnished Inexpensive Cuff Bracelet


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 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.

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.

Have You Ever Tried a Method Like This for Preventing Tarnish?

Have you tried this before?

  • Yes, and it worked!
  • Yes, but it didn't work.
  • No, but I'm going to now.
  • No, and I don't have jewelry that would be appropriate for this method, either.
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Examples of Multi-Material Jewelry


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Comments 12 comments

RedElf profile image

RedElf 4 years ago from Canada

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.

Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 4 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

Thanks, Red Elf!

gayle rush 4 years ago

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

sumonislam943 3 years ago

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)

kj force profile image

kj force 3 years ago from Florida

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....

Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 3 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

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

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


megha-agrawal profile image

megha-agrawal 3 years ago from Pune

Nail polish appears quite useful and simple.

Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 3 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

I think so, too! Thanks for commenting

vipin 2 years ago

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 profile image

Laura Schneider 2 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

Thank you! I'm glad you like it!

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

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

lyoness913 profile image

lyoness913 16 months ago from Overland Park, KS

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!

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