Care and Storage of Pearls

PearlPearls, including freshwater pearls are delicate organic gems that are made of the natural product called calcium carbonate. Because they are an organic gem pearls require more specialized care than most other gem materials. They are particularly subject to deterioration from contact with chemicals, including components in household cleaners, perfumes, cosmetics and hair care products of all kinds.

These grooming products and other household chemicals, if sprayed near pearls, can build up on the pearl and damage the luster. The nacre can become marked, dull, pitted and generally lose that marvelous luminous luster that defines a pearl.

The most important way to prevent damage to your pearls is by following the golden rule of putting your pearls on as the last thing you do when finishing your grooming.  Put the pearls on after you have applied make up, perfume and hair sprays, never before.  Don’t spray your perfume on the neck area where the pearls will actually sit and avoid touching your pearls when you have just applied hand cream. If you need to reapply hair spray at some time, slip the pearls off for a moment and put them well out of the damage zone.

Likewise make pearls the first thing you remove after a night out, before you wipe your face and neck with cleansers or facial wipes, or night creams.  As you remove your pearls wipe them with a soft damp cloth.  Buff them occasionally with a silk cloth to enhance their shine and luster.  Try not to fling them in a jumble on the dressing table, but discipline yourself to put them back in their original container.

Pearl strands should be stored separately from other jewelry because the surface of a pearl is soft and easily scratched by other gems. A silk bag, velvet-lined box or pearl folder–a satin-lined leatherette envelope with snaps to hold a strand in place–are all good places to store pearls. Your local jeweler is a good source for these items.

NEVER store pearls in a plastic bag. Some types of plastic emit a chemical that will cause the surface of your pearls to deteriorate.

Don’t store pearls in a safe or safety deposit box for long periods. The same ultra-dry atmospheric conditions that extend the life of paper documents may dry out your pearls and cause them to craze–to develop small fractures in the surface.

Pearl strands should be stored flat rather than hanging so the thread won’t stretch out prematurely.


Pearl strands should be restrung every one to two years or more often if the thread begins to bag or fray. Silk and nylon beading threads are the most commonly used materials for stringing pearls.

Knotting between beads offers the most security for your pearls; no matter where the strand breaks, you only stand to lose a single bead. The look of the knotted strand is not to everyone’s taste, however. Whether you string your pearls with or without knots, the first three or four beads on either side nearest the clasp should be knotted because this area takes the most wear and is the commonest place for a strand to break.


To clean a strand, lay the strand flat on a clean soft cloth or towel. Make a mild solution of soap flakes (I use Ivory soap flakes) and warm water, and apply with a new pure natural bristle complexion or manicure brush, scrubbing gently. Being careful to support the strand so as not to stretch the thread, turn the necklace over and repeat. To rinse, submerge the strand in cool water flush with cool tap water for a minimum of five minutes. Carefully remove the strand from the water and lay it on a fresh towel to air dry. Don’t move it until it is completely dry.


Other pearl jewelry:

The principle is the same for other types of pearl jewelry; use only a mild soap and a natural bristle brush, then rinse with cool water for at least five minutes.


Never use your pearl cleaning brush for anything else, and store it where it will not become dusty or soiled.

Pearls will naturally darken slightly with age and wear. The golden or creamy tones that come with age cannot be removed.