It’s hard to remember to remove earrings, etc. before jumping in the pool or hot tub. And when we do, its often because we’re afraid of losing the jewelry…but the problem doesn’t lie there.
Chlorine stress cracking is a chemical reaction between gold alloy jewelry and chlorine that causes breakdown of the metal causing broken prongs and ring shanks.
Chlorine is found with increasing use in household ‘non-abrasive’ cleaners and of course in laundry detergents and bleach. It is also used in pool and hot tub water treatment and in high concentrations in tap water. In some communities the chlorine in tap water is at levels normal for swimming pools. Where new construction is common local codes require chlorine level boosting each time a new home is connected to the water main.
At maximum concentration such as pure household bleach, chlorine is so reactive that 14k gold jewelry left in pure bleach solution for 24 hours will be destroyed beyond repair; in extreme cases the gold will be dissolved! DON’T EVER SOAK JEWELRY IN BLEACH!
Chlorine reacts specifically with the copper and nickel portions of gold jewelry alloys. Copper and silver are the primary alloys for yellow gold and nickel is the primary alloy for white gold. Chlorine dissolves the copper, or in the case of a white gold mounting for a diamond the nickel, and causes a perfectly good and often new piece of jewelry to break.
What to do?
Take off rings while cleaning with a chlorinated cleaner but don’t leave them near the sink where they may get knocked down the drain. Read labels – chlorine is in products where you least expect it – watch for the ‘Contains Bleach’ label.
Try to avoid wearing jewelry in the pool or hot tub. Rings set with stones, especially with prongs, are most subject to damage and hot tub water is five times more damaging due to heat and increased chlorine concentrations. Bromine based hot tub treatments are also damaging although not quite as corrosive as chlorine.
Demand a minimum of 14k gold for all jewelry. No matter what anyone tells you, 10k gold is a sub-standard alloy with a pure gold content of less than 50% and extremely reactive with chlorine. The higher the alloy, such as 18k, the less copper or nickel is present and the less reactive the alloy is with chlorine. Pure gold, or 24k, is impervious to almost EVERY chemical. The optimal metal for stone mounting is platinum, also impervious but three times as expensive as 14k gold. A more economical solution is Palladium (a platinum family metal) white gold which appears to be nearly impervious to chlorine with a cost about 30% higher than white gold. Ask your jeweler about Palladium white gold.
Avoid having rings ‘stretched’ to increase size. The usual procedure is to roll or hammer a ring shank (band) to increase the ring size which means that section of metal will be heavily stressed . Maximum chlorine reaction occurs to areas that have been stressed from rolling, hammering, or bending of prongs (unavoidable). Always insist that sizing up be accomplished by cutting the shank and adding new metal (size-up less than 1/2 size is usually okay to stretch).
When cleaning jewelry use only bottled or distilled water and a non-chlorinated laundry detergent or liquid dish soap. If your tap water contains a high concentration of chlorine and you leave you jewelry in the solution overnight you have done more harm than good. We still suggest cleaning jewelry frequently; it looks better, and you also remove chlorine residue from showering, washing hands, etc.
Thanks, Jewelry1.com – great advice!