How to Find and Care for Vintage Costume Jewelry

a jewelry box with costume jewelry
Confession: I have an obsession with playing dress-up. I adore wearing sparkly things on a daily basis and especially love using vintage costume jewelry to give an outfit the right vibe. In my defense, this predisposition for the sparkly is in my blood, and most of my collection came from my grandmother. Lena Lyda just loved her some sparkly accessories! So today, I thought we’d take a look at finding and caring for your vintage costume jewelry.

shopping for vintage jewelry
shopping for vintage bracelets

How to Find Vintage Costume Jewelry

If you are lucky enough to inherit some pieces, be sure to run them by your local jeweler just to make sure they really are costume pieces and not something more valuable. The costume pieces that I refer to in this post are the cheaper, brass + rhinestone + plastic variety from the 1950s and 60s that require a different care routine than gold and pearls.

Your grandma wasn’t into costume jewelry? Never fear! Vintage stores and estate sales are full of the sparkly, brightly colored treasures. One of my favorite haunts in East Tennessee is Nostalgia, which sports several jewelry cases and lots of temptation for my wallet.

cleaning costume jewelry
How to Clean Costume Jewelry

Remember: Always take any pieces you are unsure of to a jewelry expert first.

• NEVER submerge your jewelry in water. Ever. For serious.
• For rhinestones, spray a little Windex on a soft cloth (never directly on the stone), and then gently wipe clean.
• For any painted jewelry, I use vinegar. It’s less abrasive than the Windex used for rhinestones so it won’t remove the paint.
• Vinegar also comes in handy for cleaning up the spots that you’ll find on a lot of the metal backings. Just grab a Q-tip, dip it in vinegar, and wipe them away.
• Non-whitening toothpaste comes in handy for brightening crystals. Just be sure it’s plain-Jane toothpaste with none of the extra fancy stuff in it, which could do more harm than good.

Do you see any green stuff on the back of your jewelry? That’s verdigris, which is basically a jewelry disease that can cause corrosion. Brass and copper are especially susceptible, especially if they’re unfinished. If you see this on your jewelry, make sure that you get the infected pieces away from everything else in your collection because verdigris is contagious. So what do you do? Soak a paper towel or cotton pad in vinegar and simply wrap the clip around it. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes and then wipe away the green stuff. Again, Q-tips can help you get the hard to reach parts.

How to Repair Costume Jewelry

Keep a few things on hand to repair your baubles when they need it. Here are the two things I swear by:
• If the smooth part of the ear piece on your clip-on earrings is rough or chipping, use hot glue to create a smooth surface. Hot glue is also good if your clip-on clasp has come off.
• If part of your piece is peeling, treat it like a pair of pantyhose and use a little clear nail polish to stop it.

storing costume jewelry in a suitcase
How to Store Your Costume Jewelry
• Keep all your jewelry in a dry, safe place. I have an old jewelry box lined with soft fabric that belonged to my mother. It’s perfect!
• Along those same lines, it is not a good idea to store your jewelry in Ziploc bags as those will hold moisture. Opt instead for some soft-lined bags for transporting your baubles.


Here are some more of my favorite ideas for cleaning and storage:

Top 10 Uses for Vinegar
Making Natural Cleaners
Vintage Suitcase Table Project (how cute is this?!)

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About Hannah B. Slaughter 


I’m a graphic designer for HGTV and DIY who loves taking something old, making it new and then adding sparkle. Weekend activities include thrifting with my handsome husband, writing for ...

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