I love searching for beautiful and unique vintage and collectible items, but I'm somewhat of a germaphobe. So, I am sharing my secrets to disinfecting and cleaning used jewelry. (NOTE: This may not be a safe, or appropriate way to treat all vintage materials, especially those pieces that already have some damage or excessive wear).
STEP 1: Rub a generous amount of make-up remover over every surface and let it set on the counter for an hour or so. This helps dissolve some of the dead skin and oils that may have built up over the years.
STEP 2: Set the jewelry on a folded white wash cloth or other rag. This will absorb the water you'll apply in Step 3, and it will show up the dirt and debris being removed.
STEP 3: Using the precision nozzle (since it delivers the highest pressure) of a steamer, and blast off the makeup remover along with dirt and oil. If you don't have a steam cleaner, you could use warm water and a soft toothbrush and rinse thoroughly.
STEP 4: Dry off the excess water as well as you can and put the piece somewhere to dry completely before storing.
I also use this method on my wedding ring and other frequently worn jewelry. The steam kills most germs and does a great job of removing oil and dirt, even in hard-to-reach places. To prevent damage, please consider the heat tolerance of the materials used in your piece before applying direct heat of a steam cleaner.