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Jewellery Advice

How To Clean A Watch: Watching Cleaning & Polishing

I love watches. I have a small(ish) watch collection ranging from a very cheap digital Casio (it has its occasions) to a higher end Swiss made kinetic timepiece, and a couple of fashion watches in-between, but my everyday watch is a very stylish Gunmetal Nordgreen Pioneer with the black face and leather strap.

A watch has to be the ultimate everyday accessory, it can be a huge statement piece and a practical instrument. They are worn all year round for most of the day. Personally, I feel naked without a watch on. Because of this, without you realising it, they collect layers of sweat, skin, grease, pollution and general dirt. In this blog, we’ll explain how you can keep your watch looking fresh – without damaging the movement, the case or the strap.

Image shows a breakdown of the different parts of a watch.

How often should you clean a watch?

If (like me) you have an everyday watch, give it a deep clean every month or so. But the frequency of wearing your watch and activities are factored into how dirty your watch gets. My Nordgreen Pioneer is my everyday timepiece, but I don’t wear it when I go to the beach, the gym, or do anything like gardening; I have the old school Casio for that naturally, the Casio gets grimier quicker.

It’s also worth giving your watch a quick gentle wipe every night when you take it off. This will remove any excess moisture or lotions from your wrist and reduce the build-up of dirt, making the monthly deep clean much easier. N.B the Nordgreen pioneer is water resistant to 5ATM, which equates to 5 times atmospheric pressure, or about 50 meters depth for a short period; in real terms, it means it is splash and rainproof, and a paddling pool won’t kill it, but it’s not suitable for swimming or any prolonged submersion.

What is the best way to clean a watch?

This will depend on the watch you have and the materials used. In this blog, we’ll go through all of the different ways to clean different watches:

How to clean the watch band?

Watch bands or watch straps can be made from several different materials. Each material has different care requirements. We’ve covered all of the different types of bands throughout this blog. If you’re looking for one, in particular, use the links below to jump to the material you’re looking for!

How To Clean A Stainless Steel Watch

Stainless Steel is a common metal for watches. They have a sophisticated surface in different textures and a tough exterior. But even these seemingly tough timepieces require special care. Over time, the polished look can begin to look dull. Sweat and dirt can collect in the strap links, cause wear, and become loose. Here’s how to clean your stainless-steel watch:

1. Wipe it down

With a soft cloth, remove the initial layers of dirt and grime. We recommend a microfibre cloth or a chamois as a softer and finer cloth can get in more nooks and crannies and is capable of moving more dirt.

2. Dip the watch in warm soapy water

Make sure your watch is water resistant. They usually say so either on the dial or the back of the watch – generally followed by a dive depth (that the majority of the population will never get anywhere near – but good to know it’s fine if you drop it in a sink). It’s important to use warm water – not hot or steaming water. Hot water can cause the gaskets that keep the water out to expand and contract and allow water into the movement causing moisture to get inside. Even high-end dive watches have been known to fail after being worn in saunas or hot tubs.

To clean your watch, fill a sink or clean bowl with lukewarm water. A short soak and some gentle wiping with a cloth should remove most grime from your watch. If not, you can add a drop of antibacterial washing-up liquid to the water. Washing up liquid is formulated to loosen and dissolve grease, which is why it works to remove oils and debris from stainless steel.

If the watch is not water-resistant, be careful to dip only the stainless steel strap in the water — you wouldn’t want to damage a watch by trying to clean it.

3. Gently scrub with a soft toothbrush

Use a soft, damp, clean toothbrush to get into the joins and crevices of the stainless-steel bracelet. Be gentle as to just agitate and loosen the grime. Too much pressure could cause unwanted surface scratches, especially on highly polished areas.

4. Rinse with warm water

Again, to emphasise the ‘warm’, not hot! Run the watch under the tap to rinse away the soap and loosened dirt. Leaving a soapy residue could look dull or cause the metal to tarnish. Whereas a good rinse will help preserve the finish of the surface.

5. Dry with a soft cloth

Pat dry with a soft clean cloth. Any dirt on the cloth would not only dirty your clean watch again but could also be slightly abrasive and scratch the finish.

5. Add extra shine

To give your watch a like-new shine, spray a little glass cleaner onto a clean cloth and gently wipe the watch’s face, case and strap until there are no streaks

Use either the Connoisseurs silver or gold polishing cloth or jewellery wipes to give your jewellery added shine. The silver polishing cloth and jewellery wipes will apply an anti-tarnish barrier.

How to clean a watch with a leather strap?

Leather has been a material of choice for clothing and shoes for thousands of years (since the last ice age, to be precise). Nowadays, it is revered for its classic style – well suited to casual wear and formal occasions. Leather is also a natural substrate, so it requires special care and treatment. Leather absorbs sweat and dirt from regular wear and can be sensitive to liquids and other elements such as direct sunlight and heat, which could cause the leather to crack.

1. Remove the strap from the case

Removing the strap will protect the watch case and dial, Nordgreen watches are designed to have easily removed/interchanged straps, but for other makes this can be a much fiddlier process, especially when it comes to putting the strap back on.

2. Wipe the leather with a dry cloth

Before any liquids are involved, wipe down the strap with a dry cloth. This will remove or loosen dirt that may scratch the leather surface in the deeper cleaning phase. Again, we recommend a microfibre cloth or a jewellery polishing cloth.

3. Wash the strap with mild soap

Think of leather as a baby’s tough baby skin, but baby skin no less. Avoid harsh detergents and abrasive cloths/sponges. Dampen (not soak) a microfibre cloth and apply a small amount of gentle soap to it. Gently rub the inside and outside of the leather in a small circular motion. This will penetrate into the leather’s pores, remove embedded dirt and moisturise the leather leaving it clean and supple.

4. Remove the soapy residue

Do not rinse the leather strap under running water. Instead, rinse your microfibre cloth until all the soap has gone. Wring out the excess water from the cloth, then lightly polish the inside and outside of the strap until all the soap has gone.

5. Leave it to dry

Once the soap is removed, leave the strap to air dry naturally, Don’t place it in direct sunlight or use a hair dryer to speed it up; high temperatures can dry out the leather causing it to crack.

6. Leather treatment

Quite often, watch manufacturers may recommend applying a couple of drops of a specific leather conditioner to a soft cloth and rubbing it in a circular motion after cleaning. This should slow down the leather’s natural ageing process and preserve its suppleness. Perfect. Be sure to use a leather conditioner for jewellery, watches and accessories. Over leather treatments such as those meant for furniture or industrial items will be too harsh for contact with your skin.

How to clean a Nordgreen mesh watch strap?

For a quick clean, use a piece of moistened cotton to wipe the strap and wipe carefully, then dry with a soft dry cloth. Nordgreen’s Own FAQs say, “If thorough cleaning of your watch is required, you could use toothpaste. Yes, you read that right. Just use a minimal amount of mild toothpaste and a soft toothbrush to clean the mesh straps. Lightly dampen a piece of cotton with water to remove all the toothpaste once you’ve lightly brushed it. Unless you like the fresh smell? We’re kidding; wipe the toothpaste off after; that’s weird.”

We don’t recommend this because toothpaste is abrasive, and the mesh watches are plated. The abrasive paste could remove the plating. I would stick with water and a soft cloth. If the build-up of dirt is very heavy, maybe a soft toothbrush, but no paste, especially on the plated versions.

How to clean a nylon strap?

If you opted for a nylon strap, there’s a good chance it’s to suit an active lifestyle. Nylon watch bands absorb sweat and the accompanying bacteria into the weave. Over time the watch band does become rather smelly. Fear not; because it is a synthetic material, it can be treated a little rougher…

1. Soak

Remove the strap from the case and soak in warm/hot soapy water for a few minutes. Add an anti-bacterial cleaner (not bleach) if the watch is particularly bad.

2. Scrub

Use a toothbrush to scrub away the dirt and get deeper into the weave

3. Repeat

Repeat steps 1 & 2 until it’s clean.

N.B. if your strap has a velcro fastening, avoid scrubbing the loop (fluffy part). Velcro holds together by tiny hooks on the rough side, catching the hoops on the soft side. Break the loops, and the velcro won’t stick together.

4. Rinse

Once the strap is clean, rinse thoroughly.

5. Dry

Squeeze the strap to remove excess water and allow it to air dry.

How to clean rubber, PVC or silicon strap?

These kinds of straps are rugged, hardwearing and comfortable. My cheap little Casio is perfect for swimming and gymming with no unpleasant smells and little to no maintenance. That said, every now and then, it does need a clean. There are also premium rubber watch straps that are made for premium diving watches. The maintenance is easy, with just a few pitfalls to be mindful of…

1. Soak

Remove the strap from the case and soak in warm/hot soapy water for a few minutes. Although this kind of strap is generally paired with a water-resistant watch, the temperature fluctuation is not good for the watch.  Hot water can cause the gaskets that keep the water out to expand and contract and allow water inside.

2. Scrub

Use a cloth or a sponge to scrub away the dirt. N.B some rubber/silicone straps have a matt texture. If you scrub them with something abrasive, they can scratch.

3. Repeat

Repeat steps 1 & 2 until it’s clean.

4. Rinse

Once the strap is clean, rinse thoroughly.

5. Dry

Pat dry with a paper towel.

How to clean a watch dial?

The ‘watch dial’ refers specifically to the part of the watch under the hands, which usually has the numbers on. If this part does need cleaning. I’d advise that it is taken to a specialist jeweller/watch restorer. The watch face is the top level of the whole timepiece covered by the crystal (that glass cover). Generally, the crystal is prone to greasy fingerprints, and dirt can collect between the bezel and the crystal. Here’s how to clean the watch face without removing any component parts.

Before you start, choose the right solvent.

Isopropyl alcohol (IPA – not the ale) is a great solvent for removing dirt and grease. It quickly evaporates and will not remove any gold or silver plating. It is also known to dry skin and remove the moisture from leather, leaving it prone to cracking, so you’re best off removing the strap before doing this.

Window cleaners which contain ammonia have a similar property although they don’t evaporate as quickly, they are also very good for cleaning the watch face.

I’d advise against window cleaners containing white distilled vinegar. White distilled vinegar contains 5 percent acetic acid, a compound that can dissolve dirt, debris, and grime. However, it can also remove the plating from Jewellery.

Don’t use anything acidic, including lemon juice, white vinegar, and cola. Whilst these are known to be household cleaning “hacks” the acidic content can tarnish polished surfaces and remove the plating from jewellery. They are better for removing the alkaline soap residue from shower glass.

1. Remove the dirt buildup

Dip a cotton bud in the solvent (I use IPA) and gently and precisely use it to brush away the dirt buildup from between the crystal and bezel.

2. Wipe

With a soft, damp cloth, to remove any excess dirt and/or solvent.

3. Polish

Once the dirt is removed from around the bezel, use a clean dry microfibre cloth and lightly polish the crystal until there are no streaks.

Why is the inside of my watch foggy?

When a watch is foggy on the inside, it is from condensation. Moisture has gotten into the watch somehow, from either a leak due to a failed gasket or the crown (the bit that you pull out and turn) has not been pushed in fully. There’s no need to panic; a little bit of moisture is unlikely to cause the movement to fail but can compromise the aesthetic. And, if the moisture has got in, surely it can come out…

How to remove moisture from the watch

1. As soon as you notice the condensation, pull out the crown and place the watch in a rice container. The rice should draw out and absorb the moisture. Silica gel secrets have the same effect.

2. After a while, remove the watch and make sure the crown is pushed in fully.

Don’t use a hair dryer to remove moisture! If moisture has gotten in through a failing gasket, the hair dryer’s temperature can worsen.

We hope we’ve covered everything you need to know about how to clean your watch and how to care for it. But, since a watch is a complex mechanical thing with several different materials and finishes, if in doubt, speak to a specialist.

If you want to add another watch to your collection, why not browse our range of designer watches here?

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