How To Clean and Polish Tiger Eye Stones
Cleaning our stones is often a pain, especially since each stone seems to have its own requirements and temperament. Tiger’s Eye is the source of much consternation for people, especially since it’s got a different makeup than most gemstones. That said, it’s a simple process to clean it.
So, let’s forge ahead and I’ll explain how you can clean the tiger eye in your collection or jewelry without worry!
What You Need
You’ll need a few things to go all the way through the end of this process.
For basic cleaning, you just need the following:
- Dawn Dish Soap
- Isopropyl Alcohol (70%+) or Denatured Alcohol
- Scrub brush or Sponge
If your stone is overly dull, you may need to go a bit further. You’ll need:
- Zam(for set stones) or Cerium Oxide (for loose, polished material)
- A rotary tool or polishing machine
And finally, if you have a piece of tiger’s eye that’s been set and has dust or oils trapped in unsightly locations you may need access to an ultrasonic cleaner.
We’ll be working through these in steps, but you can skip the repolishing if your stone is in great condition but you’re just dealing with small bits of material in cracks or hard-to-reach places in the setting.
A Word About Safety
None of these processes are very dangerous, but you should always use a pair of safety glasses when you’re working with power tools.
More importantly: many people get worried when working with Tiger Eye due to its association with asbestos. Even worse, it contains crocidolite. This mineral, known as blue asbestos, is actually among the worst varieties of the stuff.
And, to be clear, the source of the stone’s chatoyance is crocidolite. If it had all been replaced by silica there would be no optical effect within the stone.
People endlessly debate the safety of cutting and grinding stones. Opinions range from outright reckless to people who seem to want to don a HAZMAT suit to dust off a bit of limestone. The truth is somewhere in the middle.
You should absolutely don a respirator if you’re cutting Tiger Eye. Or anything else, but a respirator may be a better idea in this case. Gloves can also help, and sludge should be disposed of while still wet to prevent particles from going airborne.
These are… basic precautions. You’d do the same thing with malachite or Bumblebee jasper to protect yourself. The stone itself is safe to handle and a bit of polishing isn’t going to release a bunch of asbestos into the air.
Tiger’s Eye dust is toxic… but so is the dust of everything we work with. No special precautions are needed for anything but the actual cutting and grinding process.
Step-By-Step Guide To Cleaning and Polishing Tiger’s Eye
1. Clean With Dish Soap
Dawn is wonderful stuff, and it should always be the first resort when cleaning minerals unless the mineral is highly water-soluble. It just handles the task well.
Dust is the main problem for those with raw samples that need to be cleaned. You can just rinse them off with water, a sponge with a little bit of Dawn will help get off any oils or other organic matter that’s on the stone.
If you have any greasy spots that are particularly hard to clean up, then break out the denatured alcohol to get them off. Use latex gloves for some protection and just soak a rag or a bit of sponge and get at it.
With the surface residue and dust removed, you’ll be fine in the majority of cases.
We have one more thing to try before we get into the more advanced cleaning that’s usually not needed.
2. Solvent Soak
Since Tiger Eye is largely made up of nonreactive quartz, we can do a number on some stains by soaking in denatured alcohol, high percentage isopropanol, or acetone depending on what’s available to you. Alcohols are best but there shouldn’t be any serious reaction to any of the three.
Soak the material for 20-30 minutes before checking on it. Attack it with a small scrub brush if you still see oily spots or residues on the stone.
The combination of a good scrubbing and a solvent soak should solve 95% of the issues you’ll have with cleaning Tiger Eye. Sometimes it doesn’t sort out everything, and if the stone is still hazy or dull we need to take more drastic action.
3. Touch Up Polishing
Tiger’s Eye is hard, sitting at a 7 on the Moh’s scale, but over time it can still dull due to repeated micro-scratches on the surface of the stone. When that happens, all the Dawn and elbow grease in the world isn’t going to make it shiny again.
Zam is my preferred polish for those pieces set in nonferrous metals. It’ll quickly touch up the surface of most stones and leaves a great shine on silver, gold, and even brass as well.
Tiger Eye is pretty robust overall, and there’s little to worry about when polishing it. Wear a normal particle mask when doing so, the polish particles in the air aren’t great to breathe in, but it’s a simple task.
Cerium oxide is better to use for stones that aren’t in a setting. You can make a thin paste and then attack it with a felt wheel on either a polishing machine or rotary tool, helping to clear up any surface scratches that have dulled the stone in the meantime.
If this doesn’t render the stone shiny then you may have to go back to the drawing board. It’s pretty rare to see Tiger’s Eye that actually needs a real lapidary touch-up, however, the stone is quite hard.
This should only take a few minutes. If using a rotary tool, then you’ll want to make very small circles going over the stone continuously. Keep an eye on how hot the stone is, it shouldn’t get too hot to touch at any point or you need to let it cool down.
While Tiger Eye isn’t particularly susceptible to heat, make sure you don’t let the stone get hot then dunk it in water to cool it. The quartz that makes up most of the stone is susceptible to thermal shock and can shatter with sudden temperature changes.
You can clean out any polish residue left behind with a scrub brush or a thin strip of 1500 grit+ sandpaper backed with duct tape for hard-to-clean areas in jewelry. It’s trivial to remove from the stone itself.
When the stone is shiny again, you’ve done it!
Any further cleaning of jewelry pieces will need to be done by a professional. Tiger Eye is opaque so this step is rarely needed, a bit of dirt under the stone won’t cause a change in its appearance as we see with transparent stones.
And there you have it! Clean, shiny Tiger Eye is easily attainable at home.