If you wear a watch every day like I do, it will get dirty. Air, moisture, dust, sweat… there are many reasons why your watch will need to be cleaned every now and then. But how do you actually clean a watch? It will depend on the material of your watch, bracelet or band, crystal and how much your watch is water resistant. Because all the information about cleaning a watch is scattered around the Internet, I thought I would write an extensive post with all you need. There it is!
To clean a watch, wipe it with a chamois cloth or soft, lint-free cloth. If your watch is in metal and is water resistant, you can dip a soft-bristled brush in cold water with a drop of dishwashing soap, and gently brush the case. Then rinse your watch under fresh water and dry it with a soft towel.
If your watch is not water resistant or if you just don’t want to take any risk, just use a cloth. In any case, don’t apply pressure as it can scratch damage your watch. Always rinse your watch and dry afterward.
Read on for more details about how to leather straps, rubber bands or metal bracelets.
How to clean your watch with a cloth
If you’re not sure what you are doing or if your watch is in good condition (tested water resistance, working gaskets, and seals, …), your best bet is to just gently wipe the watch with a simple cloth. Any cloth that is soft and lint-free will allow you to wipe away any sticky spot. Don’t forget to clean both the front and the back of the watch head.
You can wipe your watch and bracelet with a dry cloth. If you prefer to use a damp cloth, always wipe your watch dry afterward. It’s important that your watch stays dry, even if it’s water resistant. This will prevent any risk rust or corrosion, even if you have a stainless steel watch.
How to clean your watch with water
When you want to use water, use cold, clean water! Many will advise you to use warm water because it will loosen the grime or grit, but this could hurt your watch in the long run. If you want to know more about why that is, check out my article about wearing a watch in the shower (spoiler alert: you shouldn’t). Of course, only do this if your watch is water resistant to at least 30 m or 3 ATMs / bars.
Most of the time, you will want to get rid of the accumulation of grease (mostly coming from your body and sweat) with soapy water. In that case, use a mild grease-cutting dishwashing soap. Any will do just fine. Just use a few drops in a bowl of water, you don’t want to create any foam as it is not needed nor useful.
For more stubborn traces of dirt, you can use a soft-bristled brush. Never apply too much (or any) pressure. Don’t press down or scrub the watch case, crystal or bracelet, as you could scratch any of those parts. This is especially true for plastic or rubber bands and cases. Just gently apply the brush to the watch face and brush in a circular motion across the whole face.
Never use harsh chemicals like lye, benzene, ammonia or other chemical cleaning agents. These can damage your watch case or bracelet, whichever the material (especially stainless steel or metal bracelets). This is especially true if your watch has a special finish, or if it’s plated. Better safe than sorry, right?
In any case, when you are done cleaning your watch, always rinse it under cold, fresh water then dry it by softly wiping it with a dry, soft towel. Never let your watch damp or wet.
How to clean a watch crystal
Crystal can be made of many different materials: mineral, plexiglass (or plastic), Hardlex (for Seiko watches), hesalite (acrylic) or sapphire.
Unless you know for sure what the material of your watch crystal is, use caution. The more gentle way to clean a crystal is by using a damp soft, lint-free cloth.
You could also use a moist cotton swab (or Q-Tip) for more stubborn stains, but do not apply excessive pressure when cleaning your crystal, as you may scratch it or make it look dull. Gently wipe any dirt, but don’t scrub.
Never use harsh chemicals as they can damage the anti-reflective coating of your crystal. Not all watches have a crystal with anti-reflective coating, but you don’t want to find out by damaging it accidentally.
How to clean a watch strap, band or bracelet
First and foremost, remove the watch strap band, band or bracelet before cleaning it (if you can, of course). You might need a spring bar tool to do so. You can get one alone or as part of a cheap watch repair kit (this is the one I recommend).
The good is: because not you have access to all the parts of your band or bracelet, you can clean it more easily and without damaging the watch face.
The strap will most likely be the dirtiest part of your watch. This is because it is in direct contact with your skin all day long. So there is a buildup of dead skin mixed with body grease and sweat. This is especially true for metal bracelets that typically have a lot of nooks and crannies that are begging for dirt to get stuck in.
Also, always make sure that your watch band is completely dry before you wear it again.
So here is how you clean pretty much any watch band or bracelet.
How to clean a metal watch bracelet
Again, in case of doubt, gently wipe your bracelet with a soft, lint-free cloth. Doing so, you will prevent any liquid from getting into in the bracelet, limiting the risk of corrosion and rust.
Yet, most of the time, metal bracelets are made of stainless steel and don’t mind water. In that case, gently scrub away any dirt with a soft-bristled brush dipped in soapy water. Here, you can use warm or lukewarm water, if needed. You can use the same soft dishwashing soap that you use for cleaning your watch head.
Make sure to remove any dirt from the gaps, too. You don’t need to take your bracelet apart to get between the links: just bend your bracelet links until you can see and reach any hidden (and probably dirty) spot. Then, gently brush any dirt that might have accumulated.
When you are done cleaning your bracelet, you can dip it or run it under clear water (cold or warm). Then pat it dry with a soft towel or soft cloth. Make sure there is no stagnating water in the gaps or between the links.
Beware: metal bracelets (made of stainless steel, silver, gold, …) can still rust, depending on how they are stored. The best way to prevent any damage to your bracelet is to expose it to dry air when you’re not wearing it. Meaning: don’t let it sit in a moist air or sealed environment with no air flow. So your typical watch box is fine.
How to clean a leather watch strap
Not all leather straps are created equal. Some straps are made of a single piece of genuine leather (from cowhide, crocodile, ostrich or lizard, to name a few) while other straps are made of a synthetic material with a thin leather lining.
All leather straps can benefit from a light cleaning. To do so, simply wipe your leather strap down with a damp soft cloth. This should remove any dirt or dust that might be present on the surface of the leather. Don’t use a wet cloth tough, as it will provide too much water for your leather (read on for more info about this). This is especially true for suede leather straps, as even a drop of fresh water can stain the strap.
If your leather strap is really dirty or if it begins to have an unpleasant smell, you can pour just a few drops of a soft dishwashing soap in bowl of fresh water, dip a soft cloth into the soapy water (make sure to remove any excess water, the cloth should be damp, not wet) and wipe on the part that needs a little more attention.
If your strap is made of a single piece of genuine leather, you can use special products like leather conditioners. Always make sure that the conditioner that you are using suits the particular type of leather of your strap. Use a dry soft cloth or towel and work a tiny bit of the conditioner into the leather with a circular motion. By the way, this will change the color of your strap to a darker shade – it’s normal. It will come back to a lighter shade with time and wear. And always do this after you have actually removed any dirt or dust that have accumulated on the surface.
Depending on the type of leather, you could also scrub your leather band with a soft-bristled brush and some saddle soap. Obviously, to use saddle soap, you need to use some water as well. So make sure that the leather of your strap is made of one piece of high-quality leather. Any delicate leather (like suede) or tinted leather is not going to like this. So if you’re not sure: don’t try it and stay safe with just a little damp cloth wipe.
In any case, don’t ever soak or submerge your band in water. Leather is not waterproof and will be damaged if you expose directly to water. If you do that, you might remove the finishing and the color of the strap (as most straps are tinted). And when the strap dries, it will break down and cracks will appear. Take great care of your strap and never let water get in direct contact with it.
How to clean a rubber watch band
Most rubber bands are made of resistant, tough material. They can definitely take a beating. And they certainly don’t mind a little water. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care of it, or clean it without care. Because believe it or not, they absorb sweat and oils too. If you don’t clean them properly, they will crack and break, just like a leather strap.
Here, a soft cloth or towel won’t work as well as with other straps. This is due to the fact that rubber will grip the cloth or towel, creating lint that might stick to the band.
But you can soak your rubber band in water with a dap of soft dishwashing soap. From there, you can brush it in a circular motion (use a soft-bristled brush in case of doubt).
Now, it’s important not to use any chemical or a rubber band brush too hard, as you may damage the finish of the band. As a matter of fact, brushing a rubber band too hard or using harsh chemical will make the rubber dull in appearance, removing its luster.
When you’re done cleaning your rubber band, just like a metal band: pat it dry with a dry towel, then let it dry before putting it bat on the watch case.
How to clean a Nato or nylon watch strap
Nylon straps are pretty easy to clean. They don’t fear water at all. They were actually created to be worn by soldiers in extreme conditions to keep their watch safe.
You can clean them by hand using fresh water (don’t use warm water!), a little bit of soft dishwashing soap and a toothbrush. Use a circular motion on all the strap until it’s completely clean. You should see a drastic difference while you do it
You don’t need to use a soft brush, because nylons straps are pretty tough (due to the way they are woven). Plus, a toothbrush will allow you to get into any small gap and make your band perfectly clean.
Then rinse your nylon strap with clean, fresh water and pat it dry with a towel. Because your nylon strap will still be damp, let it air dry and wait until it’s completely dry before putting it back on your watch.
If you’re lazy, you could throw it into the laundry machine in a mesh bag or sock (in order to not damage the metal parts). But doing so, you won’t have the same result as if you were brushing into the small gaps with a toothbrush. Hand washing a nylon strap will always give better results, but if it’s not that dirty, it’s still an option. Just always use water that is 40° C or 100° F or below.
How to clean a gold watch bracelet
Cleaning a gold watch bracelet is actually very similar to cleaning a metal bracelet. Check out the relevant point earlier in this article.
Just bear in mind that 24-karat gold is actually quite soft a material, so you don’t want to apply any pressure when brushing the bracelet. This is also true for gold-plated bracelets, which are susceptible to damage in the form of scratches or the plating rubbing away
And of course, always use a soft-bristled brush with cold or lukewarm water and just a drop of soft dishwashing soap. The soap should have no perfumes or dyes, as it can damage the finish or color of the gold bracelet.
Try not to submerge your precious gold bracelet.
And when you’re done, always pat it dry with a soft towel – including all the gaps between the links – and let it air dry completely before putting it back on the watch.
How often should you clean your watch
The answer obviously depends on your wearing patterns.
- If you’re wearing your watch every day, you should clean your watch and strap or bracelet every month.
- If you’re wearing a watch just a few days per month, use common sense to know when it’s time to actually clean your watch.
In any was, it’s always a good idea to wipe your watch with a dry, soft, lint-free cloth when you’re done wearing your watch for the day. You will keep your watch cleaner for longer periods of time.
And most importantly: when your watch has been exposed to water (from rain, a swimming pool or the sea), always rinse it under clear water before dry it with a soft towel and let it air dry. Doing so, you’ll make sure that no dirt or salt will damage your watch head or strap.
When you should go to a watch cleaning service
You cannot always clean your watch yourself. These are the cases when I would advise you to bring your watch to a watch cleaning service:
- you have a vintage watch and you don’t know how it will withstand a cleaning using water
- you have a luxurious or complicated piece that special care
- you need to inside of a watch, like the actual dial or the watch movement
- your watch needs a thorough, deep cleaning
- any instance when you’re not sure about cleaning your watch yourself is a good idea
If that’s your case, don’t try to do it yourself and bring your watch to a professional cleaning service, a watch dealer or a jeweler. Most of the time, watch dealers will clean your watch for free, especially if you bought your watch at their store.
Watch dealers and jewelers use professional tools, equipment (like an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner) and professional products. Don’t skimp and try to save a few dozens of dollars; most of the time, having a professional cleaning your watch will ensure that you will keep your watch cleaner and longer, without damaging it.