The simple answer is YES you can wash enamel pins, there are a few things to understand about this process though. Let's look at the four most important parts in this process.

Understanding the Base Metal of Your Enamel Pins.

Enamel Pins have been around for a long time, in fact, the Egyptians were casting enamel into metal bases as accessories long before the pins we know today came to light. Modern technology has however greatly improved these designs and quality giving us the ability to make detailed designs on these pins.

Enamel pins are primarily made from four different types of base metals: iron, brass, copper or zinc alloy. For the average person you will never know the base metal of your hard enamel or soft enamel pin, nor is it really necessary to know the base metal. What you care about is that the lapel pins look good.  And what makes most custom enamel pins look good is the polished, shiny look of the gold or silver finish plating that covers the dull look of the base metal.

Understanding the Gold and Silver Plating of Custom Enamel Pins.

The gold or silver plating of the enamel pin is what gives it the jewelry look.  As with most jewelry, the gold or silver plating can tarnish and dull over time particularly if it is not used frequently.  This would certainly put a damper on a person wanting to wear custom enamel pins. However, in general lapel pins are pinned to clothing, hats, backpacks, towels, and suit coats, and are not exposed to dirty environments so they maintain their original custom luster.  But, if the custom pins are put away in a drawer or box or not handled much they could tarnish over time.

Understanding How to Clean Hard Enamel and Soft Enamel Pins.

Most hard enamel and soft enamel pins can be polished with a dry or damp cloth, or in the case of dirt ending up on them a standard jewelry cleaner could be used to remove the dirt from most lapel pins.

Understanding the Iron Issue with Custom Enamel Pins.

There is really only one cleaning issue related to enamel pins, and that relates to iron base metal custom pins. As you know iron can rust if exposed to water.

As mentioned earlier you most likely will not know what base metal was used in your specific enamel pin. So, here are some simple tricks to help you identify the base metal of the custom lapel pin.

  • Touch a magnet to the custom pin, if it attracts, the base metal is iron.
  • If the custom pin has a lot of intricate cutouts, the base metal is zinc alloy.
  • If the custom pin fails both these tests, the base metal is either brass or copper.

All of these base metals can hold up in water, even iron base metal, as long as it is cared for properly.  Iron will rust if it is exposed to water or moisture for a long period of time.  Typically, this is not a problem as the gold or silver plating on each lapel pin will protect the iron base from the moisture.

Before washing inspect the enamel pin to ensure the iron base metal has not been exposed due to flaking off of the gold or silver plating or due to a scrape.  Scrapes can be caused on the front by scraping them against hard surfaces.  However, the most likely spot for rust to appear on an iron-based enamel pin is on the backside of the pin or on the nail that is attached.  Because enamel pins are attached to things using a metal clutch that slides on and off, scrapes can occur to the nail or the back of the pin if the clutch is removed frequently.  Under most circumstances iron-based pins will hold up just fine, but if you ever notice your enamel pin rusting, it is advisable not to wear it as it can leave rust marks on whatever it is you are attaching it too. Most hard enamel pins or die cast pins do not use iron-based metal so you can rest easy if you have a hard enamel pins.

The Bottom Line

No matter what the base metal is, feel free to wash or wipe down any enamel pin you may have with water or jewelry cleaner.  But if you do have an iron base enamel pin it is recommended that you completely dry the pins lapel after you wipe it down to ensure no water or moisture resides on the pin.

Pins are meant to be worn and are meant to last, so wear them proudly and if necessary clean as needed.