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It’s no secret that it’s critically important to keep our hands as clean as possible these days. So it’s only natural to want to keep our wristwatches clean as well given their proximity to our hand. In fact, we recommend wearing water-resistant stainless steel watches for the time being as they are the easiest to clean and can withstand constant water exposure.

The Right Way To Clean Your Watch
The Right Way To Clean Your Watch

Thankfully, there are plenty of watches out there that fit the bill, whether dive watches, sports watches, or casual everyday watches from leading timepiece brands like Rolex, Omega, Cartier, Patek Philippe, Breitling, and others. If you’ve ever wondered what’s the best way to keep your watch fresh then read on to discover the right way to clean your watch.

A Few Warnings First

Since we will be recommending warm water and gentle soap, the following watch cleaning directions are only applicable to water-resistant watches with metal cases and bracelets. Again, stainless steel works best here since gold and other metals can scratch easier.

How To Clean Your Watch
Stainless steel water-resistant watches are the easiest to wash

Do not try this method with vintage watches (water-resistance ratings deplete over time) or watches with leather bands (you can’t wash leather).

Lastly, if your watch has any screw-down components, such as the winding crown or chronograph pushers, make sure they are tightly screwed into place before you submerge your watch into water.

How To Thoroughly Wash And Clean Your Watch

Just like your hands, the best way to wash your watch at home is with warm water and gentle soap. Dish soap works well for stainless steel watches.

Step 1: Gather What You Will Need

Before cleaning your watch, you will need to gather a few things to get the job done.

  • Tool kit, such as one that includes a spring bar tool, to remove the bracelet from the case
  • Two bowls to hold warm water large enough to fit your watch case and bracelet
  • Soap, such as gentle liquid dish soap
  • A soft brush such as soft bristle toothbrush to scrub the watch
  • Two soft cloths, like microfibre, for washing and drying

Step 2: Remove the Bracelet from the Watch Case

When doing a thorough cleaning of your watch, it’s always best to remove the bracelet from the case so you can really work to get the grime off.

To thoroughly clean your watch, it’s best to detach the bracelet from the case

Using the necessary tools, carefully remove the bracelet from both sides of the case lugs. That way, the bracelet and case are completely separate from each other.

Step 3: Wash the Watch Case

Fill one bowl with warm water and add a few drops of soap and swish it around to make it soapy. Fill the other bowl with clean warm water. Ensuring that the winding crown (and any pushers if applicable) are screwed in place, carefully submerge your (water-resistant) watch case into the soap water.

Make sure all pushers and crowns are screwed into the case to prevent water from getting in

Use your fingers to rub the surface of the case, caseback and dial side, to gently scrub away any dirt. You can also use your soft brush to gently scrub the lugs, bezel, and caseback but do not use the brush on the crystal. For the crystal, you can dip one of the clothes into the soapy water and gently wipe the glass surface.

Once the case has been well washed with soap, carefully place it into the clean bowl of warm water to rinse it out. Make sure that all the soap is rinsed off the watch–you may have to refill the bowl with clean water a few times until all the soap is gone.

When rinsed, carefully dry the watch case with the dry soft cloth ensuring as much of the water as possible is wiped off. Set the case aside.

Step 4: Wash the Bracelet

Refill one bowl with soapy warm water and the other with clean warm water. Submerge the bracelet in the soapy water for a few minutes to loosen the dirt.

Take the bracelet and scrub it gently with your soft brush (while you repeatedly dip the brush into the soapy water) making sure you get the topside and underside and in between the links. Grime buildup in between the links can cause bracelet stretching over long periods of time. Don’t forget to open the clasp and scrub around in there because that’s a great place for dirt to collect.

Bracelets of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus
It’s important to wash your bracelet well as grime build-up can cause bracelet stretching

Once it’s nice and clean, transfer the bracelet to the clean bowl of water, again ensuring that all the soap is gone. You can even hold the bracelet under warm running water at this point to rinse it really well.

Carefully dry the bracelet with the soft dry cloth. You can even use a hairdryer on the lowest setting to remove all moisture from the bracelet.

Step 5: Reattach the Bracelet to the Watch Case

Once both the case and bracelet are entirely dry, carefully reattach the bracelet to the case using the necessary tools. Your clean watch is now ready to wear and enjoy!

How Often Should I Clean My Watch?

You can do this type of deeper clean washing as often as the watch needs depending on how much you wear your watch and how dirty it gets. Some watch wearers do this weekly while others prefer monthly or longer.

For quick cleaning on a more frequent basis (especially these days), you can always hold your (water-resistant steel) watch under warm running water and use a little gentle soap on your fingers to wash it, rinse it, and dry it gently with a soft towel.

Clean Your Watch When You Get Home
If you go outside with your watch on, remember to wash it with soap and water when you get home

It goes without saying, since your watch is off your wrist and slippery from the soap, be very careful not to drop it into the sink as this can damage it!

During the current situation of sheltering in place, if you do leave your house with a watch on, it’s best that you wash it with warm water and soap (just like your hands) immediately when you get home.

Written by

Celine Simon

Celine is a freelance luxury watch writer who has enjoyed working in the horology industry for over ten years. Like many of the high-end timepieces she writes about, she comes from Switzerland—the heart of fine watchmaking. From Singapore to Montreal to Geneva to Dubai, Celine has lived all over the world but now calls Southern California home.