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Renaissance wax polish was developed by the boffins (English slang for scientists) at the British Museum in the 1950's. The natural waxes used for conserving museum exhibits unfortunately also contained acids which over time compromised the finishes of historic furniture collections.

So they came up with a new type of microcrystalline wax refined from crude oil which solved the problem. Since then other micro-crystalline waxes have appeared on the market and they are used to protect a wide range of materials including metals.

It's fine for museum exhibits of jewelry, armor and so forth but is it fine for jewelry that's worn and for the artisan who is working with it? Many artisans are already using renaissance wax to keep their metal jewelry shiny longer. They apply a very small amount and then buff the jewelry with a soft cloth.

I was curious as keeping my display jewelry tarnish free is such a chore. So I bought some. Then I looked more carefully at what it actually contained.

The one ingredient which made my eyebrows shoot up is benzene - less than 0.1% according to the Renaissance wax MSDS (materials safety data sheet).The benzene exists in the wax because it is petroleum based.

Benzene is a known carcinogen - it can cause cancer if someone is exposed to even small amounts of it for a long time. It's best avoided.

However, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) considers a mixture to be a carcinogenic hazard if the component is present in concentrations of 0.1 % or greater. So Rennaissance wax is not considered carcinogenic by that criteria.

To put it into another perspective, most of our exposure to benzene is actually from breathing in car exhaust, tobacco smoke and industrial emissions. Did you know benzene concentrations are highest by urban roadsides?

Renaissance wax is thus fine to use.  To be extra careful, apply it with gloves (preferably nitrile) on and in a ventilated place. Make sure the polished jewelry "airs" for a while, also in a ventilated environment. Benzene is highly volatile at room temperature. This means it will evaporate very quickly.  This is what I do.

If you don't  have or want to use it, try tumbling your finished sterling silver jewelry. Not only does tumbling shine up the pieces, small surface imperfections are removed. A smoother metal surface undergoes a slower tarnishing process.

Before you go:
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 


  1. Before I learned about Renaissance Wax I had used a floor wax (made from petroleum) to polish metal with a petina as suggested in online research. Fenaissance worked better so I switched as it was lower in carcinogens. I'm wondering if some of the eco-friendly floor polishes might be a good alternative to protect petinas...I'll have to give it a try! Great post, got me thinking!

  2. That's a good suggestion - be sure to check the list of ingredients first!

  3. I bought some Renaissance Wax in November of 2009...after opening the container I was concerned with the odor...I decided to discuss it with the people from the Renaissance company, with a silversmith and even a fellow from a chemical company.

    The following is an excerpt from the email I received from the Renaissance Wax company...

    "In answer to your question , the smell is not oil, but mineral sprit which is the solvent carrier used in the production of the wax. This solvent completely evaporates shortly after applying the wax , leaving just the wax on the surface of the item being polished. The blend of waxes in Renaissance is "food-grade" and safe to use, in fact we know it is used extensively by silver and copper jewelery craftsmen here in the UK and in the USA.
    Use the wax sparingly and buff each layer gently after a few moments. In this way you can build up several layers of the wax Allow some time between each coat of wax for the previous layer to mature and harden."

    The silversmith who has been using if for years, swears by it...I know other jewelers who use it as well.

    The fellow from the chemical company wasn't so sure about the safety of the product...he wouldn't come right out and say it wasn't safe but he didn't say it was safe either!

    I've used it sparingly on copper earrings but I'm not happy with the smell in the container, which does disappear after a short while once it is on the metal...even so,the smell has always concerned me!

    It all comes down to personal choice...

    I do tumble my silver but copper is the metal I would most like to find something for. I continue to look for something "non-toxic", it what you will just as long as I'm comfortable with the product!!!

    Great post Pearl...


  4. Thanks for this informative post Pearl. I think I will stick to the non-chemical methods like tumbling. I have a silver-polishing cloth, I wonder what chemical is embedded in that? I must do a search on this!

  5. Renaissance wax is 80% mineral spirits (not to be confused with mineral oil) which is a solvent (paint thinner). It is an irritant so proper ventilation is required to ensure it evaporates safely.

  6. More complex all the time. Not sure my old brain can handle all of this stuff.

  7. Hey Pearl, great post! I think Renwax is fine for jewelry use.....and the benzene made my eyebrows go up, too, as I am a cancer survivor! So I particularly loathe this chemical. It calls for research and balance: It is nearly impossible to find products of quality to use for all facets of jewelry making that do not have element of risk. For ex, much to my dismay I recently found out that a miniscule amount of lead may appear randomly in brass sheet, even in the United States. The key is, I think, ALLOWABLE amounts and LIMITED exposure. Use proper ventilation, nitrile gloves if you have sensitive skin, buff out the Renwax well, let it gas off before wearing/selling.... and clean up after use. And don't use it every day, all day long. Artists also need to keep healthy habits. Don't eat in the studio while using chemical-laden product, limit exposure, don't stay up all night working, get plenty of rest, eat right and maybe consider some detox herbs on a regular basis. I like Essiac tea. This is a fine product and I think no more dangerous--or possibly much less so!---than learning how to use a jeweler's saw or Liver of Sulfur. Learn what you can, be sensible, and enjoy your craft. If anyone would like to try it, we carry it and Gilder's Paste at B'sue Boutiques.
    Thanks again for a great post! B'sue

  8. You are absolutely right Brenda Sue about concentration and exposure. Something toxic might be in such low concentration that it is not going to be harmful. How long and how often someone is exposed to something potentially harmful is also significant. Occasional use is very different from all day and often use.


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