How to Clean a Watch: A Step-by-Step Care Guide for Steel Timepieces

If you’ve arrived here after Googling “how to clean a watch,” congratulations: That means you actually wear that beautiful timepiece of yours, rather than merely leaving it tucked away in the safe. And no matter how simple and affordable or complicated and luxurious your watch might be, at some point, it’s going to need to be cleaned.

Let’s get something straight first: The absolute best way to clean a watch is to take it in for a professional service, wherein it will be disassembled, the movement lubricated and regulated, the case subjected to an ultrasonic cleaning and polishing, and so on. However, if all you’re after is a quick home-grown scrubdown, here are a few horological tricks of the trade that’ll serve you well.

NOTE: We’re going to cover stainless steel sports watches here. Precious metal watches, due to the relative softness (and expense) of their case material, should be cleaned only by professionals.

Also note that watchmakers will often lightly polish a case to remove scratches, which involves removing a small layer of steel. If you’re at all concerned about the value of, say, a collectible vintage watch, you’ll want to request that a watchmaker does not polish. If, however, the watch is your “daily driver”—one that you don’t plan on ever selling, or one that isn’t particularly collectible—then a light polish is probably fine.


You’ll need a few things in order to get started on your cleaning adventure: Some sanitary wipes; a few microfiber cloths; PolyWatch crystal cleaning compound; some painter’s tape; a gently used and cleaned toothbrush or a dedicated detail brush; and some toothpicks.

Cleaning the Case

Step 1: First, remove the bracelet or strap from your watch with a spring bar tool and set it aside. At this point, you’ll have access to the inside of the lugs, which is where tons of dirt and grime accumulates.

Step 2: Now, use a sanitary wipe to gently clean around the case, removing surface-level gunk. To access hard-to-clean areas, there are a couple of things you can do: Either break off the pointy tip of a toothpick and use the rest of it to (gently) push the wipe into the area, or use a soft-bristle brush (such as an old but thoroughly cleaned toothbrush) to lightly remove dirt. Either way—be careful. Going too hard with the toothpick or brush can scratch the case.

Step 3: Use a microfiber cloth to dry the watch and give it a wipe-down. By now, you should have removed all but the most stubborn dirt and grime. If there’s still significant buildup that can’t be dislodged, however, you may need to take the watch in for an ultrasonic bath at your local watchmaker’s shop.

NOTE: If your watch has a rotating bezel whose action feels stiff, it’s likely the result of grime built upon beneath its surface and within the clickspring. Bezel action is generally fairly simple and can be cleaned at home, but because this involves dealing with a few thin, tiny parts—which can be easily lost or damaged—it’s often best to have a watchmaker clean under and around the bezel for you.

Cleaning the Bracelet

Step 1: Once you’ve removed the bracelet from the watch, immerse it in a bowl of lukewarm, slightly soapy water for a few minutes. Then remove the bracelet and rinse it briefly in clean water.

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