How to Tell if Gold is Real (17 Best Testing Methods)
Advanced techniques plus simple DIY methodsBy Jane Pardo | Updated May 9, 2023
Determining the authenticity of your gold will ensure it has the exact value you expect, whether you’re expanding your collection, keeping a treasured heirloom, or planning to resell.
Discover how to tell if gold is real with our comprehensive guide.
We will explain various gold testing methods, including advanced techniques in professional settings and simple DIY methods you can do at home.
17 Best Gold Testing Methods
XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analysis is a highly advanced method that can identify a vast range of elements quickly and efficiently.
It’s one of the best gold-testing solutions today, thanks to its portability, precision, and ultra-fast results.
XRF analyzers use an X-ray source to analyze metal compositions.
- Unlike regular lab results that can take days, XRF analyzers are state-of-the-art electronic devices that provide the highest accuracy and precision within seconds.
- They can accurately detect gold and measure metal content without causing any damage.
- They can identify unwanted impurities.
- However, XRF analyzers come with exorbitant price tags. Some are specially designed for jewelry stores and other retail use. Others are used for scrap sorting, mining, and forensics.
- XRF analyzers are available in portable, handheld designs.
Laboratory methods use sizeable, expensive machines and require extensive preparation of gold samples.
- Lab analysis uses large benchtop analyzers for outstanding accuracy.
- Machines for lab analysis require a higher level of operation skills compared to handheld XRF analyzers.
Fire assay method
Fire assay, also known as cupellation, is the most precise gold-testing method.
However, it’s rarely done as it requires melting a gold item.
- Fire assay involves separating gold from impurities by melting a gold item in a cupel, a flat dish crafted from temperature-resistant material.
- Hot air is blasted on the cupel in a special furnace.
Fire assay is an incredibly destructive method that could ruin the entire design of a gold item.
Electronic gold testers
Electronic gold testers are highly reliable and accurate. They approximate gold alloy fineness without using any hazardous liquid or destructive method.
These innovative devices use electrical conductivity to identify gold purity. They apply an electrical charge to a gold piece and use an advanced sensor to measure the resistance level.
You’ll see the results instantly through a digital screen. Some electric gold testers show both the karat value and gold percentage.
An electronic gold tester is an excellent option if you want a fast, easy, and hassle-free process of verifying gold authenticity without scratching or damaging your gold item.
This touch-and-test method is also generally safe, requiring no protective gloves or goggles.
- Review the instructions and manufacturer data sheet carefully to understand the proper interpretation of results.
- Thoroughly rinse and clean your gold item to remove dirt and grime.
- Place your gold on the contact surface or hold it with the alligator clip.
- Put the probe on your gold.
- Apply the charge once the conductor fluid solution reaches your gold piece.
- Evaluate the results.
- Repeat the test on other parts of your gold to improve accuracy.
Lightweight and portable gold testers are available if you prefer something travel-friendly. Go for battery-operated devices for extra convenience.
We recommend a high-end device for better accuracy and more specific results, particularly if you need to frequently test numerous gold items.
Note: Counterfeit gold crafted from surgical-grade stainless steel and zinc gold alloys could show false results. Gold with heavy gold plating or filling may also sometimes show as real gold.
The acid test is another accurate DIY method to verify the authenticity of gold.
It uses a nitric acid solution to evaluate gold karat purity.
Pure gold resists corrosion and tarnish despite exposure to most acids. Nitric acid is harsh on fake gold, especially copper-based alloys.
With the acid test, you’re simply testing the purity of a small scratch mark.
- Unpack your acid test kit and read the instructions to interpret the results correctly. Keep in mind each pre-made acid is designed for a particular karat. For example, you may only use one bottle for 18k gold and a different acid for 22k gold.
- Create a tiny scratch on your gold using a sharp object like a pocket knife.
- Apply a drop of acid over the scratch.
- Check the gold acid test color chart included in your acid test kit.
- Your gold is likely true to its karat level if the scratch mark looks the same. It may be of lesser purity if the mark fades. It’s likely fake if the scratch line disappears, turns green, or shows a bubble reaction.
Many affordable acid test kits are available online, ranging from $15 to $70.
They typically have multiple testing solutions in easy-to-squeeze bottles to help you appraise different gold karats, including 10k, 14k, 18k, and 22k gold.
Caution: Gold acid tests can be inaccurate due to impurities, surface plating, improper application, or poor acid quality. To improve accuracy, use additional methods like XRF analysis, electronic gold testers, or professional appraisals.
Touchstone gold test
This gold-testing method also uses an acid test kit. Your testing kit should include testing needles with a karat gold sample on the tip and the karat value on the side.
- Rub your gold against the touchstone to create a visible scratch line. Wear rubber gloves and clear goggles for protection.
- Use a testing needle to create a mark on the touchstone alongside your initial scratch line.
- Apply the acid onto each mark.
- Compare the resulting colors with the color chart to determine if your gold is real.
Real gold has a stamp that identifies its content and goldsmith manufacturer.
Hallmarks are hidden discreetly, usually on the inside of a ring or near the clasp of a necklace.
The stamp test is one of the fastest ways to tell if something is real gold.
- Carefully examine your gold all over to find an engraved hallmark.
- This hallmark generally consists of numbers indicating its karat or fineness level.
- Real solid gold shows a karat level like 22k or 18k. In contrast, gold-plated items have letter markings like GF (gold-filled) or HGP/HGE (heavy gold electroplate).
- Check the karat system and millesimal fineness system to know valid gold purity numbers. If you don’t find your gold item’s purity number in the list, you likely have a gold-plated piece or counterfeit gold.
- A magnifying glass or a loupe magnifier, which uses an optical glass lens, will make it much easier to read tiny stamps.
Note: Counterfeit gold sometimes has fake hallmarks.
Testing solid gold with a lighter could work because authentic gold resists fire.
Use a butane lighter for best results.
- Expose your gold to a flame for at least 1 minute while holding it with a pair of tongs.
- Cool it down by holding it under running tap water.
- Real gold will initially brighten, but it won’t burn or get damaged.
- Your gold is likely fake if it darkens or changes color.
The lighter method is not ideal for testing gold-plated jewelry and lower gold karats, like 10k and 14k gold.
Gold alloys have metal contents, making them reactive to a flame.
Gold-plated jewelry has a light gold layer over a base metal, usually copper or brass.
Exposure to fire could permanently damage your gold-plated items.
Note: Some fake gold bars have thick genuine gold plating over a metal core. They may not show visible discoloration.
Pure gold, notated as 24k in the karat system, is non-magnetic.
That means using a strong magnet can help reveal gold authenticity.
- Bring a neodymium magnet near your gold, ensuring no direct contact.
- Fake gold will be attracted to the magnet due to its metal contents.
- Some jewelry pieces have metal clasps or locks that may be attracted to the magnet. Carefully observe whether the magnet attracts the rest of the gold jewelry.
Neodymium magnets are the most powerful magnets for testing gold. Key chain magnets are perfect if you want something that conveniently fits in your pocket.
Note: Some counterfeits contain non-magnetic metals like stainless steel and copper, leading to false results.
Want to know how to test gold using toothpaste? This household item is easily accessible and very convenient for verifying real gold.
- Gently rub white toothpaste onto a small part of your gold item for 30 seconds.
- Thoroughly rinse under running water and dry with a clean cloth.
- Genuine gold will look the same, whereas counterfeit gold will show dark spots or discoloration.
Note: The toothpaste method can scratch solid gold and gold-plated jewelry due to abrasive ingredients.
The lemon method can help reveal fake gold because lemon juice is highly acidic.
- Create a small scratch on your gold using a needle.
- Use a liquid dropper to apply a small amount of lemon juice over the scratch.
- Rinse your gold and clean it with a soft cloth.
- Counterfeit gold and gold-plated items will show signs of discoloration.
Note: Some gold alloys with higher-quality metals may not react to the acidity of lemon juice.
Baking soda method
Baking soda is an alkaline compound that can damage counterfeit gold.
- Create a paste by mixing baking soda with water.
- Dab the soft paste onto your gold.
- Thoroughly rinse under running water after 30 minutes.
- Fake gold will change color due to the abrasive quality of baking soda.
The baking soda method can reveal imitation gold with low-quality metals or thin plating.
Learn how to tell if gold is real with makeup by following these quick steps.
- Apply a small amount of liquid foundation on the top of your hand. Leave it to dry.
- Add a bit of powder.
- Rub your gold against the area with makeup.
- Pure gold will leave a visible line or a dark streak. Gold-plated and imitation gold will not leave a noticeable line.
The float test, also known as the density test, works because gold is a highly dense precious metal.
Pure gold is extremely heavy. In fact, a cubic foot of gold weighs around 1,200 pounds!
- Drop your gold in a glass or bowl full of water.
- Genuine gold will sink to the bottom, whereas fake gold will float.
Note: Some imitation gold items are crafted from heavy metals, which means they could sink and pass the float test.
Ceramic scratch test
This gold-testing method involves using an unglazed ceramic plate.
- Rub your gold against the ceramic plate’s surface.
- A gold-colored mark indicates that your gold is authentic. Fake gold made with metal alloys will leave a dark streak.
Be sure to scrape your gold gently to avoid causing significant damage.
Most jewelry pieces are gold alloys containing a mix of metals. For example, 14k gold contains 58.3% gold and metals like copper and zinc.
While high-purity gold is nonreactive, lower gold karats may cause your skin to blacken.
Your sweat and atmospheric elements, such as chlorine and sulfur, can react with the metals in your gold jewelry, leading to skin discoloration.
The skin test can help reveal whether you have a high-purity gold item or a low karat.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before doing the skin test.
- Hold your gold jewelry in your palm for several minutes.
- Observe any color difference on your skin. Genuine gold won’t cause any skin discoloration.
- If your gold jewelry leaves a green or bluish tint on your skin, your gold is either low karat or completely counterfeit.
Vinegar is a mildly corrosive liquid that can damage fake gold.
- Create a tiny scratch on your gold.
- Apply several drops of white vinegar onto the scratch using a liquid dropper. Wait for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Rinse your gold jewelry under running water, and then dry it with a soft cloth.
- Authentic gold will retain its lustrous sheen, whereas imitation gold will react and change color.
Note: Some counterfeits contain higher-quality metals that may not react to vinegar.
What are counterfeit gold pieces?
Counterfeit gold pieces are designed to imitate the look of authentic gold. Some are plated with real gold, containing metal bases like brass or tungsten. Copper alloys are commonly used to create fake gold. Brass (copper and zinc) retains its gold-like tone longer than bronze (copper and tin).
What do jewelers and professional appraisers use to verify gold authenticity?
Jewelers and professional appraisers verify gold authenticity using a combination of techniques, including acid testing, X-ray fluorescence, lab tests, and electronic gold testers.
Is it safe to test gold at home?
Yes, it’s generally safe to test gold at home as long as you follow safety precautions and properly use tools. Keep in mind to wear gloves when necessary to prevent skin irritation.
Whether you’re a new gold investor or a seasoned collector, our tips above will help you learn how to tell if gold is real.
It’s best to perform multiple tests to get a good idea of your gold’s authenticity. Take your gold jewelry, coins, or bullion bars to a reputable jeweler for professional testing and appraisal.