You can check if your gold is real at home by conducting a thorough examination and a few tests. The purity of the gold in an item is measured in karats, similar to the term used for diamonds, but spelled differently. In gemstones, carat refers to the weight of the cut stone, but in gold, karat refers to the gold's purity or quantity. Solid gold consists of 24 karats, but, in jewelry, you'll more than likely see gold rated at 22K, 18K, 14K, 10K or even 6K. Each karat determines how much gold is in the item.
Gold Rating Chart
- 24K gold – 100 percent real gold; no other metals present
- 22K gold – 91.6 percent gold; 8.4 percent other metals
- 18K gold – 75 percent gold; 25 percent other metals
- 14K gold – 58.5 percent gold; 41.5 percent other metals
- 10K gold – 41.7 percent gold; 58.3 percent other metals
- 6K gold – 25 percent gold; 75 percent other metals
Quick Gold Tests at Home
You can test for real gold at home by using one of several methods: magnets, nitric acid, float and rust test and the stamp test, or look for skin discoloration when wearing gold jewelry.
The Magnet Test
The magnet test is one of the easiest tests to perform, but to do it, you need a stronger-than-normal magnet, available at most hardware or home improvement stores. Run the magnet over the gold jewelry or item. If the gold is attracted to the magnet, it is not real gold. Jewelry clasps or catches are not made of real gold; if one of these is the only part of your jewelry item that is attracted to the magnet, your gold is real.
The Stamp Test
Jewelry from reputable jewelers contains gold stamps or identifying stamps on them. You'll need a magnifying glass to locate them. The stamp should include karat markings or a jeweler's mark; sometimes, the jeweler marks the percentage of the gold rather than the karat. For example, 22K gold would read .916, while 14K gold says .585 on the stamp. Avoid stamps with HGP, HEG or GF, as these indicate heavy gold-plated, heavy electroplated or gold-filled pieces.
The Float and Rust Test
Real gold never rusts; if you notice rust on your gold item, it's fake gold. Set your gold item in a clear water-filled glass. Real gold is heavy, so it should drop to the bottom; if it floats, it's fake.
Unless you have an allergic reaction to gold, if your skin changes color – black or green, for example – it's a good indication that the gold is fake. But since most jewelry gold is not real gold, you may be reacting to some of the alloys in the gold as well, so this test is not as accurate.
Nitric Acid Test
Scratch a small mark in an inconspicuous place on your gold item. Pour a bit of nitric acid onto it. If the spot turns green, it's fake gold. If it turns a milky white, it's gold-covered sterling silver. Real gold creates no reaction.
Nitric acid is caustic and hazardous to inhale. Wear an appropriate NIOSH-approved face mask and protect your hands to avoid burns.
If you pan for gold as a hobby, it's easy to mistake pyrite for real gold. Called fool's gold for a reason, pyrite has some of the characteristics of real gold, except when you scratch it with a fingernail or pointed item, it falls apart. Real gold, even gold flakes, no matter its size, is heavy. When you look at tiny gold placer flakes under a microscope or heavy-duty magnifying glass, they'll look like little gold nuggets. In your pan, real gold shimmers even when not in direct sunlight; it has an unmistakable color.
The Best Test
As a final arbiter of an item's authenticity, a jeweler or a professional assayer can determine whether it is real or not. This method is 100 percent tried-and-true, and in some cases, you may not pay anything to determine the amount of gold – or not – in your item.