Yes, you can put carnelian in water.
That being said, it is not something we recommend, as water baths can damage your minerals and gems (causes cracks and discoloration, even in hard materials).
Why Can Carnelian Go In Water? (Or Not?)
What Do Collectors and Enthusiasts Need To Know?
You might have carnelian.
Or you might not.
Or it might be mostly carnelian.
Or it might not.
When you speak with any very experienced rockhound, he or she will definitely tell you that positively identifying your specimen is very important before you decide to work with it (cutting it, cleaning it, setting it, using products on it).
If you don’t understand the substance, you can damage it, your tools, or even injure yourself.
If you know what your stone is, then you’ll know at least a bit about what you can do with it or not.
You should hopefully know the hardness of the material, the solubility of the material, and whether the materials that make up the stone will react badly with water or anything else you want to mix in with it.
What Is Carnelian, And What Is Important About It?
Carnelian is often misidentified.
Carnelian is a orangish-reddish-brown material made up of silicon dioxide, which is also the base mineral for many other familiar substances (such as agates, jasper, quartz, and more).
It is often translucent, through it can be more opaque.
Carnelian gets its reddish-brown color from impurities/inclusions in the stone, though it can also be found in pale orange and close to black.
Ultimately, the main difference between these substances are slight variations of color, as they are really close in chemical composition.
And if you mess up and determine you have an agate when you really have carnelian (or vice versa), it won’t matter in the end, as all three of these materials exhibit similar physical characteristics.
Silicon dioxide is a pretty hard material, and most of the minerals that are composed of this material are a 6-7 on the Moh’s hardness scale.
Generally they are not water soluble, and do not react intensely with water unless inclusions of other minerals are present.
The reddish-brown color usually results from the presence of iron oxides.
If Carnelian Is A Hard Material And Isn’t Water Soluble, Why Can’t It Go In Water?
Many minerals, rocks, and gems that are not really soft or water soluble can go in water, but shouldn’t for extended periods of time.
Water baths can and often do damage minerals and gems that are both extremely hard, durable, and insoluble.
There’s several ways.
The first, and least obvious, is that water encourages the formation of fissures and cracks in your materials.
You can’t see them, but even polished minerals possess tiny cracks.
When you place a stone in water (especially for a long period of time), water molecules squeeze into those cracks and encourage them to grow.
This process is made worse when you add salt to the bath, because the water and salt molecules congregate in those cracks.
You might not notice the cracks, but you’ll notice when your durable stone breaks apart one day.
Another thing that can happen when water gets into those cracks is that the surface of the stone changes.
The stone might loose shine or luster, the light might hit it differently, or the material might even change color.
In some cases, it is impossible to return the stone to its previous condition without grinding off the exterior surface of the material.
Water baths can also strip the polish or other product off the surface of the finished stone, so it no longer shines as it did before you bathed it.
People disagree, but we think it is fine to place carnelian on or in dry salt.
Water can also react with the materials in the stone.
For example, if you were to place metals in a water bath, those metals would begin to rust over time.
If you were to take metal out of the water without fully drying out the cracks and crevices, over time, those cracks and crevices would start to rust.
The same is true with minerals that contain metal inclusions that give them their awesome colors, like iron.
Minerals that contain iron often become yellowed, or even develop reddish-brown rust spots that hide the beautiful details of the stone.
It can be difficult to remove the yellowing, as the rust may have developed in many tiny fissures throughout the surface of the stone that you cannot observe with your eyes.
Rust doesn’t scrub off in most cases, and you’ll be left with acid treatments or grinding to get the rust off or out, if those methods are even possible without damaging the piece.
Finally, your stone might contain something else.
You don’t know what you don’t know when it comes to minerals.
Due to the chaotic way much of our Earth’s crust was formed, very few substances are pure.
It is not uncommon for common minerals to contain toxic substances, such as asbestos.
Or they might contain a substance that reacts with water to produce toxic byproducts, like copper.
Don’t assume that your stone is safe to put in the water because you are pretty sure you know what the stone is made of.
It is pretty likely even if you’ve positively identified the stone that it contains more than you think.
And not all of those substances are ones that you’d want to put in your glass of drinking water.
How To Clean Carnelian Without Damaging It
As we discussed, carnelian can go in water.
Just not for long periods of time.
The only time we’d get carnelian wet is when we need to douse it quickly before giving it a good rub with a cloth.
If it is really dirty, use dish soap or laundry soap and a toothbrush to scrub it well before rinsing it.
Then allow it to sit out on a flat surface without touching other materials to dry off, turning it over every now and again to make sure the stone fully dries out.
We definitely wouldn’t put it in a long bath (hot water, cold water, or salt water) to cleanse it for metaphysical purposes.
And we definitely wouldn’t put it in the bath or shower with you.
A carnelian is hard enough that it could probably do some of these things without any immediate damage resulting, especially if the stone is unfinished.
But there’s no guarantee that the stone will be safe after a water bath.
And too many new collectors have experienced the disappointment of removing their beautiful stone from a bath to find it looking dull and very little like the original stone they had acquired.
But I Found My Carnelian In Water? How Can Water Be Bad For A River Rock?
I’ve found carnelian on rocky beaches of rivers, streams, creeks, lakes, and the sea.
Certainly these carnelians have had the ultimate water baths, or even salt water baths.
You won’t be able to tell what the stone looks like below its surface.
You won’t know the history of the stone and how it came to be on the beach.
The stone may already be damaged from the water, and the last thing we would want to do is to encourage any additional damage to the stones.
What About Tumbling Carnelian In Water?
Some people have good success tumbling carnelian in water, along with other stones of similar hardness, with or without grit.
When it comes to tumbling stones in water, you just have to understand what could happen when your stones are placed in water for an extended period of time.
And as we do see tumbling, sometimes stones do break apart in the barrel.
Plus, in most cases, after the stones are tumbled enough to achieve a certain finish, the involvement of water comes to an end. No more sitting in water, and no soaking.
In the end, most people think it is worth the risk of damage to turn a raw jagged stone into something smooth and beautiful.