One thing that made me feel uncomfortable about jewelry-making was the pickle. At school, we used sulfuric acid to clean the metal after it had oxidized when heated. I always felt like I was going to burn my skin off, ingest it and die, or something else really drastic and unnecessary. But it turns out that there are multiple options to have an organic, nontoxic, and safe pickle in the studio. My top two favorite options were heated lime/lemons, and a vinegar/salt mix.
(Neither of these are being used with a crockpot, but I'm planning to try that later this week, and will update with results. Currently, I'm using boiled water as the heating element.)
L E M O N P I C K L E
I used the juice of two lemons mixed with 1/4 cup of hot water. This was after I had left the piece in there for about 5 minutes. It did take most of the oxidation and grime off, but I don't think it was a very thorough clean. I threw the piece into the vinegar pickle afterwards, and that did the trick.
V I N E G A R / S A L T M I X
I used about 4 large pinches of salt, a half cup of vinegar, and 1/4 cup of hot water. This was the piece after 5 minutes. Quite clean! This one is my favorite. Although it does stink up the place, it's a clean, non-toxic stink. :-] Next week I'll try cleaning two mixes with a steaming crockpot, and see how much of a difference the consistent heated temperature will make.
[Another note: I believe once the solutions have been used to clean the metals, they are no longer non-toxic and should be disposed of as hazardous waste.]