I grew up being fearful of the oddest things. I wasn’t bold enough to question why, so I just did as I was told. Here’s one: Never, ever put good dishes or silver flatware in the dishwasher. Ever! I didn’t know what would happen if I did, but you can be sure that my fear of the unknown made certain I didn’t come close to finding out. Until my rebellious years.

Silver pie server on black counter

Once I had my own china and my own silver, I was reckless enough to believe I wouldn’t go to jail if I violated this particular “Thou shalt not!” I was reminded of what I’ve learned about putting silver in the dishwasher when the following question showed up in my inbox:

Dear Mary: I have a set of silver flatware that I use daily. I notice that after a few times through a normal cycle, the pieces become very tarnished. It is not a particularly good set, just a nice set of flatware for daily use. Do you think that the dishwashing detergent is tarnishing the silver? Anne

Dear Anne: Your silver plate or sterling silver pieces can go in the dishwasher and come out beautiful as long as you follow a few specific guidelines. Case in point: The small pie server in the photo above is one of my favorite things. I love it for its size and just the way it feels in my hand. I use it daily and it goes in the dishwasher every evening—by itself in its own little compartment so that it is not touching any other type of metal. Since I inherited it many years ago I have done nothing to it but use it, clean it and enjoy it.

As for your flatware, I’m going to guess that what you see is not tarnish but rather a reaction that occurs when silver comes in contact with other types of metal in the dishwashing process (see Rule 3 below).

First, it’s important to know that when it comes to silver, cleaning and polishing are not the same thing. Polishing should be a very occasional activity while cleaning is something you do to your silver after every meal. The dishwasher is an excellent way to take care of cleaning.

Tarnish is the result when sulfur in the air reacts with silver. If you have silver pieces that are very tarnished, you need to give them a good polish (Simichrome Polish and Hagerty Silversmith’s Spray Polish are both highly regarded for fine silver care). Once polished, frequent use is the best way to prevent tarnish build-up.

Here are good house rules for how to clean silver in the dishwasher (care of silverplate is the same as for sterling):

RULE 1. Only solid flatware and pieces in the dishwasher. That means no pearl handles, items with glue joints or weighted/reinforced items.

RULE 2. Rinse off immediately after use. Don’t let food sit on silver as it may cause corrosion or pitting.

RULE 3. Don’t let the silver pieces touch any other type of metal, including stainless, which will leave marks on your silver that are very difficult to remove. (It will require a good silver polish like those mentioned above and a lot of elbow grease.) You can put silver in the same dishwasher load as stainless, just in a different flatware compartments. Never allow the two materials to come into direct contact.

RULE 4. When washing silver in the dishwasher, stick with the normal or delicate cycle, not heavy-duty scrubber or high-temp sanitizing type options.

RULE 5. Do not use automatic dishwasher detergent that contains lemon, citrus or phosphates when washing silver.

Now that the silver is clean, use it and enjoy it!

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