Yes! You Can Put Silver in the Dishwasher
Contrary to popular belief, you can put silver in the dishwasher without causing harm, provided you are careful to follow a simple set of rules.
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 silver 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.
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:
I have a set of silver flatware that I use daily and wash in the dishwasher. 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: I believe the serious problem is the way you’re loading the machine and also your choice of dishwasher detergent.
Case in point: This small pie server is one of my favorite things. I love it for its size and 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 follow the rules (coming right up), use it, clean it, and enjoy it.
Tarnish vs. electrolytic reaction
Tarnish is the result when sulfur in the air reacts with silver. What you see on your flatware that’s been through the dishwasher is not tarnish but rather an electrolytic reaction that occurs when silver comes in direct contact with other types of metal in the dishwashing process. I’m going to assume that you include other items in the dishwasher along with the silver pieces. But don’t worry, there is an easy way to prevent this.
If you have silver pieces that are very tarnished, you need to give them a good cleaning using the best metal polish ever, Simichrome Polish. Once polished, frequent use and proper cleaning is the best way to prevent tarnish build-up.
Polishing vs. cleaning
It is important to know that when it comes to silver, cleaning and polishing are not the same. Polishing should be an 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 both silver plate as well as sterling silver flatware.
How to clean silver in the dishwasher
Only solid flatware and silver pieces in the dishwasher. That means no pearl handles, no items with glue joints, no weighted/reinforced items. If your flatware includes hollow handle knives, you must not put those knives into the dishwasher. They must be washed by hand.
Rinse off all silver pieces immediately after use. Don’t let food sit on silver as it may cause corrosion or pitting.
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 the one mentioned above and a lot of elbow grease. You can put silver in the same dishwasher load as stainless, just in different flatware compartments. Never allow the two materials —silver and stainless steel—to touch or otherwise come into direct contact.
When washing silver in the dishwasher, stick with the normal or delicate cycle, no a heavy-duty setting or high-temp sanitizing type option.
When washing silver, only use automatic dishwasher detergent that does not contain lemon, citrus, or phosphates. Cascade Complete is an excellent choice as it is phosphate-free with no lemon or citrus added. Cascade Complete ingredients: soda ash, sodium silicate, and sodium percarbonate.
Now that the silver is clean, use it and enjoy it!
First published: 11-3-16; Updated & republished 12-15-21
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Just to be clear, the silver can touch other pieces of like silver, but not any different metals, right? Or must each piece be kept from touching anything else, even other silver?
Yes! Thanks for that question … I will amend the text to be sure that is clear! xo m
Thank you so so much for this article. You really saved me. I was always washing my silverware with Silver foil + Salt + Hot water. But other days coincidentally I washed it in the dishwasher with Cascade Complate.2X. I was shocked. It was a sparkling shine!! I’ve never thought of this result. Coz I had hardly believed all dishwasher detergent is very harmful to silverware. So I searched for the reason on the internet and found this article. Now I understood it! Thank you again!!
my wedding silver is tarnished , best way to remove tarnish or will putting it in the dishwaher with cascade take the tarnish off?
I have a new dishwasher where the flatware goes on rack on the top level of the dishwasher. I’m thinking that would be good to wash silver on because they are separate, and far from heat and detergent. I have pewter flatware also. What do you think about washing it in the dishwasher?
I am now using my mother’s silver every day. We was them in the dishwasher but keep any stainless away from it. We love it because it’s so beautiful and special!
I too have my mother and grandmother’s silverware.. Lady Hamilton , pattern.. You say not touching anything else.. what about the stainless dishwasher interior? is it different in someway?
My mother washed both her sterling silver and her silver-plate in the dishwasher for 50 years, using a whole range of dishwasher powders – whichever was the cheapest!
I’ve inherited her cutlery, and it still looks perfect…
Thank you so much for the advice!
I’d love to know what detergent you recommend. I’m having trouble finding one with no citrus, or phospates.
Plain Cascade Complete Powder meets all the criteria.
Hello Mary, I’m confused about the Cascade complete. I have a set of silver flatware and I just moved so I like to run everything through a wash. My Cascade Complete 2x (liquid) contains citric acid. Is it only the powder version that doesn’t contain citric acid? Thanks!
Make sure the detergent you use does not contain lemon, citrus, phosphates, or citric acid. Plain Cascade Complete powder (link above) is one option. P & G makes a number of versions of Cascade Complete and your 2x liquid is one. And I’m fairly certain there are other brands of dishwashing detergent powder out there that don’t have citric, citrus, phosphates. Just make sure you read the label. Hope that helps.
The powdered version does not contain the citric acid, etc. I would be hesitant to use the liquid version that does.
I was always told the same about washing sterling. For many years we didn’t even have a dishwasher so it wasn’t an issue. Now I have my mothers silver – that I polished many times over the years!-and it’s just so precious to me that it is a joy to hand wash & dry bringing back so many memories of family times around the table. It lives in it’s original lined case & seldom needs more that a quick buffing job. When it does, I use a product recommended to me by an antique dealer called “Never Dull”. It comes in a can & is a wadding material that will last for years. It will polish just about any kind of metal & works like a charm on sterling.
Annie56 I use Never Dull too & love it! Like you I have my mothers silver now in it’s original case. Wouldn’t dream of putting it at risk in the dishwasher. Too many memories.