Personal Effects, April 21

Published 4:18 pm Monday, April 23, 2018

Question: Jerry, I really enjoyed your recent talk at the Community Arts Center, especially the information about sterling silver and what to do with it when the children don’t want it. 

As you recommended, I’m using mine daily and putting it in the dishwasher. My mother would be horrified! So far it seems to be holding up just fine. Can I really put julep cups in the dishwasher, too?

Answer: I thank you for the opportunity to get to talk. It was a great crowd and the Community Arts Center is a handsome venue to speak in. I’m glad that you took my advice and stopped saving your good things for future generations — generations that may or may not enjoy or appreciate that same things that you do.

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This is a great question for me to be able to recap some my talk for the readers here.

YES, use your silver daily. Especially your sterling. It was made for use and only becomes more beautiful. Again I say — yes. Put your sterling in the dishwasher. I do it all the time. Note: I said sterling and not plated wares. You can use the dishwasher for plated flatware but it can cause the plating to wear more quickly.  I would just avoid plated items in the dishwasher. 

Here is what you need to know about the dishwasher and your sterling silver. 

1. Rotate your silver flatware. Don’t keep using the same forks and spoons over and over and over. Mix it up so that it wears evenly. Do this even if you hand wash.

2.Hand wash only for gold accented or gold vermeil (gold plated sterling) flatware. Sorry, gold is a deal breaker here.

3. Avoid detergents that boast “Lemon fresh” or “Power bleach” sayings. Acid and chlorine are damaging to silver. I’ve found that cheaper brands lack these things but still clean just fine. 

If you must have these elements in your dishwasher detergent because of your super dirty, dried-on gunky pots and pans, run a separate load.

4. Do not mix stainless and sterling in the same basket cubbies. Separate baskets only please. The mixing of these two metals can cause your sterling to turn greyish. Opposite ends are best. 

5. Hollow handles, like dinner knives, carving sets, cheese servers and the like, need to be on the top rack only. These handles are filled with a cement or pitch type material. This addition gives handles that luxurious weight without the luxurious price. You didn’t think that was all silver inside did you? It’s like a filled silver shell and the heat and pressure of a dishwasher can force water in and cause it to loosen or it can cause the innards to melt or soften.

6. Holloware is welcome to the dishwasher too. This includes, bread and butter plates, julep cups, candy dishes or what have you. I wouldn’t recommend this for large trays or covered vegetable bowls. The water won’t flow properly with very large pieces. Avoid using the dishwasher if you have applied ornaments on your sterling. Ornaments like horse heads, horseshoes, fancy flowers and the like. These are actually separately cast sterling items that have been silver soldered on to the object. They can fall off from the heat.

7. Avoid using the dishwasher on any items that are marked Sterling weighted. You’ll see a lot of candy dishes and candlesticks marked weighted. See item number 5.8. You really should, even with regular use, polish your silver once or twice a year. This just bumps its beauty up a notch or so.

9. Some people take their sterling out before the dry cycle starts. I don’t. But you should when your dishwasher stops. Take it out and dry it with a soft cloth or chamois.

10. Finally, as always, if you have very valuable, early, fragile or historically important sterling items skip the dishwasher. Consult an expert before you do anything, if in doubt. But we’re talking average, nice jewelry store, wedding sterling and not a museum piece that needs special care. Other than that you’re good to go. Thanks for a great question.