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 that 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: My 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 into 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 a quality metal polish such as Simichrome Polish. Once polished, frequent use and proper cleaning is the best way to prevent tarnish buildup.
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 silver plates, as well as sterling silver flatware.
Rule No. 1: Only solid flatware and silver pieces go in the dishwasher. That means no pearl handles, no items with glue joints, no weighted or reinforced items. If your flatware includes hollow handle knives, you must not put those knives into the dishwasher: They must be washed by hand.
Rule No. 2: Rinse off all silver pieces immediately after use. Don’t let food sit on silver, as it may cause corrosion or pitting.
Rule No. 3: Don’t let the silver pieces touch any other type of metal, including stainless steel, which will leave marks on your silver that are very difficult to remove. It will require a good silver polish, such as the one mentioned above, and a lot of elbow grease. You can put silver into the same dishwasher load as stainless steel, just in different flatware compartments. Never allow the two materials to touch or come into direct contact with each other in the dishwasher. Keep them in separate compartments while in the dishwasher.
Rule No. 4: When washing silver in the dishwasher, stick with the normal or delicate cycle, not a heavy-duty setting or high-temp sanitizing type option.
Rule No. 5: When washing silver in the dishwasher, avoid automatic dishwasher detergent that contains lemon, citrus, or phosphates. Cascade Complete Powder is an excellent choice, as it is phosphate-free with no lemon or citrus added. Its ingredients include soda ash, sodium silicate, and sodium percarbonate—all safe for silver.
Now you have every reason to use your silver and enjoy it!