When it comes to caring for your flatware, a little bit of work goes a long way. It doesn’t matter if you have a full set of sterling silver with demitasse spoons and oyster forks that you inherited from a distant ancestor or have a few stainless steel pieces bought at a fire sale last week.
Here are some of my tips to keep your flatware in top shape.
The first thing to know about your flatware is what it’s made out of. I mentioned sterling silver and stainless steel before and there are different ways to take care of them.
Caring Tips for Common Flatware Materials
First, stainless steel isn’t completely stainless but stains less that other types of metal. This is because it’s made out of an alloy of steel, chromium and nickel. It’s usually designated either 18/8 or 18/10.
In the first case, the stainless steel is 18 percent chromium and eight percent nickel. In the second, it’s 18 percent chromium and 10 percent nickel. The more nickel stainless steel has, the better it is. It goes without saying that the best stainless steel flatware has to be 18/10 stainless steel grade and not 18/8.
One thing you’ll find out during your tableware review is that stainless steel flatware shouldn’t be exposed for long periods of time to foods that are acidic.
It shouldn’t even be exposed to eggs, which are full of sulphur and can cause the metal to tarnish. Generally, stainless steel is dishwasher safe.
Silver plate flatware is a lesser metal like brass or an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc that has a coating of pure silver. It’s also dishwasher safe, but the detergent should be gentle and the flatware should be hand-dried. Silver plate should also not have long contact with acidic foods or eggs.
This flatware is 92.5 percent silver with the rest of it being an alloy to give it strength. It will have a sterling mark stamped on it somewhere. Ideally, sterling silver flatware should be hand washed, but if it’s put in the dishwasher it should be hand-dried.
If the piece has been repaired, it should be hand-washed as well.
Another caveat is that silver and stainless steel should never be washed together as an electrochemical reaction could damage both of them.
Based on the raw material price alone, you’d expect gold to be the finest when it comes to flatware material. The best flatware set would be made of 100% gold but such set remains an imagination at best.
If it ever exists, it will cost a bomb and beyond the reach of most people. Therefore, Gold-plated forks and spoons are more common but being gold-plated means extra caution is required if you don’t wish your flatware pieces to lose their shine.
Gold plated flatware should always be washed by hand in warm water and the mildest dishwashing detergent. Then, it should be rinsed, dried and polished with a soft, clean cloth. Again, it shouldn’t be washed with flatware made of another metal.
Pewter flatware must also be hand-washed and never placed in either the dishwasher or in anything over 450 degrees F, as it will melt.
Any flatware that has a handle made of bone or ivory should be hand-washed and kept out of the dishwasher. Even when it’s handwashed, I’m careful not to get the seam between the bone and the metal wet because water could weaken the glue. I always use soft white cloths to dry them. Surplus napkins from restaurants are ideal for this.
Though it’s tempting to just toss your flatware in a drawer, it’s much better and more esthetically pleasing to spend a few bucks on a cutlery tray with compartments for everything. If the tray doesn’t have its own liner, it can be lined with felt or plastic. Stay away from rubber, because it can make silver tarnish.
Of course, store teaspoons with teaspoons, salad forks with salad forks and so on. It’s both prettier and easier that way. Again, if you have flatware made of different types of metal, don’t store them together.
Pewter flatware needs to be stored in acid free paper and should be kept away from wood, which can corrode it.
See, I told you that caring for your flatware was easy! Cared for this way, it can be passed down from generation to generation.