How to Clean Silverware to Protect Against Stains and Tarnish

The dishwasher isn’t always the best way to clean silverware, especially for sets with plated finishes or those made from real sterling silver. Use these natural cleaning methods to protect your flatware and keep it looking polished.

Silverware is an essential part of any place setting, but when it comes to cleanup, flatware is often treated as an afterthought. Many of us simply load our forks, knives, and spoons into the dishwasher and press start, but that's often not the best way to clean your cutlery.

Dishwashers use extra-hot water and powerful detergents to cut through grease and stuck-on food on your dishes, but these harsh cleaning methods can cause discoloration, mar the finish, or leave unsightly spots on your silverware. Especially for pieces made from real sterling silver or plated with a special finish, a gentler cleaning technique is essential to ward off damage and stains.

We'll show you how to clean silverware in a variety of finishes using natural household ingredients, including how to properly dry and store the pieces when you're done. Use these easy tips to keep your flatware spotless and preserve its shiny finish.

kitchen drawer organize silverware
Helen Norman

How to Clean and Polish Silverware

When cleaning silverware, avoid using scouring powders and abrasive tools such as steel wool and stiff-bristled brushes, which can scratch or remove the finish.

For cleaning tips specific to the finish, check the manufacturer's instructions before you begin.

What You Need

  • Warm, soapy water
  • Soft cloth

Step 1: Remove Food Remnants

Always remove any food remnants as soon as possible to avoid stubborn buildup or rust, and don't let cutlery soak for long periods of time.

Step 2: Hand-Wash Silverware

Hand-wash silverware, including sterling silver, stainless steel, and plated pieces, in warm, soapy water.

Step 3: Dry and Store

Once clean, dry the silverware immediately with a soft cloth to prevent water spots. Store your flatware in a dry, cool spot that's clean and protected from dust.

forks silverware
Greg Scheidemann

How to Clean Stainless-Steel Silverware

Stainless steel silverware is prone to streaks, water spots, and rust. Follow these steps to avoid these problems.

What You Need

  • Soft cloth or dish towel
  • Olive oil
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda (optional)

Step 1: Rub with Olive Oil and Vinegar

To restore its shine, use a soft cloth or dish towel dampened with olive oil to gently rub away blemishes and discoloration. Lightly dampen another cloth with distilled white vinegar and buff in a circular motion to polish.

Step 2: Rinse and Dry

Rinse with clean water and dry immediately.

For pesky rust spots, mix baking soda and water to form a thick paste. Gently rub the paste onto the rusted areas with a soft cloth, then rinse and dry the piece thoroughly.

place setting spring brunch
Carson Downing

How to Clean Silverware with Plated Finishes

You can now find flatware in a wide variety of metal tones, including gold, silver, matte black, rose gold, and more. These pieces are typically made from stainless steel with a plated finish, which can scratch or wear off without proper care. Never wash plated silverware in the dishwasher or submerge it in a liquid solution for extended periods. Avoid acidic cleaning agents including lemon juice and citrus-scented detergents, which can pit the surface.

What You Need

  • Mild dishwashing liquid

Wash plated silverware with mild dishwashing liquid and warm water, then dry immediately.

antique silverware with plant and linens

How to Clean Sterling Silver Silverware

Silverware made from real sterling silver tends to tarnish over time. Follow these steps to To make the silver shine like new.

What You Need

  • Aluminum foil
  • Boiling water
  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Soft cloth
  • Lemon juice

Step 1: Add Silverware to Cleaning Solution

Line a pot or roasting pan with foil and fill with boiling water. Stir in 1/4 cup baking soda and 2 teaspoons kosher salt, then carefully add your silverware.

Step 2: Let Cool and Dry

Let sit for five minutes, and once cool, remove and dry thoroughly.

Step 3: Remove Water Spots

To remove water spots on silverware, use a soft cloth dampened with lemon juice to gently polish the surface.

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