My mom (age 88) still has the extended family for dinner on major
holidays, and insists on using all of her best china and silverware.
She won’t put the sterling silverware in the dishwasher because she’s
afraid it will ruin it. She’s especially afraid that the knives,
which have sterling handles and stainless steel blades, will come
apart. Does she really have anything to worry about? It occurs to me
that I have no idea how the knife blades are attached to the handles,
and then other than that, I don’t know if the dishwashing detergent
might be harmful to silver in some way. It would be nice to have a
definitive answer before this year’s Christmas dinner!
My mom (age 88) still has the extended family for dinner on major
She's especially afraid that the knives, which have sterling handles and stainless steel blades, will come apart. Does she really have anything to worry about?
YES! My mother put hers in the dishwasher once, and that’s just what
happened. Apparently, the hollow knife handles were filled with resin
or some such, and the tangs of the blades sunk into that. The
sustained heat was probably the problem.
Listen to your mother, she knows what she’s talking about. Older
silver flatware, (of the type your 88 year old mother is likely to
have…) has knives that usually have hollow handles. (Notice they’re
much thicker than the forks & spoons, yet not so heavy as to be
solid.) They were filled with what the trade calls ‘cement’, but it’s
actually a kissing cousin to chasing pitch. Heavy, gummy stuff,
easily poured into the hollow handles to both reinforce them, as
well as become a mount for the knifeblade. Pour it in hot, stuff the
tang of the knifeblade in there, and leave it alone to cool. Once
it’s cold, the cement has a deathgrip on the tang of the knife, and
won’t let go for love or money. Get it hot in a dishwasher,
Imagine the fun of hot, liquid chasing pitch splattered all over the
inside of your diswasher. (and the china) Imagine explaining this to
your mother. Imagine explaining this to your wife. Now imagine
getting the pitch off the china. Compare that with handwashing the
Your mother is absolutely right. Don’t put the sterling silverware
in the dishwasher. I made that mistake once many many years ago when
I was a young, innocent bride. The sterling pieces rubbed against one
another and got dreadfully scratched. Worse yet, the handles on the
knives came loose because the dishwasher ran so hot that it softened
the substance which held the stainless steel blades in the sterling
I had to send the silver to the factory (International), to have the
scratches removed, and the handles reattached to the blades of the
knives. After that, they got loving care and gentle hand washing.
Steve- Dude! Sorry to say it, but your Mother is right.
The knife handles are hollow and filled with a cement that melts at
a very low temp.
In the old days I believe that it was made with shellac and plaster.
The heat of the drying cycle will eventually ruin them.
Also most dishwasher detergents have bleach in them and will leave a
funky color on the silver. In the past, when I’ve had one, I have
used a dishwasher with sterling. However you must only use bleach
free detergent and set the dishwasher to “Air Dry”.
use my sterling everyday. Always have. It just kicks around in the
kitchen drawer and sink. A few years ago when the junkies broke into
my house they walked right past it. They were looking for the special
silver box most folks keep theirs in. Oh yeah, and they walked right
past the Picasso too. Not exactly rocket scientists.
So you gotta do the thing we all hate. Got to your Mother and say,
“OK Mom. You were right.” I know it’s hard, and sometimes you have to
force your lips to say it.
And use your silver every day. What are you saving it for? Your old
age? Food tastes better on silver.
Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Mom has plenty to worry about! My article on:
Silver & Dishwashers
Copyright Jeffrey Herman
KEEP SILVER OUT OF THE DISHWASHER! It’s that simple. There are four
major reasons for keeping your prized sterling and silverplate out of
the “chamber of doom:” (1) Any factory-applied oxidation (the black
patina in recessed areas) will eventually be removed. (2) The harsh
detergent, combined with the washer’s high cleaning temperature, is
much too abrasive for silver-it will eventually turn it grey or
white, with a dull, non-reflective surface. (3) Most older and some
repaired hollow-handled knives are filled with pitch. This
low-melting cement will expand with heat, possibly forcing open a
thin solder seam, or exploding the knife blade out of the handle.
(4) Silver that touches stainless in the dishwasher can create a
chemical reaction, producing black spots and etching on the stainless
blades, requiring the silver to be professionally refinished.
Sterling, like a fine automobile, must be handled with tender loving
care. You certainly wouldn’t drive your Rolls Royce through a car
wash, would you?
Additional silver care advice can be found here:
Herman Silver Restoration & Conservation
I had many years experience in a silver shop. Not silver jewelry,
silverware. It was a regular occurrence for us to repair dishwasher
Knife blades are sometimes secured with pitch. Get it too hot and it
can loosen or ooze out the seams. To answer your other Q sometimes
they could be soft soldered, sometimes set with plaster. The plaster
ones are a superior pain to reset blades. The plaster can crack over
time, blade loosens but just how do you reset? Has to be drilled out,
then you either replaster or soft solder.
The silver itself can be discolored in the washer. I had some
clients who used the washer for years without a problem then wham one
day its a problem. Could be change in detergent, water or maybe
developed an electrical short I don’t know but I’ve seen the results
over and over.
i’m very curious about this answer as well! i don’t currently own a
sonic, and i recently went through a semi-brutal production run on a
bunch of bracelets rings and earrings that left me pondering whether
possibly just sticking them all in the dishwasher wouldn’t get out
most of the rouge… is it really all that different from a steam
cleaner? would love to hear anyone’s experience on this matter!
The BIG problem with using the dishwasher on your Mom’s sterling is
the detergent used in dishwashers will “wash off” the beautiful
patina that has developed over the years, the patina that is "left"
in the depressions when the silver is polished. The detergent can
also be hard on the metal itself, some more than others… If it
were mine, it would NEVER go into the dishwasher, besides there can
be some very good times at the sink with a few folks washing and
drying, and talking!!
The ultrasonic works best for removing polishing compounds, but…I
don’t have one at the moment, so I am doing the work by hand.
What I have found as an effective polish remover is Simple Green. We
used Simple Green in our ultrasonic at Metalwerx and it removed
everything, safely from polish, dirt and even buzzed our Smith
acet/air torch tips.
I use a soft toothbrush and 3 parts hot water to 1 part Simple
As a test run, add full strength Simple Green to your dishwasher
instead of soap. The only harm is the chemicals in the water, but
hey, nothing lost in a simple experiment. Dishwashers have been used
to wash socks and even cook a well wrapped salmon. No kidding.
Since an ultra-sonic is the way to go, I wangled for a used one from
Otto Frei years ago. If you are doing production, the only cost you
can reduce is your labor and an ultrasonic is a good investment for
your business. Some things you can skimp on, but when you really need
the tool to keep doing your production, work with any of the tool
companies that work with Ganoksin. I’m sure they will be glad to work
The other solution is to possibly buddy up with a jewelry store who
Keep us posted on your dishwashing experiment. It might just work
fine and we would all benefit from your discovery.
You said it your self, it depends on the ‘glue’ used. When I worked
in Denmark we used a traditional glue which was heated in a ‘bain
marie’ type pot so it melted at about 100 deg.C. before filling the
handle and inserting the blade.
So I should strongly suggest not washing knives etc. with attached
silver handles in the dish washer. The same would apply to bone type
handles. because the bone / ivory will deteriorate rapidly. Indeed
do not soak bone. I cant see how just silver forks, spoons could
suffer in the dish washer. We also set steel blades into silver
handles by first coating the handle, inside and out with rouge powder
and alcohol, drying carefully, then filling the silver handles with a
tin / lead metal, immediately inserting the warm tang into the molten
metal. Very skillfull! These were for the high quality products and
gave a nice weight to the knife. Not for the faint hearted though. I
would not like to try the same today. We did not have epoxies
available then. Today I would use the hot gluegun stick glues to
fill the handles.
Steve, I don’t have a definitive answer, but my mom (age 87) puts
the sterling silverware in the dishwasher except for the knives
which are washed by hand. The sterling is never placed in touching
distance of stainless steel utensils in the dishwasher.
What I can’t figure out is why she stores the sterling and stainless
steel flatware together, touching in the drawer.
I like John Dach’s comment about “good times at the sink with a few
folks washing and drying…and talking.” In the olden days, before
dishwashers, washing dishes was a social activity. Nice thing about
sterling flatware, it has to be done by hand, and encourages more
Please keep in mind that since I’m a restoration specialist, I see
the results of flatware that has been in the dishwasher. Here’s an
It is generally a good rule to simply wash these pieces by hand with
phosphate-free dishwashing detergent and store in a chest or drawer
lined with treated flannel cloth and a 3M Anti-Tarnish Strip.
I’ve been using dental plaster (not plaster of Paris) for years, It’s
clean, strong, and doesn’t shrink like pitch. I’ve brazed tang
extensions to the blade and used pitch and soldered the blade to the
handle (far too labor intensive), tried epoxy (messy), and glue guns
(messy and not strong enough since hot-melt glues melt at a low
temperature). Here’s what I do:
I mix the plaster to a runny pudding consistency;
When squeezing the plaster into the handle with a ketchup bottle,
I place the handle on a fish tank aerator that vibrates so the
plaster is pulled all the way down to the bottom;
I made a spring-loaded jig for 12 knives that will hold the blade
in place and keep them straight while the plaster hardens;
While the plaster is still liquid, I invert the jig and place the
aerator on it so the plaster is sucked to the top of the handle where
there will be no voids for liquid to enter when the knife is washed;
I cure the knives in a 120 degree oven for 1/2 an hour. Those
blades will never come out. And, should the blade ever break, the
tang is easier to drill out than the Saureisen that is used in
I can get more specific if anyone has questions, but those are the
basics. I’ll try to take a picture of the jig when I have a chance.
First off, I love my dishwasher, but, it’s not for everything.
Fine knives, Teflon and silver, do them by hand. It doesn’t amount
to much and no worries.
Love to All, “M”
not sure if anyone has mentioned this, my email is wacky right now.
So sorry if this is a duplicate response.
I don’t put my silver in the dishwasher because the dish detergents
pit the surface over time. I have some silverware from my
grandmother and she put it in the dishwasher all the time and it’s
lost it’s beautiful shine. It’s dull and will take some precise
polishing to get it back to it’s former condition if it’s even
possible. I’m worried that any polishing will destroy the delicate
etching on it.
Romantic Jewelry with an Edge.
My grandmother lived to age 99. (god bless her very much, gone from
us 6 years ago). She had a dishwasher from the time they were
available. Never washed anything by hand, thank you very much. Her
sterling flatware was used for 3 meals a day, and always went in the
dishwasher with no ill effects. So did her good china and crystal,
which she told me would always be more durable than cheap stuff. ANd
must be because it’s all intact today. So did every pot and pan,
knife, utensil, everything! She ran her dishwasher 3 times a day if
After she passed away I was helping my aunt to sort thru her
jewelry. Her engagement ring was a 2 carat emerald cut emerald set
in platinum, which she had worn 24 hours a day every day for 79
years. There was not a chip or scratch on that emerald! (And yes, it
is a real emerald, having been tested and appraised since). We all
marveled at this, but we also knew the reason why…
In addition to always using her dishwasher, my grandmother ALWAYS
had someone to clean her abode. I doubt if her hands ever came near
the inside of a toilet bowl. And gardening or any kind of outside
work was not in her vocabulary. She was an active person, but did
not EVER do manual labor. She was a strong swimmer and an
My personal conclusion on the dishwasher question is that her silver
survived due to the fact that her last dishwasher was probably 25
years old when she died, and did not heat the water the way a more
contemporary model would. If it had heating elements left, that is.
Hers was a different era!
I been reading all this and am confused about the amount of info
contradictory there is out there, when we were in school, (I am a
class mate of Bob O. under Dick Reinhardt), it was definitely no way
and shape to bring your silver wares near a dish washer. in my time I
met Michael and Maureen uh I think Brenner or Banner it escapes me
now, he is a silver smith that had those visually very well known
sinewy stunning forms of tea pots, tea services and coffee sets, I
had asked him at one of his shows about all this, and his advice to
his clients was basically to put in the dishwasher their products
with no worries, now granted his work is modern designs with no
oxidation, mostly silver with very little other material as in wood
or steel, and he had mentioned a few times about the tea pots and
coffee pots getting cleaned real well in the dishwasher with no harm
done to the silver. now this was at least 10 years ago, dishwasher
technology was different then chemically and temperature? i have not
a clue since I have never owned or used one. I am also wondering if
these notions are coming from a marketing point of view where, modern
life is not too interested in spending so much time on care and labor
of pieces. I grew up in a house where they did the silverware once a
month, we had a samovar also for hot water/tea, I hadn’t a clue that
it was the silver I was cleaning as a 6 year old but I can see that
there is no way any of my contemporaries in the US would have that
kind of time and effort to have that life choice, where Michael was
saying it is much easier for some of the clients to purchase very
high end designed stainless steel sets with almost no care to them.
So i guess from the commercial point of view one may be competing
against the stainless choicei personally would be against silver in a
dishwasher. i have had my share of hundreds if not thousands of hours
of silver cleaning and polishing of silver ware. well with all this
talk, times change, went back to the old country last year to get
married, my mom has a dishwasher now, and the silverware only came
out for the special event other wise it stays in it’s storage chest
all year round.
Here’s the deal,
If you have a dishwasher that has never given you undesirable
results, keep using it. All I can comment on is what I’ve seen over
the past 25 years, and that has been silver that has come to me for
refinishing and repatination due to dishwashers. If I received a
couple of pieces a year, I would think it a fluke, but I’ve
literally worked on thousands of pieces. Much of this silver has been
cleaned in newer dishwashers. All I’m saying is why take the risk?