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Shine on! — How to take good care of and refurbish stainless steel flatware

April 26, 2018

Next to visiting with guests, my favorite part of entertaining is setting a pretty table. Lovely linens (ironed or wrinkly), flowers (or other natural elements) from the garden or grocers, sparkling glasses. Know what can ruin a pretty table, though? Dingy, spotted, pitted flatware. In fact, I’m even a little put off when the spoon I grab for my lunch yogurt is dingy looking.

I wanted to find out if I could refurbish my drawer full of everyday flatware (especially those pieces I picked up at Goodwill) to make it pretty again—shiny, smooth, sans pits. And I wanted to know—before investing in a few new pieces of flatware to boost my numbers—how to keep new flatware looking, well, new.

I discovered that flatware is something that’s pretty easy to take good care of. Not as easy as throwing directly in the dishwasher while still full of peanut butter, but very doable.

Here’s How to Take Good Care of Flatware:

Let’s start with what’s ideal. The very best way to preserve flatware (and I’m talking about stainless steel, not silverware, which needs its own post!)  is to wash it by hand with a mild dish soap and hot water soon after use and thoroughly dry it with a soft cloth right away. Don’t squirt your dish soap directly on the flatware (it might stain the stainless), and don’t use anything that might scratch the utensils, like metal scrapers or brushes.

If you won’t be washing the flatware promptly, soak it in a stainless or glass (not aluminum) container—or the sink—ideally for less than ten minutes.

Not happening? If, like me, you’re more likely to put your flatware in the dishwasher (which is okay!), here are some tips for you:

  • Unless you’ll be running the dishwasher right away, rinse off your flatware before loading it into your dishwasher. That’s because food that sits on your flatware until the cycle is run can cause stains, corrosion, and pitting. This is especially true for acidic foods, like coffee, tea, and vinegar. Other troublemakers include salt, mustard, mayo, and eggs.
  • When loading flatware in the dishwasher, load knives away from other utensils, with the blades down, to prevent scratching. Most manufacturers recommend loading forks and spoons with the handles down. And it does seem they’re more likely to get clean that way.
  • Take care not to spill any detergent (powdered or liquid) on your flatware when adding it to your dishwasher; it can cause dark spots on your utensils.
  • Skip the hot-air drying feature on your dishwasher, because it can also cause discoloration and corrosion. Instead, take your flatware out and hand dry it after the final rinse cycle.

I know—if you’re rinsing before loading and hand drying after, you may as well do what’s ideal in the first place and hand wash and dry the flatware!

And sometimes I do. More often, though, I quickly rinse the flatware and load it in the dishwasher, then run the dishwasher, minus the drying cycle. When the final rinse is done, I open the door and pull out the racks, letting everything except the flatware air dry while I dry the flatware by hand. I kinda enjoy this step, knowing that the TLC I give each piece means it’ll look nice as new next time I set the table. Besides, a little buff with the dishtowel produces a very satisfying shine.

No, I don’t jump out of bed to dry flatware when a load is ready in the middle of the night. (I often start the dishwasher before heading to bed.) Instead, I simply run a cycle without air drying (most washers offer this option). In the morning, I open the dishwasher, pull out the racks, and hand dry the flatware. If it’s dried a bit on its own, I give it an extra rub to buff out any spots left by the minerals in the water.

A few more tips:

Realistically, we won’t always get flatware rinsed promptly. (Mine still sits piled on the counter or in a sink of water when there are guests to spend time with, for example.)  I just try to minimize the amount of time I let food sit on flatware over the long run.

Some flatware manufacturers suggest avoiding dish soaps (for the machine or the sink) that contain bleaches, heavy chlorines, and/or lemon or orange ingredients—which can (over time) wear away the protective coating and cause corrosion and discoloration.

Also avoid placing your stainless flatware in aluminum (to soak, for example) or combining it with aluminum or other metals in the dishwasher.

By the way, if your flatware is silver plated, you won’t want to put it in the dishwasher—the finish can get damaged or even wear off completely.

Restoring battered flatware

Stainless certainly doesn’t mean without stain when it comes to flatware! I’m still experimenting with the best way to remove tarnish, rust, and water deposits. Here are some methods I’ve had mixed results with. Have you tried these or other methods? Please share your successes with us!

Here are several methods for removing rust spots on your flatware:

  • Rub a small amount of toothpaste onto the spot until the tarnish disappears. Rinse in hot water.
  • Make a paste of baking soda and water (about 2 parts soda to 1 part water). Use a clean cloth to rub the paste into the spot until the tarnish disappears. Use a soft toothbrush, if necessary, to get into any groves. When the tarnish is gone, rinse with hot water.
  • To remove small rust spots, rub a little white vinegar onto the spots. (This seems counterproductive to me, because—as mentioned above—vinegar is corrosive. One flatware manufacturer I asked about this assured me that it’s okay to do this as a remedy because it’s the use over time that causes corrosion, not the one-time application.) Then rub the flatware with a little olive oil on a clean rag. Wipe well so no residue remains. The olive oil will also restore some shine to your flatware.

Of course, you can also use a little stainless steel cleaner, but I prefer the more natural solution when there is one.

How do you restore and take good care of your flatware? Please share your tips!

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