Hand Washing Silver Knives | Be Careful with the Heat

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Last week I made a presentation on vintage silver to a chapter of the PEO and, as it often the case during these speeches, the subject of washing silver was a hot topic.  A number of members of the audience were thrilled to learn that you can safely clean silver in the dishwasher.  Of course, the issue of how to clean silver knives and other compound or weighted pieces came up.  When hand washing silver knives, or any other compound or weighted silver you still must take care not to weaken the glue/rosin join.

hand washing silver knives - compound pieces

When I speak of compound pieces, I mean items that are made from two or more types of material that are held together with a glue join. These Mother of pearl and silver pastry forks are an example of compound silverware.

It’s not the dishwasher per se

The issue with cleaning silver in the dishwasher is not really the dishwasher, it is concerns about high heat.  Solid pieces of silver (of any standard of fineness) are perfectly safe. However, compound pieces with a glue join or that are weighted are vulnerable to high heat and/or long term exposure to water.

Hand washing silver knives

Think of hand washing silver knives like washing your hands. Rinse them under warm water, get some soap and give them a good lathering up.  Then another quick rinse to clear away the residue and lather and into a towel to be dried. The whole process takes 30 seconds.  It’s not a speed race…if they spend an extra minute under the running water while you are getting off a particularly difficult piece of dried-on spaghetti that’s ok.

Just don’t hand washing silver knives or candlesticks as if you were taking a nice long steamy soak in the bathtub. Soaking joined or weighted pieces overnight in warm water, or filling up the sink with very hot water and completely submerging the whole lot while you wash each piece is not a good idea.

Remember, it’s the expansion and contraction of the materials inside the knife handles and hollowware bases that causes the damage.  It doesn’t matter if the heat and water exposure comes from the inside of a dishwasher or a pan of water.  Too much exposure to either will eventually cause some damage.

When is ‘eventually’?

That’s an excellent question.  I know of people who have put their knives in the dishwasher for years without ever having a blade come loose (I do not recommend you do this).  On the flip side I know one unlucky person who left her knives in to soak for an hour or two and came back to loose blades.

There are so many variables to factor in – type of glue/rosin, age, previous exposure, temperature of the water, etc – that it is impossible to develop any better guidelines than avoid anything more than necessary exposure.


Have you ever had a blade come loose?



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4 thoughts on “Hand Washing Silver Knives | Be Careful with the Heat

  1. HeidiNo Gravatar

    This was a mantra of my Grandmothers. Now that I’ve inherited two sets of family silver I’m very careful about the knives. Everything else goes in the dishwasher and get used daily. But those knives are for special meals.

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