Your collections can do double duty during the holiday season. Here’s how to make your delicate dinner plates, your tarnished silver and your smudged stemware shine and sparkle, right in time for the season of celebrations.
Silver: Most pieces need only a quick wash by hand in warm, soapy water; take care not to submerge decorative elements, like wood or mother-of-pearl. If your items look more yellow or blackened than you’d like, give them a deep cleaning first: Pour a little silver lotion onto a soft cotton cloth (a piece of an old T-shirt will do) and wipe carefully, says Julien Goudard-Lemoine, director of collections for Parisian silversmith Puiforcat, which makes its own tarnish-prevention cream. (You might also try Wright’s and Hagerty.)
To fight future tarnish, wash items after dinner and store them in cotton cloth or bags. If it’s humid where you live, consider bundling the cotton in plastic bags or wrap, suggest Lally Brennan of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and Mary Ferguson of Greyfield Inn in Georgia.
Glass: Great news: Most items can go straight into the dishwasher, says James Murray, vice president of design and creative at Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vt. Just make sure your machine is in good shape — rusty prongs can scratch, so if they look worn, buy new rubber tips. And space pieces out. Certain products (like GreenShield and Jet-Dry) can help prevent cloudy water marks.
Hand-wash vintage stems and pieces with gold detail. And take off jewelry before you roll up your sleeves, said Lori Hedtler, owner of Devonia Antiques in Boston and West Palm Beach, Fla.: “Diamonds and bracelets can break glass.”
Crystal: Rinse each glass in warm water and a teaspoon of white vinegar to remove tannin and lime deposits, then hand-wash and dry with a soft cloth, said Céline Sanchez, brand director for French crystal maker Saint-Louis.
Pewter: The beauty of this material is that it tarnishes very slowly — all it usually needs is a light dusting, even if it’s been stored away for years. But because it’s soft, it’s vulnerable to scratches. Italian pewter maker Match suggests removing them with metal polish (like Cape Cod) or grade #0000 steel wool; then hand-wash in warm, soapy water and dry right away.
After dinner, wash solid pieces and any with crystal or glass components by hand. If you have hard water, hand-wash the rest, too; otherwise, ceramic items with pewter trim can go in the machine on the china or gentle setting, with no heat-dry. Let them cool before taking them out (the materials can contract and loosen from the heat). To prevent scratches, store stacked pieces with plate separators or paper in between.
Porcelain: It’s sensitive to temperature changes, so if your porcelain spends the off-season in storage, give it time to adjust, says Hedtler. “Say your dishes are in an unheated attic. Let them sit in the garage for a day or two before you bring them into the kitchen. Otherwise, the temperature shift could cause crazing [lines in the surface] or a crack. Even 20 degrees [F.] matters.”
Hand-wash vintage porcelain, taking care with the edges. That’s the rule for hand-painted or gold-trimmed plates and bowls, too. That said, some porcelain is dishwasher-safe on the light wash or china cycle, said Daniel Da Silva, USA president of Portuguese porcelain maker Vista Alegre. Check for markings on the bottoms. For safekeeping, place a linen or felt protector or a paper towel between plates, says Hedtler, and don’t stack more than 12.
Brass: Some modern types are lacquered and don’t tarnish. Unlacquered brass, however, is similar to silver in that it develops a patina when exposed to air. If you want a high shine, rub brass polish (such as Weiman or Wright’s) onto the surface using a polishing cloth or mitt, then buff it gently, advises Tina Frey, founder of Tina Frey Designs, a San Francisco-based maker of resin and brass tableware. After dinner, hand-wash pieces in warm, soapy water using a soft cloth, and store them in a climate-controlled part of your home, away from humidity.
Linens: To get your linen or cotton looking crisp, lay it on top of a white terry-cloth towel, spray it lightly with water and iron it in the direction of the weave. If there’s a monogram, place it face-down on the terry; the stitching should puff up after a pass with the iron.