From time to time we will have a client who states that it's a shame they have this wonderful sterling silver flatware set, and they never use it.
We all have it, it's either our mother’s, our grandmother’s, or a gift at our wedding. A case of beautiful silver filled with salad forks, dinner forks, knives and lots of serving pieces that we are not sure the name of, but look really cool. It is heavy, feels solid, it makes you feel special at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, but those are the only days it is used.
The answer is to use it, use it every day. One of the reasons that silver began to be used for dinnerware is that it has some slight natural anti-bacterial properties, its surface tends to inhibit bacterial growth. That, and the fact that its malleable and looks really nice, lead to its adoption as a primary material for eating utensils in the West. The problem for most people with casual silver use is that it has to be polished. If you only use it three times a year, then every time you use it, you have to polish it. Polishing silver is not fun. My brothers and sisters used to joke that it did not really feel like Christmas until Mom made us polish the silver. The reason silver tarnishes is oxidation, so when silver is not being used, it oxidizes, that oxidation builds up over time into the brown film we polish off. The easy answer is to touch your silver every day….by eating with it.
Traditional thought is that silver cannot go into the dishwasher. That is just not true. As long as you rinse the flatware before you put it in (this will remove any acids or food that could discolor the silver), keep it separate from stainless steel (not touching any stainless items) and use a dishwasher soap without lemon or citric acid, you should be fine. Acids can pit the surface of silver, it's not something one would notice right away, but over time it could become noticeable. Anecdotally, my wife and I got Silver Julep Cups for our wedding, we liked the way they felt and how the condensation formed on the sides as we drank from them, we ran them through the dishwasher daily for 5 years before my Uncle John gasped in horror upon visiting our house. The thing was, they were not damaged in any way, he just didn’t like the idea of running them through the dishwasher. Honestly, can you imagine that a trip through the dishwasher is any less damaging than having someone polish the silver every week as would have been done in a fully staffed household?
Enjoy your silver, take the necessary precautions and have a holiday every day….