Picture it: Your in-laws are about to arrive for their holiday stay, and you’ve worked hard to put together a beautiful meal. No sweat; the house is clean, dinner’s in the oven, and the wine is being chilled. All that’s left to do is set the table. But you open the silverware drawer and, to your horror, your forks and knives are all tarnished and splotchy. The silver is clean — you just ran it all through the dishwasher — but it looks dull and dirty, and that’s not the impression you want to leave on guests. Want to avoid this faux pas? Keep reading to learn about why your silverware gets stains and how to remove them quickly and easily. Get your spoons sparkling before your in-laws even reach your front step!
What is stainless steel, anyway?
Most flatware comes in sterling silver, silver-plated, or stainless steel, with stainless steel being the most commonly used in everyday household settings because of its durability. As Reviewed.com explains, stainless steel silverware is composed of nickel and chromium — the levels of which are determined by two numbers (18/0, 18/8, or 18/10) often found on your flatware’s packaging. “The first number (18) represents the chromium content, or how much it’s resistant to rust and stain, while the second number (10, 8, or 0) represents the percent of nickel [which determines the shine and brightness of the flatware]” says this source.
Why does stainless steel still stain? (Say that five times fast!)
Even though your flatware is supposed to be “stainless,” stains can still happen. How Stuff Works notes that it’s really more “stain less” than “stainless;” it’s durable, but not impenetrable. Even the mighty St. Louis Gateway Arch, which is made of stainless steel, is showing signs of staining. When it comes to your silverware, the stains will usually fall into one of these groups:
- Water spots: These look, quite literally, like drops of water that dried, white and cloudy, on the surface of your flatware. Water spots are often a result of high mineral content in hard water.
- Discoloration: Discoloration often comes in the form of iridescent, rainbow-tinted splotches reminiscent of an oil spill. These can occur from exposure to harsh chemicals and high heat.
- Rust: According to the Silver Superstore, the orange, flaky stains that appear on your stainless steel flatware aren’t actually rust, but a result of mineral deposits interacting with the high heat of the dishwasher. Fun fact: These stains most often appear on knives, because in order to be sharp, the chemical composition of knives must differ slightly — making them more susceptible to staining.
Quick and Easy Ways to Get Your Silverware Sparkling
Good news: You don’t need to buy a new set of expensive silver or waste time and money on costly cleaners full of harsh chemicals in order to get your silverware sparkling. Check out these six easy, cost-effective tips to get your forks and knives stain-free. An added bonus: You probably have everything you need in the pantry right now, and these solutions should work on most kinds of stains.
Note: Because it’s the most popular, these tips will be for stainless steel flatware. Check the composition of your flatware before you attempt any of these so you don’t cause any damage.
- Vinegar: Cleaning company Happy Cleans recommends combining one part white vinegar with eight parts hot water in a bowl, soaking stained flatware for 5-10 minutes, rinsing, and hand-drying with a soft cloth.
- Baking soda: Happy Cleans also suggests mixing a teaspoon of baking soda into a bowl of warm water, soaking flatware for 5-10 minutes, rinsing, and hand-drying with a soft cloth.
- Lemon juice: Greek lifestyle blog Yummy Cyprus says to harness the power of lemon juice to send stains packing. Simply rub half of a lemon on your stained flatware; the citric acid in the yellow miracle fruit will get rid of stains.
- Olive oil: Not only is this liquid gold good for your heart, but also your forks and knives. Moisten a soft cloth with olive oil and rub away stains.
- Steam: Place your stained flatware in a heat-safe bowl and cover with a paper towel. Pour boiling water on the towel — enough to wet it, but not soak it — and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Once cool, you should be able to wipe the stains off, says The Spruce.
- Baking soda and dish soap: The Spruce also recommends forming a paste by mixing dish soap (about a squirt) and baking soda (a half cup), and rubbing it on the stains along the grain of the metal with a soft cloth. Once done, rinse and towel dry.
Extra tips: To ensure the most effective cleaning, avoid abrasive cleaning materials — these could scratch your flatware — and get your flatware dry as soon as possible after cleaning. The longer it soaks, the higher the possibility that staining will occur.
There you have it: Sparkly, clean-as-a-whistle silverware that you’d be proud to present to any guests. Flatware is an essential item; you use it every day, so it should look pretty. After all, you eat with your eyes first.