Should you be intermittently handwashing your dinnerware to extend its life?

By Deanna deBara
March 10, 2020
Getty / ronstik

There's no denying that dishwashers can save you a ton of time and energy—and make the process of cleaning up the kitchen a breeze. But if you don't use your dishwasher properly, you run the risk of doing some serious damage to your dishes, or even breaking them altogether. Preventing this requires understanding which dishes are safe for your machine—and how often they can be put through a wash cycle. "As someone who hand makes and sells ceramics, I do say to my customers that food-safe items can be dish-washed," says Grace Edwards, ceramicist at Grace & Greene Clayworks. This includes most mass-produced dishware that you'd pick up at the store and certain handmade ceramic pieces—so long as the dish in question isn't too delicate or intricate in its design.

Take caution, however, if your dinnerware is more embellished. "Is it a pottery-based medium that is plain with no added decoration? I say, machine-wash to your heart's content," says 20th century decorative arts expert Reyne Hirsch. "If it's pottery with an added painted or transferware design, [machine] wash with caution. The detergents and heat drying element can sometimes remove parts of the design."

Related: Here's Why You Should Never Put Knives in the Dishwasher

Glass is another dish material that can be dishwasher safe, but you should proceed carefully. "If it is glass, you can use the dishwasher, but you might consider air drying," says Hirsch. "Glass can expand and contract at different temperatures, and has been known to shatter in extreme temperatures," including the temperature of a typical dishwasher cycle, she adds. And while putting plain ceramic dishes through the machine should be fine, if you want to preserve their integrity, you don't want to go overboard. "Over time, the heat of the dishwasher will degrade the glaze on the outside of the piece," explains Edwards, which is why giving your plates a good handwashing every now and then can't hurt.

As for the items to avoid running through the machine completely? "If the piece is made from more delicate clay like porcelain, being put in the dishwasher could result in a break—especially if it's bundled in next to more hardy pieces," says Edwards. The same goes for delicate glassware; if you're concerned about the heat of the dishwashing cycle warping or shattering the glass, it's better to wash them by hand.

If you're not sure if a piece is dishwasher safe, your best bet is to handwash. "I have a simple rule: If you wouldn't want it to be ruined or degraded in the dishwasher, just wash it by hand," says Edwards. "It's better to handwash because you want to avoid exposing these items to being bumped around in a dishwasher or exposed to extreme heat, as it is bound to degrade them over time."

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