It’s that time of the year, when the good stuff -- fine china, heirloom silver, crystal glasses, and fancy table linens -- gets more than its usual share of use. Learn how to wash, polish, prep, and store your favorite special-occasion dinnerware.
Skip the dishwasher (even if it has a crystal setting), as it will etch fine glassware and make it cloudy over time; hand-wash it instead. Begin by cushioning the sink with a towel and filling it with hot, soapy water. "Wash crystal apart from greasy cookware," says Chris Ely, an estate-management consultant in New York City. Finish by drying it with a dish towel that hasn't been laundered with fabric softener, which can leave a residue.
Store stemware outside the kitchen. "Crystal is a magnet for airborne grease," says Ely. Keep wineglasses and goblets upright, as the rims are delicate.
2. Table Linens
Spot-treat spills and stains immediately. Then wash the linens on a gentle cycle in warm or cold water. Make sure no stains remain before drying; heat sets them. "Dry the linens on warm heat, and remove them when still a little damp," says cleaning and restoration specialist John Mahdessian of Madame Paulette, a New York City boutique dry cleaner. "It prevents shrinkage and makes them easier to iron." Use spray starch for a crisp finish and to guard against future stains.
Wooden drawers and shelves should be lined with shelf paper, since wood can stain fabric. Avoid keeping linens in plastic bags, which can cause yellowing.
3. Fine China
As with crystal, it's best to handwash fine china -- especially vintage and antique pieces, which weren't made to withstand the heat of a dishwasher. To prevent dings and scratches, take off rings and bracelets before you begin. (You should do the same when cleaning crystal.)
It's fine to stack plates and nest bowls -- as long as you have "a separator, like a paper plate or napkin, between each piece to protect against scratches," says Ely. "This is especially important if the underside is not glazed." Stow them in a china cabinet or on a top shelf in the kitchen.
Silver is easily scratched and should be polished only occasionally. If it's lightly tarnished, Ely recommends gentle buffing with vinegar and a soft cloth (like flannel): "Even paper towels are too harsh." Wear white cotton gloves when polishing to avoid fingerprints. Use a storebought polish for bigger jobs, but stay away from harsh acid baths known as silver dips. Finish by rinsing and drying the pieces with a soft cotton cloth.
Moisture, humidity, even fingerprints, can lead to tarnish, so put your gloves back on to put away the silver. Never wrap it in plastic, which can lead to staining. Instead, protect silver with acid-free or antitarnish tissue paper, or flannel bags.