How We Wash and Care for Old China Dishes
A foolproof answer: wash by hand with soap and sponge in warm water, and do not scrub too much. More specific advice depends on the type of china, its decoration and, to a much lesser degree, its age.
- Preferably wash by hand, soap and sponge
- Do not soak for long and dry well
- Gilded and overglaze decoration – avoid a dishwasher
- Microwave – not a good idea
Some basic definitions
China refers to any ceramic dish – porcelain, bone china, earthenware or stoneware.
Most china is pretty durable and pretty robust – unless it’s very thinly potted, such as bone china or porcelain. It should withstand hot temperatures, for example hot water, so china plates can be washed by hand or in a dishwasher.
No need to worry about these dishes. Speaking in simple terms, glaze is a thin layer of glass applied all over the decoration. The design is sealed and cannot be scratched or rubbed. But if the plate is particularly old, rare or damaged, then wash by hand only.
When not to use a dishwasher for china plates?
All gilding on china is applied over the glaze. This means it is exposed to rubbing and will wear eventually. The pace of wear to the gold parts on china depends on the type of the gilding. Burnished gold is the best and most durable of gilding methods. But the tiny sand particles in the water in a dishwasher will scratch the gilding eventually.
China decorated over the glaze, for example with colourful painted enamel flowers, is better washed by hand. The enamel is unprotected by the glaze.
A 150 year old plate has probably seen quite a lot of action in its life. So unless you are using some sort of super potent, industrial type detergent, then you are safe. Standard home dish washing liquids are good to use.
Do not microwave any old plate with painted or gilded decoration.
Vintage plates from the 1960s and onward: ideally do not microwave unless the mark clearly says that it is microwave suitable.