Why Does My Silver Cutlery Tarnish in the Dishwasher?

Why Does my Silver Cutlery Tarnish in the Dishwasher?

The allure of sparkling silverware gracing our dining tables is undeniable. However, the frustration of discovering tarnished silver cutlery after running it through the dishwasher can be perplexing.

In this article, we explore the science behind this, what you should know, and how to handle it.

Yes, Silver do Tarnish

While Silver is a beautiful and valuable metal that has been prized for centuries, it does tarnish, whether sterling silver or silver plate.

This is obvious If you’ve ever owned silver cutlery or jewellery where it develops a dull, dark, or discoloured appearance after a while.

silver tarnishing; Why Does My Silver Cutlery Tarnish in the Dishwasher

Well, this phenomenon is known as silver tarnish, and it can be a frustrating and unsightly problem.

Tarnishing is caused by a chemical reaction between silver and sulfur-containing compounds in the air, as well as certain chemicals and substances that come into contact with the silver

Exposure to air is one of the most common causes of silver tarnish.

This is because the air contains small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, a gas that reacts with the silver to form silver sulfide, a dark compound that gives silver its characteristic tarnished look. The more sulfur-containing compounds present in the air, the faster the tarnishing process will occur.

In addition to exposure to air, silver can also tarnish when it comes into contact with certain chemicals and substances.

For example, if you store your silver cutlery in a drawer lined with rubber or some other non-breathable material, the sulfur-containing compounds in the rubber can cause tarnish to form.

Similarly, if you clean your silver with certain harsh chemicals or detergents, you may inadvertently cause a tarnish to develop.

But what happens when silver tarnishes immediately after you drop it in the dishwasher? and why?!

Why does my silver cutlery tarnish in the Dishwasher?

You put your silver cutlery in the dishwasher, thinking it will come out sparkling clean, but instead, it comes out dull and tarnished. What’s going on here?

Well, it turns out that dishwashers can be pretty harsh environments for silver. That’s the reason why most people avoid using dishwashers with silverware.

Because the high heat and powerful chemicals used in dishwashers can cause it tarnish or accelerate the tarnishing process.

Either way, it gets tarnished. So why?

Let’s start with the heat.

Dishwashers use very hot water to clean and sanitize dishes, and this high temperature can cause silver to react with sulfur-containing compounds in the water or the air inside the dishwasher.

When this happens, silver sulfide is formed, which is the same dark compound responsible for silver tarnish. The heat also speeds up the chemical reaction between the silver and the sulfur-containing compounds, making the tarnishing process happen faster.

But heat isn’t the only problem.

Dishwashers also use powerful chemicals to clean dishes, and these chemicals can be harsh on silver. For example, detergents can contain compounds like bleach or chlorine that can react with the silver and cause a tarnish to form.

Other chemicals, like citric acid, can dissolve the protective layer on the surface of silver and make it more vulnerable to tarnish.

Related: How to wash Silverware in Dishwasher without a Basket

So, what can you do to prevent silver tarnish in the dishwasher?

One simple solution is to wash your silver cutlery by hand instead of using the dishwasher. This way, you can control the temperature and chemicals used, and avoid the harsh conditions that can cause tarnish to form. If you decide to use the dishwasher, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risk of your cutlery tarnishing. It includes:

  • Using a gentle cycle,
  • Using a mild detergent, an
  • Removing the silver as soon as the cycle is finished to prevent prolonged exposure to heat and humidity.

But what can you do if this has already happened?

Well, not many things, but here’s a video we recommend:

We also covered this in our article on accidentally putting silver in dishwashers.

Tips for Preventing Silver Tarnish in the Dishwasher

Now, the question goes, how can you protect your silver cutlery from getting tarnished in the dishwasher?

Well, here are some helpful tips to prevent silver tarnish in the dishwasher:

  1. Use gentle, silver-safe detergents: Choose detergents specifically designed for delicate silverware. Avoid products containing harsh chemicals such as chlorides and phosphates, which can contribute to tarnishing. Look for detergents labelled as “silver-safe” or “gentle on silverware.”
  2. Proper loading and separation from other metals: When loading your dishwasher, be sure to separate silver items from other metals, particularly stainless steel. Galvanic corrosion can occur when different metals come into contact with each other, promoting tarnishing. Use separate compartments or place a barrier between your silver and other metal items.
  3. Reducing heat and humidity exposure: High heat and humidity can accelerate tarnishing. If possible, use a lower heat setting or the “air-dry” option on your dishwasher. Additionally, promptly remove your silver cutlery after the wash cycle is complete to minimize exposure to a damp environment.
  4. Regular maintenance of dishwasher components: Keep your dishwasher in optimal working condition by regularly checking and cleaning its components, such as the filter and spray arms. This helps ensure that water and detergent are distributed evenly, preventing buildup and reducing the risk of tarnishing.
  5. Invest in a dishwasher designed for sterling silver: Some dishwashers are more favorable for washing silverware due to their specialized features and settings. Consider reading our article on the “Best Dishwashers for Sterling Silver” to find the perfect appliance for your silver cutlery needs.


Silver tarnish is a common problem that many people experience when they put their silver cutlery in the dishwasher. This is due to the harsh conditions of the dishwasher, including high heat and powerful chemicals, which can cause silver to react and form a dark, tarnished layer. However, by understanding the causes of silver tarnish and taking steps to prevent it, such as washing by hand, using the gentle cycle, and avoiding harsh detergents, you can keep your silver cutlery looking its best for years to come.

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