Caring for Vintage China: Top Tips for Keeping your Dishes in Tip Top Shape

Posted by Ariel Davis on

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Official Recommendations: Caring for your Vintage China

These are my official recommendations  followed by unofficial, more controversial recommendations/how I actually care for my everyday transferware china plates and bowls. 

handwashing vintage china by hand with sponge and soap. Wearing pink rubber gloves

Hand-wash Over Dishwash

I'm going to start of with a hard truth: if you're really invested in having your china stay intact, and especially if your patterns are on the older side, then I recommend that you wash the pieces by hand.  Yes, it's a serious pain in the butt, but taking the extra time to hand-wash your lovely plates means you're going to get more life out of them and that pretty details like gilded trim and hand-painted flourishes remain intact.

Use Gentle Cleaning Detergents

Avoid using harsh detergents. Soap can dull the finish and leave behind a film that attracts dirt and dust. Instead, opt for a gentle dishwashing liquid or alcohol-based cleaning solution like Dawn dish soap.

Don't Let Vintage China Soak

Letting china soak in water for too long can cause colors to fade and the glaze to crack. When cleaning by hand, rinse and dry your dinnerware promptly thoroughly afterwards.

Avoid Abrasive Scrubbers

Rough scrubbing implements can scratch the surface of your china and make it dull and susceptible to staining. Instead, use a soft cloth or sponge to get off food and sticky stuff. 

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How to Clean Stains on Your Vintage China

Transferware china, made from earthenware and ironstone in particular, is slightly porous and therefore susceptible to staining. To pre-empt the following issues with your vintage dinnerware, try washing your bowls, dishes and teacups soon after using them so that residues don't sit on the surface for extended periods.

General Stains:

If a piece of your china becomes stained, try creating a paste with vinegar and baking soda and apply to the stains. Let the paste sit for a while, then remove with warm water.

Yellow stains:

If you have stubborn tea or coffee stains, you can try using a 20% hydrogen peroxide solution to brighten up your china pieces. The bottles of hydrogen peroxide you typically find at pharmacies are 3% strength, so you'll need to ask a pharmacist for more concentrated solution. Wash or soak with the solution before rinsing with warm water.

According to Southern Living, this hydrogen peroxide cleaning strategy is also a good technique to try with china that has stains caused as a result of crazing, a.k.a. network of fine cracks in the glaze. 

Gray Marks (caused by utensils)

Another common china staining issue is grey marks caused by utensils rubbing against plates. To remove, rub the stains very gently with a paste of baking soda or cream of tartar with water.

When trying either of these stain-removing techniques, you may want to test in a small area to make sure the solution doesn't discolor the china pattern. It shouldn't... but if you're concerned, find a safe place to start.

How to Store your Vintage China

china plates wrapped in brown packing paper and lined up in a box for storage

If you're planning to store your china away, avoid the rookie mistake of wrapping the pieces in newspaper, as ink can transfer onto your pieces. Instead, store them in bubble wrap, padded mailers, proper china storage containers and organizers, or even old towels, and keep in a temperature-controlled space.

By following these simple and straightforward tips, you can help ensure that your transferware china will be enjoyed for many years and memories to come.

Unofficial, Off-the-Record Recommendations: Caring for Vintage China

...that will probably raise a few eyebrows.🤨

blue and white china plates, bowls and teacups loaded into a small dishwasher

Real talk for a quick second: If you're allergic to the idea of hand-washing and just want to enjoy your dinnerware (like I do), you should feel free to mostly disregard the above, stick your transferware pieces in the dishwasher, fridge and microwave (assuming there's no metal trim/accents!), and not think twice about it.

Sure, the patterns may fade a bit over time and become more susceptible to breakage in the long run...but oh well! Life is short, and wouldn't you rather spend time enjoying the china than just looking at it in a cabinet just to avoid washing it by hand? Besides, fading and other signs of use give pieces that lived-in, happy-home character and charm you can't put a price on.

I have used mismatched blue and white transferware dinner plates for years as my everyday dishes and take care of them as outlined above. If you ask me, I think they get better and better looking as they age.🤩 *If I notice crazing, which I haven't yet, I'd plan to take them out of the regular rotation and use for decorative purposes instead.

Have any tips for caring for your favorite vintage dinnerware?

Think we missed something? Utterly scandalized by our unofficial recommendations? Let us know in the comments below!

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