How to Clean China When Your Dishes Start to Yellow

Solutions for all your porcelain problems.

Photo: Lauren Rubinstein

Issues with your favorite china? Let us help! It's no fun dealing with porcelain staining and discoloration, but sometimes you can't avoid it. Heirloom china can harbor tiny cracks in the glaze that become discolored, or your relatively new wedding china may become marred by utensil marks. Stains happen because we'd rather be enjoying our pieces—not looking at them stacked, unused, in the china cabinet. So start taking care of your porcelain and work to reverse the damage that comes from using and enjoying your favorite plates, bowls, and table settings. Try these tips for cleaning the porcelain stains from your china, and let us know what works for you.

How OftentoClean China

Follow this regular routine for china care: When cleaning china, always start with the mildest cleansing agents. Wash your pieces with warm water and a mild dishwashing liquid, like Dawn. This should prevent further staining and keep your china looking shiny and new. If your regular china cleaning routine doesn't do the trick, try soaking your stained china in a combination of water and your regular dishwashing liquid. For the soaking technique, you should leave your china submerged in the soapy mixture for a few hours. When you're combating more intense stains, increase the time spent soaking. Though your first line of defense should always be warm water and a mild dishwashing soap, if the mild solutions don't work, then you should try more specialized cleaning methods.

Considerations Before Getting Started

Whether you're doing an everyday cleaning or trying some serious stain lifting, pros suggest you can avoid chipping your special dinnerware by lining the bottom of your sink with dish towels or a protective rubber mat. Have a dish rack set up so the dishes can drain a bit before you dry them with a lint-free cloth.

What You Need

* Baking soda

* White vinegar

* Cotton swabs

How to Clean Stained China With Baking Soda and Vinegar

1. Make a paste with three parts baking soda, and 1 part water.

2. Spot clean the stains on your china by rubbing the paste on with your finger or a non-abrasive sponge.

3. Rinse and repeat if necessary.

If mild soaking and spot cleaning don't work, try the super-charged soak. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar with 1 cup of water. (For 2 cups of water, you'll need 2 tablespoons of baking soda and 2 tablespoons of vinegar.) Increase the added amounts in relation to the number of cups of water you use. Mix the solution, and soak the stained china for a few hours. Rinse and repeat until the china is clean.

How to Keep Your China Cleaner

Be sure to wash your china soon after using it to prevent further staining. (Don't even think about leaving your china in the sink overnight!) To minimize the chance of scratching use plate protectors or paper towels when stacking and storing china.

Remove Coffee, Tea, or Utensil Stains from China

You should avoid bleach when dealing with china, but if you have stubborn tea or coffee stains, you can try using a hydrogen peroxide solution to brighten up your china pieces. A 20% hydrogen peroxide solution has been known to remove yellow stains. The bottles of hydrogen peroxide that you typically find at stores are 3% strength, so ask a pharmacist for the 20% solution. Wash or soak using the solution, and rinse with water. This is a good technique to try with china with crazing—a network of fine cracks in the glaze.

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

When trying either of these stain-removing techniques, do a test in a small area to make sure it doesn't affect the color or pattern of the china.

Seasonal Upkeep

Festive holiday china, often embellished with gold or platinum rims, calls for extra care. Use only mild solutions and soft cloths with these pieces. Be particularly careful to soak food that can be hardened on the rim, as it could pull the metallic trim away. Dry thoroughly so the gold or platinum doesn't tarnish.

When to Call a Professional

Cracks, chips, stains, and issues with gold or platinum rim that can't be fixed with home cleaning should be addressed by a professional. Look for a china repair and restorations specialist in your area.

Once your china is looking its best, make your dinner table even more beautiful by cleaning and polishing your silver and trying this technique to make your glassware sparkle.

What strategies do you use to clean your china? We've also heard about mixing lemon juice and salt to use as a cleaning agent and another version that calls for making a solution of vinegar and salt. What's your go-to?

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