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Stew Cues: A primer on dishware


Stew Cues: by Chief Stew Alene Keenan

Stews are charged with taking care of valuable and sometimes sentimental dishes. Here are some tips.

Washing dishes

Remove food promptly. When washing dishes, remove food with a plastic spatula, not cutlery, to avoid scratching, and rinse promptly. Stoneware will be stamped on the bottom if it is dishwasher safe. Earthenware and newer china may be safe in a light wash cycle or a special china and crystal setting. The older the china, the less likely it is to be safe in the dishwasher.

Load dishwashers carefully. It might sound crazy, but being “that stew” who reloads the dishes after someone else has done it incorrectly might be the safest way to go. Load the machine so that you can get as many pieces in safely, so that they are cleaned properly, and don’t touch each other during the wash cycle. Don’t use citrus detergents as they can damage the glaze. Don’t wash any aluminum pieces with fine china to avoid greyish pencil-like stains.

Generally, the heated drying cycle causes damage to fine porcelain as the dish body and precious metal trim expand and contract at different rates. Skip the hot drying cycle, and dry by hand with a soft cloth.

For hand washing:

For hand washing, place a soft sink mat or a towel in the bottom of the sink for protection. Use fresh warm water and mild non-citrus dish soap. Change it as often as needed to keep it grease-free.

Remove jewelry to prevent scratching, and avoid bumping dishes against the faucet. Do not wash pans or bakeware with tableware.

Wash one piece at a time. No abrasive cleaners or rough sponges, but a bit of baking soda on a sponge can be used to scrub gently. Bon Ami powder cleanser and Bar Keeper’s friend are gentle enough to get metallic marks and stains from china. Do not use bleach or products with bleach such as Soft Scrub as it can damage the glazed surface.


Protect pieces from sliding across other pieces. The bottom is often partially unglazed and could scratch or damage the top of other pieces. Store plates, bowls, platters and service pieces with felt, closed-cell foam, paper towel, or even a coffee filter as protectors between pieces. Wrap any lids and place upside down inside the piece. Avoid stacking too many plates, and if any pieces have been repaired, place those on top of the stack. Avoid stacking cups, but if there is no other option, stack no more than two at a time, with plenty of protective material between them.

Dishes stored for long periods should be put into specialty padded zippered cases for protection. Cup storage cases should include dividers. China that is used less than once per year should be washed and inspected occasionally to protect the glaze and the paint.

Inventory and label each case and attach a warning/fragile sticker. Place storage cases in carefully padded boxes or plastic containers to prevent them shifting around. Do not stack zip cases on top of each other. Avoid extreme heat, cold, or humidity.


To repair a hairline crack, heat milk to simmer, then lower the temperature to low or warm. Place the china piece in the warm milk. Let it rest for an hour, then remove from heat and leave in the milk overnight. The protein in the milk will seep into the crack and form a natural “glue”. In the morning, gently hand wash and dry.

Try using Bon Ami or Bar Keeper’s Friend brand cleaner to remove grey or black cutlery marks, or mix a paste of salt and vinegar or one of baking soda and vinegar. Apply to stain, rub gently and rinse and dry.

Epoxy or super glue may work on chipped or broken china if you have all the pieces. Apply with a toothpick, and hold a small piece of wax paper over the spot to prevent glue from sticking to fingers. You may have to sand the piece to feather the edge of the repair so it is less noticeable.

Last, but not least, always have a full inventory of all the pieces onboard. The inventory should include the manufacturer, the pattern name, and the names of each piece in the collection.

Proper preparation and protection will ensure that china dishware is kept safe and will give many years of good service.

Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Ft. Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”, available at Comments are welcome below.

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