Is Melamine Servingware Dishwasher-Safe?

Have you recently fallen in love with some super colorful serving dishes made of plastic? They may be made of melamine. In addition to being attractive, melamine is known for its durability. In fact, some restaurants use this type of resin serveware as an economical alternative to ceramics. This said, is melamine dishwasher-safe? The answer is yes; you can put melamine servingware in the dishwasher.

This type of plastic servingware has seen a resurgence in popularity and can be purchased seemingly everywhere, from upscale kitchen outfitters to grocery stores. It's not only resilient, but it has a high tolerance to heat. That's actually what makes melamine completely safe for cleaning in the dishwasher. However, melamine isn't a new substance. It was discovered in the 1830s and became wildly popular with homemakers in the 1950s. So, the next question is, can you put vintage melamine pieces in the dishwasher, too? Once again, yes; but not without a word of caution as to what a dishwasher can do to them.

Washing vintage melamine in a dishwasher

If you frequent vintage shops looking for kitchenware, you may have run across melamine dinnerware or serving pieces with various brand names. One that crops up frequently is Melmac, although there were several others. This type of plastic dinnerware and serving pieces was made in solid colors, as well as decorated with patterns, from the 1940s through the 1970s. They can be washed in the dishwasher just like modern melamine; however, vintage melamine pieces will more than likely sustain damage over time when cleaned in this way.

Back when melamine first became widely used in U.S. households, dishes were largely washed by hand, and that's still the best route to take when washing melamine servingware from this time — using mild grease-cutting dish soap. Otherwise, if washed in a modern dishwasher, the shiny finish of vintage melamine plates, bowls, cups, etc., will gradually wear away and the patterns that make the collectible serveware attractive may also fade. Older dishes and vintage servingware made of melamine simply weren't manufactured to weather abrasive dishwasher detergent, even though they can survive the heat.

When melamine and heat can prove unhealthy

One thing you need to remember about melamine is that while it's very heat-tolerant in terms of the dishwasher, it may not be wise to microwave it. Always check the back to make sure it's microwave-safe before heating food or beverages in melamine containers. Why? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that highly acidic foods heated on some melamine can cause an unhealthy amount of chemicals to leach out of the plastic. What about those vintage pieces you love? It's best to keep those out of the microwave as well since they've been known to crack in this situation. 

The risk of food contamination is very low with melamine, per the FDA, but many consumers may decide it's better not to risk it. You can heat food in another container like one made of microwave-safe glass, and then enjoy serving it in your colorful melamine pieces. Plus, knowing you can throw modern melamine in the dishwasher afterward for easy cleaning makes it even better.