Dinnerware is the main attraction of many a dining table. It’s much more than crockery for serving food. Beautiful dinnerware enhances your meals, it also sets the mood for your home dining experiences as well as expressing your personal style. Understanding and grasping the differences between the different types of dinnerware, from formal settings for elegant dinner parties to the day-to-day pieces for everyday use, is the key to selecting a set that feels at home in your home.
The types of dinnerware materials
Call it what you may – dishes, plates or crockery – the focal point of your table can be your dinnerware. Before you start wondering about patterns and colors, focusing your attention on what material you really like would be a helpful start. Bone china, earthenware, porcelain, melamine and stoneware are the most common dinnerware materials.
These types of dinnerware have their own benefits that can assist in making your selection:
Bone China: Bone ash (which is made from animal bones) is combined with porcelain clay and fired at a slightly lower temperature than porcelain to produce a material that is very lightweight, translucent, and delicate in feel, with a milky appearance. Despite its fragile presentation, bone china is actually the strongest and most durable ceramic dinnerware. Most bone china is dishwasher safe and, unless it has metallic banding, can go in the microwave and oven as well. Bone china, as with porcelain, can be used daily or reserved for a more formal dining occasion.
Bone china is a durable, lightweight and an elegant alternative for both everyday and special occasion dinnerware due to the fact that it is chip resistant. It’s the strongest range of china, but unlike fine china, it’s typically microwave and dishwasher-safe.
Earthenware: Often less expensive than other types of dinnerware, earthenware is ceramic that has been glazed and fired. It has a thick, heavy, and rustic look and feel, but is not as durable and strong as other types of dinnerware and is prone to chipping. It is what is typically used when hand-painted designs are added to the dishware. Earthenware is often porous, which means it could stain or absorb liquid, so you do need to avoid leaving it submerged in water. Most glazed earthenware is dishwasher safe and can be used in the microwave, but it is wise to check with the manufacturer first.
Earthenware gives off an air of value, sturdiness and casual appeal. Being one of the oldest industrial materials, it also gives your dinnerware significant weight. To keep this dinnerware looking its best, it’s better to avoid unexpected temperature changes, like from the oven or high settings on the microwave.
Porcelain: Porcelain is a versatile material that has a non-porous surface and incredible durability resulting from high firing temperatures. Porcelain pieces are typically dishwasher, microwave and oven-safe. Some porcelain dinnerware pieces contain metallic accents, so be aware as this makes these a microwave no-go. Porcelain often has an upscale look, lending itself to more formal dining occasions, but it also can be used every day to make any meal a little more elegant.
Melamine: These sets would definitely be an entertainers dream, being shatterproof as well as harder to break or chip. Melamine dinnerware is perfect for outdoor use. Melamine dinnerware is not suitable for your oven or microwaves though, but are typically dishwasher-safe.
Stoneware: Another type of fired ceramic dinnerware, stoneware is usually a little more durable than earthenware because the clay has vitreous (glass) material added to it for strength. The body of stoneware is thicker and more opaque than finer materials like porcelain and China and can be finished with a variety of glaze textures such as shiny, satin, or matte. Stoneware is typically used in casual, everyday place settings. Most good-quality stoneware is very versatile to use and easy to maintain. It can go in the microwave, dishwasher, oven, and freezer (of course, first check with the manufacturer for the specific qualities of your dinnerware) but should not be exposed to sudden or extreme temperature changes.
Stoneware dinnerware sets have a special finishing glaze that gives a smooth look to the material and an impermeable finish, making it ideal for everyday use and family-friendly. Stoneware sets are more durable than earthenware, but will still need to be maintained and kept at even temperatures. If you opt for Stoneware, be careful not to expose it to high heat or freezing temperatures. Also, bear in mind that pieces with hand-painted designs may require hand washing.
Vitrified Glass: Vitrified glass is glass, usually opaque in the case of dinnerware, that has been fired at an ultra-high temperature so that it is nonporous and extremely durable. The best-known vitrified glass dinnerware is Corelle, which is a proprietary glass laminate that is virtually indestructible—it will not break or chip even when dropped onto a hard floor.
Vitrified glass is safe to use in the dishwasher and microwave.
The styles of dinnerware
Incorporating a personal touch into your dinnerware set is simple. They come in a wide range of designs ranging from casual to stylish and a whole lot in between. The more formal dinnerware sets are usually made from china or porcelain or stoneware. Earthenware and melamine these make great casual dinnerware sets. It is best to select durable dinnerware sets for your everyday use, a shatter-resistant set would be ideal for youngsters and outdoor parties, and finer materials for the more stylish dinner parties and formal gatherings. It’s a good idea to have one set for your everyday use and other sets especially for holidays and those special occasions.
Now that we know what styles of dinnerware are available, it’s time to go beyond formal and casual designs. We can further divide dinnerware sets into four style categories: hand painted, patterned, solid, banded. A great way to express your personality and complement your home décor is to use colors and patterns. Choosing a neutral such as white or ivory is the most versatile of formal dinnerware sets.
Choosing a dinnerware set with a nice border or rim detail will add color and persona while still showcasing the meal itself. For the more informal dinner plates, why not make a splash with the colors and patterns that attract you. Be adventurous. Consider going with pieces that are classic or traditional instead of trend-driven. If you are purchasing for longevity, solid or banded white pieces are timeless, versatile options. They make an elegant base when you wish to add more colorful accent pieces to your table, and they also enhance the look of the meal.
Selecting your dinnerware
Caring for your new dinnerware
Just as you’ve considered your storage space before buying dinnerware sets, you should also consider the special care your dinnerware needs before making your final decision. For example, dishwasher-safe, break-resistant dinnerware would give parents more peace of mind, while the microwave-safe dinner plates make reheating leftovers a jiffy.
Break-resistant dinnerware sets are perfect for outdoor entertaining and if you have kids in the house. It is a good idea to check the care instructions to verify if your dinnerware is dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe.
Follow these tips to help keep your dinnerware sets looking great:
- Soaking pieces in white vinegar for three minutes before rinsing and towel-drying helps to remove hard-water spots on dinnerware and glasses.
- Removal of coffee stains from mugs as well as fork marks from plates is made easy by rubbing a paste of baking soda and water over the area before rinsing and drying.
- Stacking the more frequently-used plates and bowls is okay, but to prevent scratching and chipping your fine china dinnerware, put it in a padded storage case or with fabric between each piece to keep it safe.