I am a vintage junkie , author of Melmac Central and run the Living a Vintage Life podcast.
Care and Cleaning of Your Vintage Melamine Dinnerware
Many people find sets of Melmac Dinnerware that are visibly scratched, have sticker residue or stains. They want to know what and how to clean these sets, or if they can be saved from their eternal demise in a landfill. Sure they can, I'm here to tell you how to clean those melmac dishes the right way!
Here we will discuss what you can do to remedy common problems with your melmac, and discuss overall care tips.
General Tips for Melmac Care
- Clean Melmac with warm soapy water.
- Use a subtle detergent such as which takes grease build up off the dishes.
- Avoid use of knives, and if you must use a knife defer to a butter knife.
- Hand wash vintage melamine.
- Subject melmac to the dishwasher.
- Scour with Brillo pads, SOS pads or metal scrubbys.
- Subject to industrial chemicals.
- Subject to liquid bleach..
- Use serrated or steak knives.
- Put in microwave.
- Put on the hot stove.
- Get near open flame.
Although most melmac can withstand temperatures up to 225 degrees, vintage melmac will become dulled if constantly subjected to the dishwasher. This means eating a normal dinner on it, such as a hot steak and potato will be fine. Usually steak is fully cooked (well done) at 165 degrees internal temperature. A steak fresh out of the broiler, may read only 185 or 200 degrees external temperature and internally much less. There has been much debate whether melmac "releases harmful chemicals" when heated, and the answer is at these recommended temperatures(under 200 degrees) there is no harm to you. Once the melamine rises above 225 degrees, or microwaving it, will make it break, shatter, burn, or scorch, all of which is not good. Putting it in the microwave is also not good.
Problem #1: Knife Marks
Over time knife marks have cut down into the melamine of the dishes. Often these knife marks are discolored with dirt, grime, and black gunk. This is not sanitary and can be unsightly. There are two options for this issue.
If you plan to use the dishes, you can only clean the knife marks to remove the dirt, grime, and bacteria from the deep grooves. Do this first by using a soft to medium toothbrush, and warm soapy water. Scrub the knife marks with Dawn. If the marks are mainly grease, they will come out. If they are more stubborn and have built up over the years, you will want to try a small paste of baking soda and shoving it into the groove--scrub with the toothbrush to make sure you have gotten it down into the knife marks.. Wait 5 to 7 minutes, then scrub under very warm to semi hot water. If they marks still won't disappear, you will then have to use a gel based bleach which is sometimes hard to find.
I first prepare the plate under hot water, then squirt the gel only into the knife marks. Scrub gently with the toothbrush, and wait 5 to 7 minutes. The dirty part of the knife marks will be gone. Surprisingly, on white dishes they will come up nicely. On maroon dishes, like the above, they will simply be white now and not black.
The second option is if you have a dish collection and won't be using them to eat off of, there are polishes you can purchase to remove deep scratches, such as the commercial kind used on fiberglass cars and plastic applications. Repeat the above steps to clean the knife marks so they are free of dirt and grime build up but then use the polish to fill in the gouges for display. want to reiterate this is not safe to eat off of at this point, since you have applied chemicals.
Problem #2 : Sticker Residue
Three Ways to Remove Sticker Residue From Plastic Plates
There are three ways to combat sticker residue.
1. Hot Water Method
Running scalding hot water on just the sticker area will loosen it enough for you to rub gently with a fingernail or a green side of a 3M or Scotch Brite Sponge pad. Never use metal Brillo pads! The idea is to loosen the sticker residue so you can scrub or rub it into a ball and remove it. This works best for old stickers.
2. Tape Method
In the scenario that you have a very sticky-sticker residue, often times using a piece of sticky tape, and sticking it to the sticky residue and removing it will remove the sticky residue. However, this takes several tries. I have even used clear packing tape and it works fine.
3, Peanut Butter Method
This method takes me forever, but it will work. Creamy peanut butter on a rag or paper towel, rubbed slowly and gently will eventually loosen the sticker or tape to a mucky film that you can then gently scrape off with a fingernail. I am unsure if it's something special in the oil, but it does work if you have the patience for doing this.
Heavy Tape or Duct Tape Residue
Oil Based Foods, Like Peanut Butter or Mayonnaise.
The oils in these food products will soften and loosen up the residue. A soft toothbrush rubbed over the residue usually then removes it. For tougher residue you may have to repeat the process several times. The piece should then be washed in hot water and dish soap to remove the peanut butter or mayonnaise. Cooking oil applied with a paper towel can also work. If you don't clean it immediately then you will have a grease stain to deal with!
WD-40 or Goo Gone
Francesca, a reader explained that she sprayed WD-40 to remove tape from metal, china, melmac, and vinyl. Sometimes it takes several applications, or leave it on for several minutes and gently scrub it with your fingernail to get the WD-40 soaked into the adhesive.
For extreme problems Goo-Gone will work. One or two drops is all it takes to remove the most stubborn sticker residue.
Removal of Residue Recipe
Time required: 5-15 minutes
- Peanut Butter
- Paper Towels
1. Apply peanut butter in a dime sized glob on the sticker or glue residue spot on your melmac dish. I find the more greasy the brand of Peanut Butter, the better.
2. Scrub gently with a paper towel in a round motion applying some pressure. The peanut butter will absorb into your paper towel, but no worries. You will keep using it.
3. Continue to scrub in a circular motion, but use your fingernail to loosen the residue.
4. You should see the sticker start to be removed, If not, continue all steps, possibly leaving Step #1 on the problem area for a few hours to soak in.
Removing Grease Stains
Believe it or not, caked on grease is found often when buying melmac and in most cases deters people from buying it. Grease is nothing more than caked up baking oils, and can easily be removed with some elbow grease, hot water, and soaking in Dawn dish detergent. Grease can discolor the entire dish, and is especially noticeable on the edges of the dinnerware. Often times the base will show the grease around the foot of the plate as well. After you soak in hot water for 20 minutes, scrub with the green side of a 3M or Scotch Brite Pad, gently, not hard, and never use metal or Brillo. The idea is to penetrate the grease, and once penetrated it should clean up well. I often defer to my toothbrush when dealing with the small ledges around the underside, or even the backstamp, which often gets grease in it. I would estimate thoroughly cleaning a set like the one above could take 15 minutes or more. The results however are worth it.
Coffee and Tea Stains Were a Common Issue in Old Melamine Cups
There are two types of stains in cups, brown from tea and coffee, and white from harsh chemicals and bleach.
Brown stains are years of coffee or tea build up. These cups can be cleaned up to 90% by several methods. The quickest and easiest is using a tried and true DipIt Cleaner which ironically has been around since the 50's and works well on removing coffee stains. A small box normally can be found for under $4. Or, you may wish to use hot water, fill and scrub with a mixture of Dawn dish soap and baking soda and your toothbrush.
Suffice to say, the white stains aren't coming out. This unfortunately represents years of housewives who have used bleach or harsh chemicals in their cups trying to remove the coffee stains. The white stain is actually bleach or years of use that has eventually eroded the finish of the dishes.
Checklist for Melmac Cleaning:
- Dawn Dish Soap
- Toothbrush (Soft to Medium)
- 3M Scotch Brite Sponge (yellow on one side, green on reverse.)
- Baking Soda
- Comet Gel
- Novus #2 Fine Scratch Remover
- Orange Glo Spray or Lemon Oil
- Chamois or Swiffer Pad
- Dip-it Stain Remover
- Peanut Butter or Mayonnaise!
Best Melmac Articles and Websites
- Living a Vintage Life Podcast Episode 1 - Melmac Dinnerware
Episode One, Melmac Dinnerware
- Collecting Vintage Melmac Dinnerware: History and In...
Collecting vintage Melmac and melamine dinnerware can be a fun hobby. This article will tell you a bit more about this fantastic plastic of our past!
- Melmac Central
Free melmac and melamine blog and other vintage plastics.
- Vintage Melmac Plates
Melmac dishes are vintage and from the olden days. They are durable as can be with fun and pretty prints on them.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer
Please leave me some comments.
Diana Burrell-Shipton from Hubbard, Ohio, USA on January 06, 2015:
I love this stuff and have a few sets !
Thank you for these tips.
If/When you get your Melmac encyclopedia going, please let me know as I'd love to be on the list for updates so I can find names and dates... of it all.
Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer (author) from Hedgesville, WV on December 28, 2013:
@paulahite: I use a paste of comet scrub and a toothbrush to help my glove molds, also porcelain, but if you have a design I'd be wary.
Paula Hite from Virginia on December 03, 2013:
Do you know the best way to clean porcelain? I have a flow blue platter that has crazing and subsequently some staining.
WriterJanis2 on November 28, 2013:
Really good care tips.
anonymous on July 13, 2013:
SO glad I found this. I just bought a two bowl set at a yard sale. It had some brown staining on the inside. I went and soaked it in a tub of bleach water. Thankfully I was reading this about 5 min after I put them in. I just hurried and went to get them. So glad I know not to use bleach now!!!!
anonymous on November 28, 2012:
Nice job and i appreciate the info
Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on October 09, 2012:
Great tips for cleaning melamine dinnerware.
anonymous on September 25, 2011:
Thanks for sharing this valuable info on cleaning and caring for melmac. My favorite tip for removing all kinds of tape, no matter how ancient and dried on or gooey, is WD-40. I keep spray WD-40 in my cleaning caddy to remove tape from metal, china, melmac, and vinyl. Sometimes it takes several applications, or leave it on for several minutes and gently scrub it with your fingernail to get the WD-40 soaked into the adhesive. On items you plan to eat or serve food on, be sure to wash with soapy water after removing the adhesive.
SpiffingDesign on July 02, 2011:
This is a great resource! I'm one of those people who has avoided buying things because I didn't know how to clean them. Thanks for this goldmine of information!
anonymous on May 12, 2011:
Thanks so much for these tips. I have a whole big set of the pink Boontonware, with platters, etc., and some with small scratches and slight staining. Am thinking of selling it. Can sure use your advice. Thanks for sharing.
anonymous on March 03, 2011:
Wow, this information on properly cleaning Melmac dinnerware is very helpful. I think you have it down to a real science. Thanks!