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Expert Dishwasher Tips to Make Your Dishes Shine

 

Over their more than 130-year history, dishwashers have radically altered the post-meal ritual of “doing the dishes.” Besides taking most of the work out of scrubbing and drying, dishwashers use far less water than it takes to do the work by hand. They also sanitize dishes and can even rinse away food allergens.

Loading and unloading the dishwasher is part of the kitchen routine, and many dishwasher users habitually select the same cycles and settings every time they wash the dishes. That’s okay if you generally wash the same number of dishes that require the same level of cleaning. But if your needs change—say you need to wash pots instead of dishes, or you’re cleaning up after a particularly messy meal—taking advantage of different cycles can help save you time, effort and energy. Your dishwasher can most likely handle most food-related messes — they’re tested to deal with the worst.

Navigating the seemingly endless options of dishwasher models and features can be daunting, and it helps to have a guide. We reached out to Carolyn Forte, Good Housekeeping’s director of home appliances, cleaning products and textiles and a longtime friend of AHAM, who has worked with hundreds of dishwashers over the course of her career.

Cycles

Most dishwashers come with a variety of cycles to allow you to adjust the level of wash depending on what you’re washing, and how much cleaning is needed.

  • Rinse: Appropriate for very light cleaning jobs
  • Quick: These may range from a half hour to about an hour, Forte says. They’re made to tackle lighter cleaning jobs.
  • Normal: For your day-to-day, average dish needs
  • Pots and pans: For larger, perhaps more heavily soiled cookware

On many models, you’ll also find specialized cycles, like anti-bacterial, sani-rinse and others.

Choosing the right cycle

Your use and care manual will offer a description of the capabilities of each cycle. “If you have lightly soiled dishes, normal or quick wash should be fine,” Forte says. “If you have stuff that’s baked or dried on or it’s after a normal meal, you should do an auto cycle. If you have really baked-on stuff or cookware, go for the pots and pans cycle. Know what you’re putting in and use the features to get the best clean.”

Racks

While you’ll still find plenty of models with two racks, some manufacturers have added third racks to handle certain types of dishes and flatware. “One area dishwashers have distinguished themselves is racks,” Forte says. “You’ll find folding racks, clips to hold plastic lids, special jets for water bottles. If you do wash those, they’re also very helpful.”

Smart and connected features

Like many other appliances, dishwashers are steadily incorporating smart and connected features that offer functions like remote operability and repair diagnosis. Forte has worked with models that allow users to start or stop the dishwasher with their mobile device, and others that report when something in they cycle has gone wrong, like a blocked spray arm. Some models offer leak alerts and may even shut off when a leak is detected. Voice controls are also arriving. “Were seeing dishwashers that are Alexa-enabled,” Forte says. “You can start and stop it remotely.”

Get the best wash

Now that you know about dishwasher features, it’s time to talk technique. How can you minimize the dishwasher headaches like dishes that don’t quite get clean, cups that flip over and collect water, and dishes being knocked around during the cycle? How you load the dishes matters. “Some people are meticulous, some don’t care,” Forte says. “You have to load it right. If the water can’t reach it, it won’t get clean. Look at what the manual recommends. Make sure nothing is blocking anything else.”

  • Pots and pans should go on the bottom, upside down, Forte says. “Make sure they aren’t blocking each other.
  • Bowls can go on the bottom or top.
  • Glasses should go on the top rack. “Rest them against the tines, don’t put them over the tines,” Forte says. “It can put spots on the glasses or stress the glass.”
  • Spoons should be placed alternately up and down in the flatware basket. If you have a grid over the basked, they can all be placed with the handles facing down.

More dishwashing tips

“Make sure you use enough detergent, but not more than you need,” Forte says. “If you have hard water, you might need more detergent.” And you might not have realized that your dishwasher needs to be cleaned once in a while, too. Clean the filter regularly to dislodge any food waste. Look for detergent specially made to clean dishwashers, and follow the instructions in your use and care manual.

Cooking in your dishwasher: A bad idea

Pretty, young woman in her modern and well equiped kitchen putting cups into the dishwasher - an appliance that helps her keep the home tidy

A number of cooking and lifestyle blogs have reported on the novelty of using a dishwasher to cook food. Recipes might include salmon, eggs, chicken and other foods. It’s a unique concept that most people probably haven’t considered. It’s also a bad idea, and appliance manufacturers don’t recommend it.

Many of the articles tout the alleged energy savings, ease of cleanup and unique cooking approach as reasons to try dishwasher cooking. But there has been little said about the risks, and there are many, including:

Harmful bacteria: Would you like a side of E. coli or salmonella bacteria with your dishwasher-cooked meal? Probably not. But that’s what you might end up with. Many factors, including water supply, determine how hot it gets in a dishwasher during a cycle. That means it may not reach the 140-degree minimum cooking temperature the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends to kill potentially harmful microorganisms. You could end up giving harmful bacteria an environment they can thrive in, as they tend to multiply at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Contamination: Regardless of how food is sealed, even a tiny opening will allow spray from the dishwasher and possibly detergent to reach the food. Like dishes, food can move during a cycle, and that movement may cause punctures or tears in water-tight wrapping.

Fire: Food could become dislodged during the wash cycle and end up on the dishwasher’s heating element, potentially causing a fire.

It’s a waste of energy: While dishwashers have reduced their water use more than 41 percent since 2005, they still require about five gallons of water per cycle to effectively clean dishes.

Appliances are designed to perform specific tasks quickly and efficiently. So, take the advice of the people who make the dishwashers, and leave the cooking to ranges and ovens.