How to Get Your Dishwasher to Live Up to Its Name
Abstract: Two years ago I bought the cheapest dishwasher I could find, and it runs like a dream. The dishes almost never spot, and all but the most stubborn of crud has been dispatched at the end of the cleaning cycle. I tend to think that most poor-performing dishwashers just aren't cared for properly. With the good run I've had, I figured I'd let y'all in on what works for me. The steps I take ensure that my dishwasher remains convenient; which is the reason it was purchased in the first place.
Purpose: When we moved into our house in good ol' HaysUSA over two years ago, one of the appliances that came with the house was a dishwasher. A dishwasher we knew nothing about. How old was it? How often was it used? Was it used properly? There were just too many unknowns for an appliance that has the potential to make a huge friggin' mess if it malfunctions. Long story short, we bought the cheapest model we could that did what we wanted it to do (about $250 in 2008) and haven't had a problem at all. Albeit, the following information is anecdotal; with two growing kids to feed in this house, it's been well-tested. Here's what's works for us to ensure the dishwasher continues to perform:
- If you don't know the history of your dishwasher, it's probably best to start over. I read somewhere (a few years back; so I can't find the link) that a dishwasher not used regularly is prone to seal failure, as the normally flexible seals dry out for lack of exposure to water. Even if this isn't the case, who knows what gunk is still in the works from the prior owner, especially if particularly nasty bits from a prior cycle sat in there for weeks before the dishwasher was run again? Seriously, you shoulda seen what came out of the old unit I pulled. Take home message: run that dishwasher at least once a week, even if it's gotta be an empty load (or use that empty load to cook something).
- Scrape your plates. Rinsing isn't necessary; but I can't imagine excess dissolved solids can be good for your dishwasher either.
- Use fresh detergent. There are oxidizing agents in most dishwashing powder; stuff like chlorine that loses its effectiveness upon exposure to outside air and moisture. Once you open the box, the clock is ticking on effectiveness. The simplest solution I've found to get around this is to buy the pre-measured, individually-wrapped 'tabs'. Each one is sealed; meaning I can buy in bulk when they're on sale, and still maintain that level of effectiveness.
- Don't over-fill the detergent. When I was growing up, it seemed our dishwasher never worked well, and the glasses were always getting cloudy or etched. We always filled the pre-rinse cup. If you do a bit of reading and connect the dots, you'll find that etching can happen from too much detergent. Frankly, I think there's a detergent company conspiracy responsible for that pre-wash cup. There's really no reason to use it, especially if you're using the pre-measured tabs.
- Use hot water wash with air dry. The detergent won't work if your water isn't hot enough. Although most new-fangled dishwashers heat water to an optimum temperature to dissolve said detergent, I prefer to hedge my bets and opt for the heated wash. I also get the added benefit of some sanitizing effects from the hotter water. Likewise, a heated dry seems unnecessary if your rinse agent cup is full, as the residual steam from the hot water wash in conjunction with the rinse agent seems to do a fairly good job of keeping dishes spot-free.
Results: I'd like to restate this just to be clear: I am not a dishwasher repair guy, nor to I play one on television. The methods I've outlined here work for me, and of course, mileage may vary. That said, there are plenty of tips here to try, so try a few and see what's useful. Although starting with a brand-new unit may sound like it defeats the purpose of "getting the most out of that ol' dishwasher," it also ensures everything's getting the best care from the start, and is money well spent if you're gonna let something take up all that potential cabinet space in your kitchen.
Notes: For even more detailed information on dishwashing (even hand-washing), I like this site from the Soap and Detergent Association.