If you're doing these things, your dishes aren't as clean as you think
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You love your dishwasher. It frees up your time, so you can binge Netflix after dinner instead of standing by the sink up to your elbows in greasy dishwater. Besides, dishwashers do a better job washing dishes than you can possibly do by hand. But if you really want clean dishes, you have to stop making these common mistakes.
Seriously? You’re still doing that? It’s a pointless waste of time and water. Plus, you actually get better results if you leave some dirt for the detergent to work on. So, don’t wash before you wash. Even the stickiest, grossest plates can come out clean if you just scrape them first.
The cardinal rule of loading the dishwasher—don’t block the water jets. If you put a big platter or cookie sheet in the way of the spray arm, the rest of the dishes will not get clean. Remember, the big stuff goes on the sides. If you’ve got a deep lasagna pan to clean, remove the cutlery basket, and see if you can fit the pan into the space. You can wash the silverware in the next load.
Speaking of silverware, do not let it nestle together in the basket. If the spray can't get to the surfaces, you'll be unloading dirty forks and spoons. If you have a basket with a grid, use the slots to separate each piece. If it’s an open basket, load it so that some silverware points up, and some points down. (Knives are exempt—they always point down.) Use the third rack if you have one—it keeps cutlery from getting too close.
Overcrowding the dishwasher makes it hard for it to get your dishes clean. The water has to be able to reach every surface. I know how it feels to see those last few filthy dishes in the sink, and really wishing there was room for them. But it's better to wash the last couple of plates by hand, or save them for the next load.
Maybe you would remember to pour in rinse aid if it were called “dry aid.” Modern dishwashers dry using hot water, not hot air. Rinse Aid helps water sheet off the tub and the dishes, so it goes down the drain. Less water ends up on your dishes. If you're seeing spots on your glasses, you're probably not using rinse aid.
If you don’t clean the filter, from time to time, your “clean” dishes can feel gritty, and end up covered with tiny food particles. Yuck! So, periodically reach under the spray arm and remove the filter. Soak it in warm, soapy water for a few minutes, go over it with a toothbrush (not your current one), then rinse it under the faucet. Plug it back into the dishwasher, and while you’re down there, use a skewer to push out any gunk that’s clogging up the jets on the spray arm.
If you have to walk away without starting a full cycle, say, because you have friends over, or there's room for another meal’s worth of dishes, use the rinse cycle to hold down disgusting odors and keep food from drying on the plates. You’ll be glad you did.
You can wash a few things that aren’t dishes in your machine. I've heard of everything from hubcaps to hairbrushes! But some things you should never consider washing in the dishwasher are cast iron or aluminum pans, wooden spoons and cutting boards, your good kitchen knives, or random plastic takeout containers. To be on the safe side, avoid putting in anything that isn't labeled “dishwasher safe.”
News flash—your dishwasher has other cycles besides Normal. Depending on how tough the food stains are, you should consider using the heavy cycle, especially for crusty pots and pans. The delicate cycle works well for glassware, perfect to use you have people over for drinks. And don't shy away from the quick cycle when you've got a lot of not-too-dirty dishes to wash. It might not clean every bit as well as a normal cycle, but one hour later, when the cycle is done, you may not care.
Okay, you probably haven’t seen the manual since the day your dishwasher was delivered. Or maybe you never got one when you moved into the place. But look for it online right now–it’s filled with recommendations on the best way to load dishes for your model, and offers troubleshooting tips for when something goes wrong. It will never be a best seller, but reading the user manual can save you a lot of aggravation.