The days of picnic food and paper plates are gone, and the holidays are upon us. Whether you’re cooking up a feast, making snacks for movie night, or ordering carry-out, washing the dishes afterward should not require a second thought. Here are a few tips to help keep your dishwasher running in tip-top shape, so you can relax and enjoy the season!
Scrape, don’t pre-wash, your dishes. Scrape the food from your dishes if needed before putting them in the dishwasher, to avoid having bits of food in the bottom of your dishwasher or stuck to your dishes when the load is done. Rinsing or “pre-washing” your dishes is unnecessary, and a waste of time and water. Two exceptions are egg yolks and coffee rings. A little water and a quick brush are all you need.
Don’t overcrowd your dishwasher. Seems like a no-brainer, but if your dishes are overlapping or just too close together, the water and detergent can’t circulate properly, and the dishes won’t get clean. In addition, dishes are more likely to break or scratch if they’re close enough to make contact.
Place tall items on the edges of the dishwasher. Pitchers, platters and other tall dishes can prevent the sprayer arm from spinning. Place these items beyond the edge of the sprayer arm, then give the arm a spin to be sure it clears the tallest dishes. If not, just wash them by hand.
Don’t overdo it on the detergent. Most people use too much detergent, which can etch dishes or leave a filmy residue. If you’re filling your detergent dispenser to the top, you’re likely using too much. If you have hard or normal water, filling the dispenser to the first line is usually all that’s necessary for an everyday cleaning. If you have soft water, you can get away with far less detergent; as little as a tablespoon will do it.
Don’t use detergent that has gotten wet or is too old. Enzymes in the detergent need water to “activate” them, so if your detergent has gotten wet, it’s likely not going to be of much use. For this reason, powders generally clean better than liquids or gels. Similarly, if your detergent is too old, the enzymes might have become inactive.
Use a rinse aid to keep dishes sparkling. Some detergents contain a rinse aid, but if it’s not included in your detergent, be sure to keep the rinse aid reservoir topped off. Using a rinse aid helps the water “sheet” off your dishes, ensuring they are not only clean but also spot-free.
Be sure to select the appropriate cycle. If you’re running a normal load of dishes, don’t waste energy by running a “pots and pans” or “heavy wash” cycle. On the other hand, if you’ve just finished cooking and eating a turkey-with-all-the-trimmings feast, you may want to set the cycle to the next level, to be sure the grease and cranberry sauce are washed off your plates and kettles.
Run the hot water in your sink before starting the dishwasher. This will save time and energy to heat the first cycle before starting – you’ll be starting with hot water. When the tap water is running hot, go ahead and hit the “start” button.
Run an empty load with vinegar every few months to help dissolve any leftover detergent residue, and keep your dishwasher clean and fresh. Without adding detergent, wait until the water has filled the bottom, pour in a cup or so of plain white vinegar, and let it run. Lemi-Shine is another alternative diswasher cleaner.
Be sure your water heater is set properly. If your water is too cool, your dishes might still have a film of grease or food; if it’s too hot, your dishes will dry too quickly, leaving bits of dried-on food and creating spots. About 125 degrees is just right.
Having guests for the holidays? You suddenly find that your dishwasher doesn’t work – could it be an outlet? In newer homes and condos, switches are sometimes connected to large appliances. Your houseguest may be looking for a light switch or garbage disposal, and accidentally turn off the power to your dishwasher. Be sure you know what all those switches are for!