How to make your dishes and dishwasher LAST!

It’s important to know that washing dishes in a dishwasher is not just a matter of blowing hot water at them. It is not just simply a mechanical or hydraulic process.

It is also a chemical process. The chemicals you use, from detergent to rinse agent, are VERY important.

The main reason dishwashers exist is that they allow dishes to be washed in water much hotter than you can use when washing dishes by hand. This allows greater grease-cutting and sterilization of the dishes. They are NOT made to operate under cold water conditions or to ingest your disgusting, moldy leftovers, no matter what the sales literature says.

First, make sure you load the dishwasher properly. Cups, glasses, bowls, etc. must be upside-down so they don’t hold water. Large items must be loaded so they do not block the water jets from the spray arms, or block the spray arms themselves as they rotate. Silverware must be secure, or it can get stuck in the spray arms.

The Dishwasher Must Be Loaded Properly


I could never understand why some people are so fixated on NOT having to pre-rinse…being able put chunks of food in their dishwasher. Your dishwasher is NOT a garbage disposal. It IS engineered to be able to ingest small bits of soft food left on dishes, but it is NOT made to ingest big wads of dried-out, moldy leftovers. How hard is it to scrape a few food scraps into the trash? Ultimately, your dishwasher will treat YOU as well as you treat IT.

Here’s an interesting video on the subject.

So when you are done with your dinner party, scrape any chunks of solid food into the trash, and rinse off any moist food before it gets dried on.

If it’s dried already, you are risking that the dish will not come clean. Wiser to take a minute and scrub it off.

Also remove any vegetables, fat trimmings from meat, chicken or fish skin, and even smaller items like seeds and toothpicks.

Let’s put it this way; you can take the food off the plate now, or you can clean the wet, nasty, chopped-up food out of the dishwasher’s water filter later. Your choice.

Also remove any excessive amounts of oil or grease. They can congeal and clog up the spray arm holes and drain system.

Some people re-use glass jars from grocery store food. That’s fine, but you MUST REMOVE THE LABEL before you put it in the dishwasher. Any paper that comes off will end up as mush, and clog the water filters and spray arm holes in your dishwasher.

How to Load Your Dishwasher

Loading the dishwasher improperly can cause all sorts of problems, from blockage of the waterspray to dish or pump damage. Make sure the dishes are loaded properly.

After loading, make sure that the wash arms will rotate freely. Also, make sure that loaded dishes do not block the opening of any detergent or rinse agent dispensers.

Plates go on the bottom rack, on edge, so the wash water drains. Small plates (like saucers) go on the top rack with the glasses and cups.

HAND WASH hand-painted china. The high-pressure hot water jets inside your dishwasher may be enough to wash the hand painting off. Wine glasses and other stemware, and antique or very delicate crystal or china can break easily under high temperatures and pressures.

Also HAND WASH lacquerware, genuine antique milkglass, or aluminum. These items may discolor.

Stainless steel utensils should go handle down, except for knives, which go handle up, so you don’t cut yourself. You should mix knives and forks and spoons in each compartment to help prevent them “nesting.” (Don’t let your spoons spoon!)

Cutlery with wood, bone or horn handles may crack or break or split under high temperatures and/or hydraulic pressure. You should hand-wash these.

Aluminum, stainless steel, copper, and silver-plated items must NOT TOUCH each other…it can cause darkening of the silver or corrosion between the different metals. Iron skillets or pans must be HAND-WASHED…they rust. Any rust that comes off is also very abrasive and will not be good for the pump and seals.

Pots and pans go on the bottom rack, with the dirty side down.

Cups and glasses go on the top rack, open end down, between the prongs sticking up. They are there to help keep the cups and glasses from rattling around. Glasses with concave bottoms should be angled, so water doesn’t pool on them.

Anything plastic goes on the top rack. IF plastic items come near to or touch the heater, at the bottom of the tub, they could warp or melt.

Detergent and Rinse Agent

I recommend you use the following stuff regularly:

1) Use dry (powder) “Cascade”™. The real stuff. Do not use liquid detergent. And especially do not use regular liquid dish soap.

2) Use “Jet-Dry”™ and check it regularly. “Jet-Dry”™ causes water to sheet and run off the dishes, instead of beading up and spotting them. Also use a product called “Glass Magic”™ to assist in preventing filming of the glass surfaces or calcium buildup.

These are pretty specific product endorsements for me to make without getting paid to make them, don’t you think? To be totally honest, there are other chemicals which may be “good enough.” But why bother? The “good stuff” only costs a few pennies more, and furthermore, it can be found in just about any grocery store in the nation.

3) If you live in an area with hard water, be on the lookout for any white film buildup you may get in the tub. It may be most obvious on any black plastic parts inside. This is primarily calcium. It can make plastic parts brittle and cause abrasion in moving parts, as well as spotting or filming on the dishes themselves.

In extreme cases of hard-water build-up, run 1/2 cup of white vinegar through a single rinse-and-drain cycle, without any dishes in the machine.

A few more pearls of wisdom:

Every few months, do a thorough cleaning. Pay special attention to any buildup of detergent around door seals, especially along the bottom edge of the door…it can cause leaks. Also be on the lookout for cloudy film or hard-water calcium buildup.

Every six months or so, open the kickplate and check for leaks and dust and pet hair. Also exercise the hot water shutoff valve under the sink, to make sure it will close when you need it to.

Every few months, open, check and if necessary, clean out the anti-siphon device, called the air gap.

Re-coat or replace any rusty dishracks. You can purchase a paint-on dishwasher rack coating from your appliance parts dealer or local hardware store. Replacing rusty dishracks costs a bit, but a pump leak caused by rusty grit getting into the pump seals can cost you more.


How to take good care of your dishes!

There are certain types of dishes that you should NOT wash in your dishwasher, and other things to think about. For example, certain kinds of “darkening” in fine silverware is normal, and does not indicate a problem with your dishwasher. Other things to watch out for:

Cutlery with wood, bone or horn handles may crack or break or split under high temperatures and/or hydraulic pressure.

The high-pressure hot water jets may also be enough to wash the hand painting off your hand-painted china.

Lacquerware, genuine antique milkglass, or anodized aluminum may discolor.

Iron skillets or pans may rust. Any rust that comes off is also very abrasive and will not be good for the pump and seals.

Antique or very delicate crystal or china can break easily under high temperatures and pressures.

Bottom line: if you’re not really sure about something, wash it by hand.