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8 Ways You’re Using Your Dishwasher All Wrong

Get cleaner dishes, save money with these tips


spinner image an open and filled dishwasher
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Your dishwasher has one job: to transform a kitchen full of dirty plates, bowls, cups and utensils into a rack full of sparkling clean dishes.​

​More than half of the 80 million households in the United States with dishwashers run the appliance at least once a week, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and there’s a good chance most are making some common mistakes. ​ ​

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“Our bad habits can inhibit a lot of the functions [in our dishwasher],” says Michael Cornell, mentor technician for Asurion, an appliance repair company based in Nashville, Tennessee.​ ​

To get your dishes clean and prolong the life of your appliance, avoid these eight common dishwasher mistakes.​​

1. Failing to check the labels

Make sure an item is dishwasher-safe before turning on the machine. The heat from the drying cycle could cause wood items such as cutting boards to crack or warp, and the dishwasher will dull sharp knives and blades for food processors and other kitchen appliances. Hand-wash those items instead. ​

​Jill Notini, vice president of communications for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, advises against putting stemware or other delicate glass in the dishwasher. Not only is there a risk those glasses will break, the broken glass can wreak havoc on the appliance. ​

​“A shard of glass could get caught ... in the pump and cause damage,” she says.​

2. Prerinsing

Avoid the temptation to turn on the tap and run a scrub brush across your dishes before stacking them in the dishwasher. Although 75 percent of people admit to prerinsing their dishes, according to a 2020 survey from dishwasher detergent producer Finish, the practice can backfire. ​ ​

“Your soap actually needs those little food bits and sauces to bind to,” Cornell says. “Food particles almost act as … an abrasive to help the soap knock loose [foods] that are a little bit more baked on.”​ ​

Prerinsing removes the food bits, which can make detergent bind to porous surfaces of the dishes instead, and that will leave a film on your dishes.​ ​

Skipping the prerinse doesn’t just save time; rinsing the dishes before loading the dishwasher uses up to 20 gallons of water, according to Energy Star — and that’s before you even power on the machine. Even if the food is caked on, using the “rinse” feature on the dishwasher uses far less water than running the dishes under the tap to soften and remove excess food.​ ​

3. Skimping on scraping

You shouldn’t rinse your dishes before loading the dishwasher, but that doesn’t mean you should put them in the rack as is. ​​

“Scrape your dishes,” Cornell says. “[Your dishwasher] isn’t a garbage disposal.”​​

Scraping the chunks of food left on your plate can prevent foods from clogging the dishwasher, leading to expensive repairs.​​

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4. Improper loading

Reorganizing the dishwasher is a common occurrence for 42 percent of households who think it was done “wrong” the first time, according to a survey from Cascade Platinum and Marie Claire magazine. But mistakes are still common.​​

“Improper loading can interfere with cleaning,” Notini says. ​​

Put silverware in the flatware baskets or racks; spoons and forks should be loaded with the handles facing down, while knives should have their handles facing upward to avoid injuries from the blades, Cornell says. Plates and bowls go on the bottom rack and glasses and mugs on the top rack. Your glasses should be loaded between, not over, the tines in the rack.​​

“[Putting the glasses over the tines] can cause spotting or place stress on the glass … and you can end up with broken glasses,” Notini says. ​ ​

Spatulas, serving spoons and other large utensils should be hand-washed, not laid in the top rack, according to Cornell. ​

​“Water pressure will shift those items and, if the utensils fall, they can block the spray arm … and if something’s blocking that, you’re only going to be washing a handful of dishes for the entire duration of the wash cycle,” he says.​

5. Overloading the appliance

Don’t treat your dishwasher like a Tetris game and try to stack and balance as many dishes as possible on the racks. Overloading the dishwasher is one of the biggest mistakes people make, according to Cornell. ​

​“Whenever you overload a dishwasher, the first thing you’ll notice is that your dishes have a lot of soap scum or haze,” he explains. “It’s because [too many dishes] prevent the dishes from getting enough water flow to fully rinse them off.”​

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6. Putting detergent in the wrong place

Powder or liquid dishwasher detergent goes in the dispenser, but there has been some debate about where to place detergent pods. ​

​Cornell blames viral TikTok videos suggesting detergent pods should be tossed into the bottom of the dishwasher, not in the dispenser, for the confusion. It’s a mistake to follow that online advice. ​

​The reason: Dishwashers have separate rinse and wash cycles. When you put a detergent pod in the bottom of the dishwasher, the soap gets washed down the drain before the wash cycle starts.​​“

Now you’re washing your dishes with just stark water that is hot,” Cornell says.​

​Some detergent pods contain rinse aids that are released during the rinse cycle. A separate rinse aid can help remove spots and improve drying but it isn’t needed, he adds. ​

7. Tossing the manual

There’s no denying that info about dishwasher parts and features and the filtration system doesn’t make for interesting reading, but skimming the manual — or at least keeping it handy — matters. ​​

It’s a good source for troubleshooting tips, recommendations for detergents and rinse agents and phone numbers to call for service or advice. Already tossed the manual? You can use the manufacturer name and model number to download the manual online, Notini says.​​

8. Ignoring the filter

Notini says most people don’t realize the dishwasher has a filter. It’s under the bottom rack of the dishwasher, and it needs to be cleaned. ​

​Check the appliance manual for recommendations on how often to clean your dishwasher filter. Then, pop it out, rinse any food debris and scrub it with a wire brush (no soap required) to remove calcification before replacing the filter. ​

​“It takes a few seconds to do, and it’s going to make your dishes cleaner,” Cornell says.​ ​

Reading the manual, rethinking how you load the dishwasher, where you put the detergent and how you manage maintenance can make your dishes look better and extend the life of your appliance.​

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