5 Tips to Improve Your Dishwasher

First, I just want to tell you that the way my plates are lined up in rainbow order is purely a coincidence. I am not that weird.

A few months ago we replaced a really old dishwasher with a new modern one, and while I was mostly satisfied with it (It’s so quiet!), it sometimes seemed to be lacking in its ability to fully clean the dishes. I’d have to rewash or rinse them by hand, defeating the whole purpose in having a dishwasher.

I was almost to the point of having to accept that they don’t make things like they used to, and I was going to be spending even more time at the kitchen sink. I don’t mind washing dishes by hand actually, but there are a lot of them.

Fortunately I found the solution to my dishwasher dilemma, and it was an easy one to fix.

 Make your dishwasher more effective with these quick tips:

1. Check the sprayer arm. When I opened the dishwasher door during a wash cycle, I learned that some of my utensils are too tall, and they blocked the sprayer arm from rotating. Problem solved! Also look at the holes on the sprayer arm to make sure they are not clogged. Use a toothpick if you need to dislodge anything.

2. Check the drain. Look inside the bottom of the dishwasher and remove any food or objects from the filter. Run the garbage disposal to clear it out before turning on the dishwasher since they share the same drain.

3. Don’t overuse detergent. It’s a mistake to assume you should always fill up the detergent cup. Check the manual and your detergent. On mine, filling it to the first line (about a third) is enough. Too much detergent can leave residue and etch your glasses.

4. Check your water temperature. If it takes a long time for the hot water to reach your kitchen sink, that means the dishwasher isn’t getting enough hot water at the beginning either, and that makes it harder to wash away the food particles and grease. If you need to, turn on the dishwasher after you’ve used hot water at the kitchen sink.

5. Clean the inside of your dishwasher. Grease, detergent residue, and calcium deposits build up inside your dishwasher. You can use vinegar to wash them away. On a regular basis (every few months or so), run a wash cycle while your dishwasher is empty. Don’t use detergent, but turn on the dishwasher and let it run for a few minutes until water starts to fill up the bottom. Then add one or two cups of white vinegar to the water and let it finish the cycle.

Sometimes using a dishwasher is an experiment in finding the right combination for hard or soft water, the detergent, and a rinse aid.

How is your dishwasher working? (Assuming you have one; I’ve lived in several apartments that didn’t.)
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ours is new and has a nasty -and I do mean nasty- way of building up smelly gunk in a hard to reach/clean area: right where the door hinges. We have to periodically pull out the bottom rack to get down there and scrape out the gunk (we meaning my husband, ha).

    The weird thing is that we only started having this problem after we hit the 2yr mark and we haven’t made any radical changes in our detergent/usage. It’s still under warranty, but I have a feeling dealing with the warranty will be more hassle than it’s worth.
    Juliette´s last post…A New Month and a Sneak Peek

    • Juliette, knowing you have hard water, do you know the common trick in Berlin? A lot of people buy dishwashers with salt compartments. You can get the salt at Aldi or anywhere. That’s what we had, and it eliminated this sort of problem.

      Our washing machine didn’t have a salt compartment, but we would put a small dash of “washing machine salt” into each load per advice of the community as well.

      Might be something to check out to save Stefan’s back. :)

      • So true Katie. I’ll have to double check our soap; I’m pretty sure we’ve been using an all-inclusive thing, though. It’s black gunk, so this is why I’m thinking it might not be the salt. At least ‘we’ know how to clean it out well, whatever it is, heh. =)

        • Our dishwasher stopped working almost completely over the course of a month – and the repairman said it was just due to the terribly hard water building up on the heating element (which would have cost loads to fix). He gave us some proprietry brand of dishwasher cleaner powder to run through it on the hottest wash and 2 washes later it was completely fixed. Haven’t had any problems in weeks now. I’m also being careful to keep the salt topped up too, but its amazing how much damage hard water can do.

    • This happened with our last dishwasher. The plumber said that the food that goes down the garbage disposal can back up into the dishwasher. Sometimes there is a hose that connects the sink to the dishwasher and the flow goes the wrong way (sink to dishwasher instead of dishwasher to sink). We were told to make sure to keep a loop (with the loop pointing up) in the hose to keep it from flowing the wrong way. Or to start the disposal then put the food in. Don’t know if this is the same thing that is going on with your dishwasher but it does sound familiar.

  2. Smart! This is our first apartment with a dishwasher, and I’m still working out how to use the thing. Half the time, I just wash the dishes myself because it’s easier.

    Thanks for the ideas. I’ll have to check on those things; who knows, maybe I won’t have to use my dishwasher only as a sanitizer.

  3. I think that most American dishwashers are extremely low quality. Food buildup, mineral deposits, the need to run your machine empty every so often with vinegar.

    You shouldn’t have to do that.

    You can buy high quality dishwashers that have a compartment for salt and one for rinse aid. You just pour in the salt and rinse aid every few months.

  4. I found when we lowered our hot water temperature to 120 from 140 degress for safety’s sake the dishes didn’t get as clean. I’ll try some of your ideas and see if it helps.

  5. My dishwasher has some problems (leaving food on the dishes, creating a large puddle of water on the floor), but ultimately I’m very happy with him :-P

    Is that Fiestaware? It’s so pretty.

    • Oh thank you, I really like my Fiestaware dishes.

      • I LOVE my Fiesta too. I have several colors that all look so pretty together. I have some open cabinets and that’s where I keep all of it (or “show it off,” I should say). It’s great for everyday use, and pretty enough to decorate an otherwise neutral kitchen.

  6. Thanks for this post. The last couple loads have missed a little bit of food on the plates, I’ll have to go back and look to see if there’s something clogged. : ) have a fabulous day!
    Jennifer Spadaro´s last post…DIY Lamps and when projects go wrong

  7. Good tips! The utensils blocking the spraying arm was a big one for us – and not overfilling it!

    Isn’t it nice having a dishwasher? We were without one for 18 days while waiting to get a recall sorted out!
    Danielle´s last post…Winter Antidote

  8. Maybe this has nothing to do with it, but I did read an interesting article on Slate a few months ago about a phosphate ban that has affected the way a lot of people’s dishwashers are working. We don’t have a dishwasher now, but in our last house, one day ours just stopped getting the dishes as clean. We assumed it was just old, but now I wonder if it wasn’t the phosphate issue after all. http://www.slate.com/articles/business/branded/2011/12/finish_vs_cascade_the_phosphate_ban_and_the_great_dish_detergent_wars_of_2011_.html

    • Annie,
      One of my friend’s husband told me the same thing about the phosphate ban, dishwasher detergent and the dishes not getting as clean. He’s a physics teacher, so I assume he knows what he’s talking about.

    • Ditto on the phosphates – our local news station did a story on everyone wanting to replace their dishwashers when it is really the detergent. My glasses are spotty and I have practically wash the dishes before they go in. But at least it is quietly not cleaning my dishes ;)

    • Annie, it was the phosphate ban. Apparently, phosphates are fertilizers and they were encouraging growth of algae in streams. Here’s what I don’t get- why can we use phosphates on our lawn, but not in our dishwasher? Why couldn’t we just divert our dishwater out to the lawn and kill two birds with one stone? But I digress…

      Here’s the deal- it is now illegal to sell dishwashing detergent with phosphates to the general consumer. (Not illegal to use it, just illegal to sell it.) BUT- restaurants and hospitals and others can buy and use the good stuff (because it works). So, my suggestion is to find a place that sells to industry. Buy your detergent there.

      Or, wash every dish before you put it in the dishwasher. And don’t use Cascade Action Packs. They suck. I switched to Finish Power Ball thingys and I am pleased with the results.
      gh´s last post…Easy salad

      • I totally agree with you on the Cascade Action Packs. I bought some on sale and with a good coupon thinking Cascade was a top brand, but my dishes have a film and are terribly spotty. I went back to Finish before I even used up the Cascade. I’ve never had problems with Finish.

    • I also heard that the phosphates got removed and so when I have a load of dishes that may have set in there before we run the machine, I add some Tri-Sodium-Phosphate, found in the paint isle at the hardware. It is used to prep wash walls or painted wood before painting. Problem solved.

      • They took phosphates out for a reason, they cause algae bloom in water after it’s discharged from the water treatment plant.

        Hand washing dishes can use more water and that adds to the water treatment plan load. I think a fair compromise is to use the TSP sparingly and only on loads you think are really dirty.

        • Or skip the phosphates altogether and use citric acid…about .5-1 tsp per load added to a small amount of detergent. Works like a charm and even removes old deposits. You might have to get your pharmacist to order it in for you but it goes a long way.

  9. We have very hard water, and I started adding a little LemiShine product to each load. It was recommended by Ree, The Pioneer Woman. I find that it has really helped soften the water each time and produce much cleaner dishes. I guess this may be the same as adding salt, and I may try salt as it would be more economical.

    • I second the LemiShine… Best stuff ever… There is definitely a “trick” to getting your dishes clean in dishwashers… ours works best on certain settings – and of course needs LemiShine & the Finish brand gel packs…

  10. Don’t consider this advertising but what kind of dishwasher do you have and how did you go about choosing one? We’re in the market for one and I don’t know what to look for.

    • I have a Samsung, and we bought it because it was a discounted floor model that wasn’t the cheapest, and it looked good beside the fridge. We didn’t do any research or read reviews for it like we normally would because we were too busy doing other parts of the home renovation, but it worked out.

      • Thanks!

      • I have the exact same dishwasher, also a discounted floor model just before Christmas. It is incredibly quiet, but I think it will be the last dishwasher I buy. I leave space around everything when I load it and still have to unload a lot straight into the sink. With the partial loads, pre- and re-washing, I don’t think it saves me time, money or water. I can choose sanitized or unsanitized crud left on my dishes, but not clean dishes.

        A cabinet would be more useful. Cheaper and completely environmentally friendly, too.

  11. Yes, I love my dishwashers! When we finished out house we moved up in the world to 2 dishwashers, an amazing luxury. Since I’m home with the 3 kids and hubby works from home, and we rarely eat out, I cook 3 meals a day for 5 (sometimes more if we have family over or playdates). That leads to at least 2 loads per day.

    I notice you put your bowls on the bottom rack with your dishes, I’ve finally started doing that too, since the top rack is full of glasses, and sippy cups:)
    Jessica @ Stay at Home-ista´s last post…Technology’s Closet

  12. I’m still reveling in the newness of our dishwasher, which is yet to accumulate any gunk, weird smells, or poor washing habits. But this will be good for when the honeymoon is over and I don’t wake up to perfectly clean dishes every morning.

    Seriously- after not having a dishwasher for the past 6 years, it really does feel like magic to wake up and just have the dishes clean. Makes hosting people for dinner much much easier, too.
    Katherine´s last post…Good Clean Fun

  13. What is “washing salt” and where do you buy it? Does anyone know a brand name?

  14. Someone recently suggested adding a couple of cups of water to the bottom of the dishwasher just before turning it on. I guess it primes the pump (?). Anyhow, that’s what we do and it works really well.
    Heidi´s last post…beautiful, cozy mid-century chairs

  15. I’m going to try the vinegar tip. thank you!

  16. Oh sadly…our dishwasher is broken now and I’m trying to decide if I want the home warranty company to fix it…or if it’s time for a new one. I hate that things aren’t made the way they were because I will not be able to afford a super expensive really great one. I never ever had to look at anything in my now broken dishwasher. It was loud….so loud…but it got the job done. Thanks for the hints!

  17. funny you should post on this today. I had to reload the dishwasher this morning that my husband so lovingly loaded for my last night before I could run it. He puts huge things in the bottom that block the spray from getting to the top. I love him and appreciate it… but I don’t run it that way :)

  18. I’ve had those dishwashers before that were really only useful as a large dish rack- no cleaning power in them what so ever. Fortunately, the dishwasher I have now is fabulous. I never have a problem even with dried on things. It’s a Kenmore. The other thing I use that I think helps a lot is Lemi-Shine. It’s for use if you have hard water and also keeping your dishwasher clean. I think it helps a lot with removing water spots and keeping anything from building up on/in the dishwasher parts.

    A freind of mine who was having problems with her dishwasher found out through trial an error that it was the dish detergent she was using. If you’re having problems, try switching to a name brand and switching types (liquid or powder) and see if there is a big difference in how clean your dishes get.

  19. I’ve heard that lemon jello mix can be used to clean a dishwasher. I don’t eat jello, but if you do apparently it works to get rid of rust and build up.

  20. My dishwasher was not getting my dishes clean after owning it for several years. It turns out that the water line into the washer was clogged from minerals in our water (well water). Thankfully my husband is handy and was able to take it apart and clean it out. Now it works great and I’m much happier.

  21. Thanks for the vinegar tip. I’m going to try it.

  22. We were ready to return our nearly new dishwasher because it didn’t seem to be cleaning our dishes well. Then I heard about the phosphates being removed from the detergent. We bought a small box of of Tri-sodium Phosphate (TSP) at the hardware store. I add about a 1/2 teaspoon along with the detergent and it seems to be helping. (BTW, there is an imitation TSP and I heard it doesn’t work like the real thing.)
    Sherry @ A Happy Valentine´s last post…Happy Groundhog’s Day!

  23. We’ve recently moved to a new house and it’s the first time I’ve lived anywhere without a dishwasher since I was little! It does make a difference without a dishwasher because I always feel a bit silly washing up just a cup or just a plate so I tend to wait till either the beginning of the day or the end and wash it all in bulk!

    If we move to a house with a bigger kitchen, we’ll definitely be getting another so I’ll put this good advice to work then… in the mean time I’ll pass on your wisdom to others,xxx

  24. Funny, I’ve never even thought of checking the sprayer arm. I have tried the vinegar thing, but maybe the sprayer arm is our problem!
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…4 Lessons I Learned From Little House In the Big Woods

  25. First thing I noticed looking at your dishes was that they’re NOT all facing the middle of the dishwasher. It’s usually recommended to put 1/2 the plates facing IN on one side, 1/2 facing IN on the other side so the spray goes towards the dirty side of the plates.

    • The owner’s manual for ours recommends to place them facing the same way.

      • Karen (Scotland) says:

        Have to say I’m sure Judy is right here. The spray comes from the centre so all dishes should face the middle as much as possible.
        Unless yours sprays from the left (no idea how US dishwashers vary from ours but that looks similar to a UK model and you mentioned a rotating arm so I’m guessing the spray comes from the centre too) then dishes facing the outside wall of a dishwasher won’t be cleaned so effectively.
        Ask Doug – the male part of his brain will see the logic, I’m guessing.
        :-)
        Karen (Scotland)

  26. THANK YOU Sherry!!! We have a new dishwasher that wouldn’t get the dishes clean until I started using those expensive Cascade pillow thingies. I will try regular dishwashing soap and TSP. Brilliant!

  27. Michele Harvey says:

    We have terribly hard water and lots of problems with white build up and dishes not coming clean. I read an article recently, in Consumer Digest I think, that said a particular brand of cleaner that comes in little pillows that are a combination of powder and gel is the best, even with hard water. We are trying it and so far, the results are great.

  28. Two things saved my dishwashing experience: Ecover dish tablets everyday and a weekly capful of Young Living’s Thieves Household Cleaner in the bottom of the machine. One got the dishes SQUEAKY clean and the other kept the washer itself in tip top condition. Darling Husband blessed both resources saying he had to clean the sprayer holes and drain far fewer times.

    • I second the advice on using the Ecover tablets. They really get the dishes clean! We actually have a salt compartment in our dishwasher but I don’t fill it–I should b/c we have very hard water. But the tablets work great. I even did a comparison to the Ecover powder–it didn’t last as long and didn’t do quite as good of a job.

      When looking for a dishwasher, bring your plates and bowls in to try in the display model–to make sure they fit both height and width wise. We’re lucky on ours because the heights of our top rack is adjustable. Also, if you ever have a chance to buy a dishwasher with a third rack for just silverware–definitely do it. It might seem awkward at first but it is truly a space saver and I love that rack!

  29. When we lived in an apartment, I realized that my daughter’s wouldn’t know how to wash dishes well by hand, so we decided to repurpose the dishwasher and use it as a pantry for extra storage. We continued the tradition when we moved into our house with a cumbersome rolling dishwasher. It now serves as a microwave cart and pantry. Yeah!

  30. The only detergent that works in my dishwasher is Cascade, but just the gel-pacs.The regular powder or gel gum up. My SIL and MIL swear by Diamond Brite, but it just doesn’t work for me. Once in a while, all the dishes will be really cloudy. The vinegar trick works for that.

    I actually love that your dishes are in rainbow order and I would not think you were weird if you put them in that way:)

  31. I really appreciate all the helpful comments here. We have been hand washing dishes for almost a year because our dishwasher just constantly stops cleaning the dishes and I can’t bear to ask my poor dh to tear it apart again.

    Please explain about adding salt to a dw with no special compartment. Also, are the ecotablets an addition to detergent or a replacement?
    Lori´s last post…{pretty, happy, funny, real}: The Day I Ate Exactly What I Wanted for Dinner

  32. I put vinegar in the rinse holder and I always pour about a cup of vinegar into the dishwasher before running. It helps our dishwasher cope with hard water.

  33. Great reminder to take care of what we have instead of justing buying a new appliance. I need to remember to clean out with the vinegar. I just wish the smell didn’t bother me to much!
    Emily @ Random Recycling´s last post…Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker Review

  34. Ours is about 5 years old and still works great. Didn’t know about the vinegar. And always thought I needed to fill the detergent to the rim. I use Lemon Cascade. It seems to keep the inside odor-free.

    These are super tips. Thanks!!
    Donna´s last post…SMILE: Bead Soup Beads Sent and Received

  35. I love using vinegar to clean just about everything in my house from the dishwasher, to the coffee maker. It works so well to get rid of any build up or smells. I just started noticing my dishwasher getting the “gunk” where the door closes. I’ll have to get my husband to scrape it out and sanitize….I prefer to not throw up into the dishwasher. :o)

  36. ah, I’d never thought about number 4 before…
    Kait Palmer´s last post…Tatum’s Twenty-Sixth Week

  37. If buying a new oneitz definitely worth checking your dishes fit, andthinking about how you will use it. We chose one with lots of collapsable dividers as we use ours differently a lot, so can collapse part of the lower level to put baking dishes in flat, and put up or down dividers on top depending on whether we are washing baby bottles, plasticware, side plates or pint glasses for example. My parents have one with just tiers on top and struggle to place taller cups, they have to wash plastic containers by hand, and they can’t put their larger plates or mixing bowls in at all. They don’t mind but it would infuriate me.

  38. We generally only have issues with dried on food not coming off things at the outside corners, or if hubby overfills things. It bugs him when I rearrange things he puts in, but I have a system that generally works and if I leave things his way they often turn over, collecting water, or just don’t get any waterflow and stay dirty.

    • Ditto for me! I try to rearrange things and do the wash/unload when he’s not around. Or I let the dishwasher run, then re-wash the stuff that got put in ‘wrong.’

  39. We tend to be a throw-in randomly and overfill to boot family….we will learn from this !
    Tasmanian Minimalist´s last post…Food Waste Friday Courtesy of http://www.thefrugalgirl.com

  40. yours looks just like mine – like it was made and then different brands stuck their names on it :)

    I was having this problem, too. I was always having to rinse things after the load was done and it was incredibly frustrating. I thought I’d wasted all that money. My washer had a “suggested brand” of detergent and as soon as I switched away from that brand, mine have been sparkling clean since. And I always have to check the arm to make sure nothing is blocking. And sometimes I forget and load things so that something is blocking where the water comes out.

    I have always been fascinated by people who are particular about how their dishes go in the washer, but now that I have my own system and know what gets all the dishes clean, I have become “that person”!

    • I bet they did make the same one and then put different brands on it. So many brands are owned by the same few companies, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  41. You are such a genius! Thanks so much for sharing! I had never thought about the hot water or garbage disposal and I have NEVER checked to see if the holes are clogged.

  42. I’m have never lived in a house/apartment that had a dishwasher, until 3 yrs ago. I grew up without one (my mom didn’t like them). I am not “dishwasher friendly” as in, I don’t know the proper way to fill/use them. The one we had there was old and didn’t work well, so I didn’t use it. Now I just moved to a new house with a new dishwasher, but I am so out of the habit that I haven’t used it yet. All our pots and knives are not dishwasher safe. Our non-stick gets detergent residue buildup on the outside. We’re still hand-washing everything, but we don’t have kids yet. Maybe that will change.

    • We have a dishwasher and have lived in our house for 6 years and have never used it, we use it for storage instead. We have a 3 year old and between my husband and I, we wash the dishes every night. It takes about 10-20 minutes depending on how many dishes and the night of the week. I think it’s relaxing to wash the dishes and I can feel accomplished because I’m actually getting something done. Reading through these comments make me feel like dealing with a dishwasher that doesn’t clean dishes isn’t something I want to add to my day. Give me some good smelling dish soap and a pretty sponge and I’m set.

  43. I recently purchased a Bosch and it works great. Had it for about 3 months and I love it. When I was documenting myself on the cleaning the dishwasher , my manual said to use a dishwasher cleaner made by Finish that you put in and run an empty load and usually takes care of all the nasty stuff in the dishwasher. My sister-in-law does that and it works pretty good. i haven’t had to do it yet.My dishes still come out spotless. I use finish detergent and I am pleased compared to the Cascade I used before. One thing that I always do too , I run the hot water for a few seconds so the temperature rises quicker and the dishwasher starts taking the hottest water right a way.

  44. Sometimes I think the dishwasher might be the grossest, dirtiest part of our home. Still, I continue to use the thing. I’ve tried myriad healthier dishwashing soaps and have settled on Bio-Vert dish tabs (chlorine/phosphate free). I do run vinegar through once in while. Still, I think that once my kids leave home I would definitely revert back to handwashing.
    Kika@embracingimperfection´s last post…This Child Of Mine :: living & loving in a biracial family

  45. Great tip about cleaning out the dishwasher every so often. I do this, as well. Many people don’t think that it’s necessary, but there definitely can be some build-up every couple months after frequent use.

  46. Our dishwasher (a low-end Bosch) requires a rinse agent. We use vinegar and it works really well. It also requires powder detergent, and I agree with you that it cleans better with less. Hooray!

    Thanks for another great post. :)

  47. We have a Danby Portable Dishwasher (http://www.amazon.com/Danby-Designer-DDW1899WP-Dishwasher-Qualified/dp/B0038ZS91G) it is about half the size of a normal built-in, but having not had a dishwasher most of my life, I love it!

    We have really hard water and this dishwasher has a built in water softening unit and we use somat salt in that. Drawbacks are I have to hook it up to the kitchen sink and it runs (quietly) for over two hours (close to three I think), so I can’t really do much in the kitchen while the dishwasher is running. But, it has a water heating element so I just turn on the cold water to the dishwasher and it does the rest.

    It cleans everything very well, but I noticed the spoons weren’t always getting very clean. I now make sure those are the utensils closest to the sprayers and always make sure they are turned toward the sprayers.

    Great article, thanks!
    Barbara´s last post…My Thing

  48. It is the soap. The government (EPA) has forced the manufacturers to take phosphates out of all dishwasher soap. It does not clean as well. They have also taken it out of laundry soap. Notice how your clothes feel scratchy, they are using more salts in the laundry detergents instead of phosphates. I can’t seem to get whites white anymore.
    Thank the EPA.
    Plants need phosphate to grow. It isn’t a poison. I want phosphates back. Taking care of a household is hard enough with out the government making things harder.

    • Plants don’t need as much phosphate as we were giving them. There are sound ecological reasons for reducing them. But I feel your pain!

      Try adding citric acid to your dishwasher and oxyclean to the whites load. So far it’s working great for me and we have very very hard water.

  49. How is our dishwasher working? Well, our dishes are always nice and clean, so I guess I’m doing okay :)

    Seriously, seeing all the comments here makes me glad I do my dishes by hand; I don’t think I could put up with all these problems!

  50. We had my grandparents over for dinner one night and after watching my work on the dishes for a while my grandpa said, “So you wash the dishes twice?”

    Um… yeah. If I don’t scrub all the food off before I put it in the dishwasher then the food gets baked on at some point during the cycle. I have the heated-dry-cycle off, so I don’t know how it happens. I’ve never been impressed with the dishwasher in our apartment (brand: Hotpoint). I just figured it was a cheap dishwasher.

    I knew not to use too much soap. It doesn’t get rinsed all the way off when you use too much. Our apartment manager suggested running the hot water in the sink before running the dishwasher, but I don’t think we do that very often. I usually do a visual check of the drain when I’m unloading. But it never occurred to me to check the sprayer arm! I’ve also never ‘cleaned’ the dishwasher like you suggest in #5. I’m totally going to do those two things tomorrow!

    Also, I voluntarily started using phosphate-free dishwasher detergent a few years ago, but after reading the article mentioned in an earlier comment I think that the regular brands had already taken phosphate out before I made the switch. We don’t have hard water though, so I don’t have a lot of the problems with build up and gunk mentioned in many of the other comments.

  51. tiffany h says:

    Over the years I have learned a few tricks like other readers have mentioned:

    -don’t stuff and over fill the dishwasher
    -place dishes as to not block the sprayer arm
    -run hot water from faucet before starting dishwasher
    -don’t use gel detergent, it gums up dishwasher

    I’m going to try the vinegar trick. I use it to clean coffee maker and washing machine so I’m sure it will be great for the dishwasher.

    Thanks Rachel and your readers for all the great insight on making the most of my dishwasher.

  52. we discovered years ago that due to our hard water, cascade is the only detergent that gets our dishes clean. we also fill the rinse aid unit with vinegar as well as add about 1/4 c. of vinegar to each cycle (i just pour it in the filter area). makes a huge difference.

    also, our bottom rack is designed so that the plate racks are split down the middle meaning that you can stack your dishes so that they all will face the middle. this means they will all get a direct hit of water rather than half of them getting a direct hit on the front of the plate and the other half getting a direct hit on the back…does that make sense?

  53. It’s funny because when my dishwasher crapped out in the summer, I did all the things you mentioned and it worked fine after that, but the kids had become used to washing the dishes by hand, and I liked that, so I never told them the dishwasher was fine! It still sits there, unused, but that’s ok by me! I now have two teenaged boys who stand at the sink together and do something to contribute to keeping our house in order – it’s the miracle of the broken dishwasher :)
    Diane´s last post…Who knew putting on pants would turn out to be such a good decision?

  54. One note about dishwashers. . . they should be used occasionally so all the gaskets don’t dry out.

  55. My dishwasher has leftover detergent blob happening, so I am really happy that you shared these tips and I am going to use #5 to see if that helps.

    Your rainbow color dishes (even though it is coincidence as I know) looks amazing. I have plates and bowls from different brands so it does not look that way at all! Looks like a gourmet dishes to be displayed in “beautiful home” type magazine!

    Preeti
    Zengirl @ Heart and Mind´s last post…Top 10 Must See Romantic Movies

  56. The water is very hard where we live & a water softener is a must. I can always tell when the softener is running low on salt because the dishwasher doesn’t get the dishes clean & there is lots of dried, baked-on gunk – yuck! Once the salt is refilled, it works fine.

  57. I didn’t take the time to read through all of the answers, but I have discovered that white vinegar in place of those expensive rinse agents works wonders on glasses! p.s. I kind of like your rainbow of dishes ;)

    • I second that! Don’t run an empty cycle with vinegar — put your glasses in! Two birds, one stone.

  58. We have really hard water. We use Lemme Shine and detergent to get everything good and clean with no residue. Vinegar didn’t cut it for us but Lemme Shine did the trick!

  59. I have never heard of using “salts” in the dishwasher. Wouldn’t even know where it would go. Luckily our water is fairly neutral, so we don’t have too much issues. I use a store brand that works fine. I tend to wash my big stuff by hand and run dishwasher every other day since it is just hubby and I now.

    My oldest daughter (who has 6 kids and cooks A LOT) gave up buying dish detergent. She uses a Tbs of borax, Tbs of washing soda, Tbs of vinegar. Works great for her! Some of you that have issues might consider trying and tweaking til you get what works for you.

    Great post, Rachel!
    Bernice @ The Stressed Mom´s last post…Moms, stress, and matters of the heart

  60. when our new d/w was installed, we were told that the two biggest ways to save money (and energy) are to:
    - get the water running hot from your tap before starting the machine. otherwise, the machine has to heat up the water inside of it, which uses more energy.
    - turn off the dry cycle.

    for some reason, it seems that regular cascade powder works way better than cascade complete for us… and it’s cheaper!

  61. There is hope!
    The no-phosphates dishwasher detergent is pretty lousy.
    Consumer Reports had an article about it awhile back.
    I have found the best advice is to use the Cascade packets or the Finish tablets. I get great results with either of these products!!
    No more washing the dishes before I put them in the dishwasher!

  62. The dishwashers are fine, it’s the fact that they took phosphates out of the dishwasher detergent. I found this tip – add 1/4 cup Borax to the load. It worked for me. There’s also a product that was recommended called Lemi Shine . My flatware instructions said not to use any lemon products, so I haven’t tried it. I also found that the more expensive detergents (of course)like Finish Quantum work the best.
    Now my rant – I’m wondering if all the rewashing (using more electricity, water, and detergent) and using additives is doing as much harm to the environment as taking out the phospates is saving the environment.