Dishwasher-filled-with-clean-dishes-and-bright-start

How to Make Even an Old Dishwasher Perform Like New

There are many things in my life that I enjoy, but would not be completely devastated if required to give them up. My dishwasher is not one of them.

 

dishwasher-filled-with-clean-dishes-and-bright-start

 

During our recent kitchen remodel, we got rid of the appliances, all except for my stripped down 14-year-old Whirlpool dishwasher.

Even though it has been replaced, it has found a new home across town with our son and family. It continues to do a flawless job, not because it’s such a high-end machine (it’s not), but because I have learned the secrets of how to get any dishwasher to perform well.

It doesn’t matter how old your dishwasher is. If it will turn on, spray hot water and go through some kind of cycle, you can turn out sparkling clean dishes. You just need to know a few secrets about cleaning, maintaining, and operating it.

Stop rinsing, just STOP!

You are wasting water but more than that you are removing one of the key ingredients necessary to activate modern-day automatic dishwashing detergent: acid. Automatic dishwasher detergent is formulated to work with food. 

Scrape the chunks

Do not use water, do not pre-wash the dishes. Simply scrape off all chunks of food with a rubber scraper spatula.

Load properly

If you don’t have your owner manual, go online to get a copy. Do an online search for your particular machine or go to a site like Kitchen Manuals Online. Look at the diagrams. There is a proper way to load a dishwasher. Failure to load correctly will return disappointing results. Once loaded, make sure all the moving parts can move. The spray arm should spin freely without hitting anything.

Measure the detergent

Stop dumping, and start measuring. And here’s where I become a brand snob. Usually, I say go for cheap, but I am passionate about buying the good stuff for my dishwasher.

Spend a little more to use a high-quality product like Cascade Platinum automatic dishwashing pods (not all machines are compatible with pods, so check this out for your machine) or Cascade Complete Gel Dishwasher Liquid. You have many choices. Just keep in mind that too much or too little automatic dishwashing detergent can be a big problem. Again, read the owner manual to see how much to use. Prepare for this to be dependent on the “hardness” of your water.

Call your water company and ask this question: How hard is my water? They will give you a rating in “grains,” as in 17 grains on the hardness scale. With that information, look in your owner manual to see how many tablespoons of detergent you need per load. Unless you use a pre-measured product, be sure to always measure carefully.

Make it HOT!

The water needs to be at its hottest the moment that first burst of water enters the dishwasher. A blast of cold water may defeat the purpose of using high quality detergent.

Do this: Before starting the machine, turn on the hot water in the sink. Let it run until the water it is coming out hot. Now turn off the faucet and start the dishwasher.

Consider your options

Remember that Normal is only a setting on your dishwasher, not a personal affirmation. For an experiment, ditch Normal and try another setting, like Heavy (again, this is not personal) or Pots and Pans. Give those other settings a try. You’ll get a longer washing cycle and hotter water. Go for the gusto to see what happens.

Keep it clean

You need to clean and maintain the inside of your dishwasher. Monthly is good. Follow these simple steps with photos for how to remove the sprayer arm and clean out all of those little holes that can so easily become clogged.

Next remove all of the rack and clean the inside of the machine. Look for the filter cap. Remove  and pull out all of the grunge and accumulation. Yes, it’s gross but if you start doing this regularly, it won’t have a change to get filled up.

As part of your monthly clean, dump a packet of unsweetened lemon Kool-Aid powder into the detergent cup and run the machine empty on the longest cycle and hottest water possible to clean the insides and the connecting hoses. The citric acid in the powder will do the trick. Or use a product like Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner.

I hear you

I know that many reading this are scoffing about now. You’re muttering that your dishwasher is too old to wash properly, or your water too hard or some other reason why your dishwasher is all but worthless, which means you have to wash the dishes before dishwashing them. Or maybe you’ve stopped using it altogether because you just gave up.

Either way, indulge me. Give my method outlined above a chance. Just hold your nose and load those dirty dishes properly with the right amount of detergent on a robust cycle and the hottest water possible.

I can’t wait to hear what happens!

Updated: 7-24-19

 

Question: Are you a habitual rinser/pre-washer or a scraper? Let’s take a quick poll using the comments below. 


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56 replies
  1. Angela
    Angela says:

    The link above for Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner, takes you to Amazon for the Affresh Washer Cleaner which should NOT be used in a dishwasher according to the reviews and feedback. Affresh Washer Cleaner is for Cloths Washers only.

    Reply
      • sadnana
        sadnana says:

        I tried to read the label to determine the ingredients, but they don’t seem to be listed. However, I did see the word descale and that tells me that this is probably just citric acid. You can buy citric acid for much less money.

  2. katyll
    katyll says:

    Or just use Cascade with phosphates (now packaged as Cascade Fryer Boil Out.) My dishwasher is 15 years old. I have used ONLY Cascade with phosphates since I bought it (having been told this by a plumber, who also said never, ever use gels or pacs.) After 15 years of constant use and no special cleaning or upkeep, my dishwasher is spotlessly clean, and has never, ever had a day of trouble.

    Oh, and my dishes, glassware, and cutlery sparkles with no stains or spots. Everything comes out perfect.

    All the trouble with dishwashers is directly related to the banning of phosphates by moronic politicians.

    Reply
    • Ann
      Ann says:

      I applaud everyone who cares about and makes a conscious effort to protect our environment. For that reason I will not use a product with phosphates since they are PROVEN to be detrimental to our environment and aquatic life. There have been so many improvements in the performance of dishwashing detergents that there is no reason to use an outdated and harmful product.

      Reply
      • katyll
        katyll says:

        Then why is there still a ton of phosphates in rivers and other bodies of water? Oh yes, phosphate fertilizer, which was always the largest polluter. Residential use of phosphates was always minimal at its height. But banning residential use gave some a sense of the righteous good-feels, and it’s never about balancing one thing against another. It’s always about what makes some folks ‘feel’ good.

        Phosphates WORK and don’t harm appliances. That’s why homeowners keep trying to find them. Nothing works nearly as well when it comes to cleaning dishes or clothes.

      • katyll
        katyll says:

        Actually, residential use of phosphates was always a minimal polluter. Now, years after dumb politicians caved to the enviro loons, phosphates still pollute. So what’s causing it? Fertilizer from huge agri businesses.

        So if you’re OK with dirty dishes, have at it. My use of phosphates has saved me tons of aggravation and money, and I’ll keep using it, one way or another, until he!! freezes over. 🙂

  3. Chanitele Cordle
    Chanitele Cordle says:

    I was raised with a dishwasher and refuse to be without one! I too have been having a little trouble with the white powdery stuff on my rubbermaid lids. Will try to lookl for that Lemishine. I do use the Jet Rinse Aid. Love your advice! Always helpful!

    Reply
  4. Birgit Nicolaisen
    Birgit Nicolaisen says:

    I pre-rinse dishes. Hmmm, will obviously have to think this again. We usually only run our dishwasher once or twice a week, so the thought of food sitting on dishes and getting moldy has me concerned. I wash much by hand – pots, good knives and any plastic ware. I’ve had plastic melt in the dishwasher, so I only do it by hand now.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Run it and wash those dishes every day. Every single day that you have dishes to wash. Maybe I’ve said that a few times already? Stinky, dirty dishes in a nice clean tidy home just do not make any sense at all.

      Reply
  5. Heather Yoney Colley
    Heather Yoney Colley says:

    The removal of phosphates has caused my dishes to be coated with a white powder, and my glasses white plus etched. I have found that adding Lemishine Dishwasher Booster stops that problem in its tracks. I actually thought my problem was my dishwasher, and bought a new one, only to see the buildup start again. Lemishine fixed it.

    Reply
    • sadnana
      sadnana says:

      We used to buy Lemishine but it was expensive and hard to find. Now we buy citric acid powder. It’s cheaper, easier to find, and works just as well.

      Reply
  6. Janet
    Janet says:

    Mary, I’m one of your many faithful readers and share much of your values, i.e. Costco, Cascade and Dawn!
    Since you are discussing dishwashers today I wanted to ask how to decide, (other than convenience) between Cascade powder, gel or the pods. I have a water softener so I doubt the pods would be correct measurement for me but also I assumed the cost per wash of pods and gel would be more per wash than powder. Also, I thought manufacturers recommended powder over gel. Sadly, Costco doesn’t seem to carry the powder anymore. Any wisdom/thoughts? Thanks!

    Reply
    • sadnana
      sadnana says:

      My appliance repair man told us to never use gels. He said that they can destroy the machine. The gel doesn’t completely dissolve and accumulates in the parts you can’t see. This could be dependent on the hardness or temperature of the water, but why take a chance?

      Reply
      • Mary Hunt
        Mary Hunt says:

        Well, my appliance store recommended gel (haven;t needed a repairman.). I suggest you read your manual and make your own determination. And I do clean the filters regularly. Once a month if not more often.

    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      My dishwasher is actually two dishwashers in one … I have dishwasher drawers. And they are smaller than an entire regular dishwasher, so a pod it too much detergent. So I use Cascade gel (liquid) from Costco. I can measure exaclty and it works super well. And I use rinse aid. And I run one or both every day. Every. Single. Day. Unless we are traveling. A dishwasher is not place to store dirty, germy, stinky, dishes.

      Reply
  7. Deena Costley
    Deena Costley says:

    There’s just two of us in my house and we don’t fill up the dishwasher every day. We usually run it about every other day or so. It’s kinda scary to let dishes sit with food on them to harden. So has this method been proven to work when the dishes have set inside the dishwasher for a day or so? Think an bowl that held oatmeal that will turn into something resembling concrete.

    Reply
    • katyll
      katyll says:

      We don’t run our dishwasher every day, and I have never, ever pre-rinsed. I have stuff days old that turns crusty, but it all comes off with Cascade with phosphates. Absolutely nothing sticks! It even cleans tomato sauce stains off rubbermaid containers, and leaves them completely clean with no greasy feel.

      Reply
    • April
      April says:

      I also run my dishwasher every other day sometimes every 2 days…nightly though, I run the rinse cycle so nothing becomes too dried on.

      Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Two people make dirty dishes. The dishwasher doesn’t have to be completely full to wash them. Save them up during the day and hit “Wash” at the end of the day. I’m thinking this may be the reason so many people write to me to say their dishwashers just don’t work. A dishwasher is a wonderful thing, but only if you use it properly.

      Reply
  8. mgibbs
    mgibbs says:

    I have always “pre-washed” (rinsed) my dishes whether hand washing or using dishwasher. I’d love to ditch that habit but there are only two of us. When egg and other foods dry on the dishes, I’m afraid they will not come off easily (unless you’re talking about washing EVERY day). Please advise.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Yep, mgibbs. Every. Day. Don’t let dirty dishes sit in there day after day! That’s creating a smelly situation that is beyond what your dishwasher was created for. Every. Day.

      Reply
  9. Linda Pries
    Linda Pries says:

    I recently moved into a home with a dishwasher. Now I have never, ever in my life used a dishwasher, and I’m in my 60’s. I refuse to use the thing because I am scared to death I will do something wrong and break it. I found the manual, but it hasn’t changed my mindset. I keep telling myself I should run it at least once a month, but so far I haven’t convinced myself to do it. My own two hands have worked well all these years and I believe they will continue to do so.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Oh, Linda. Use it. It will make your life easier. You’ve learned to use a computer and I’ll bet you drive a car. You can’t break a dishwasher unless you take a sledgehammer to it!

      Reply
      • tinydogpries
        tinydogpries says:

        The other reason I hesitate to use it is that preparing meals for just myself simply doesn’t generate enough dishes to warrant using it. I would be either constantly running loads half full or doing one full load a week. Would, for instance, cheese sauce that has dried on for a week still come off?

  10. Kathy Orton
    Kathy Orton says:

    I have always washed my dishes before I put them in my dishwasher. The dishwasher in the condo I rent leaves a white film on most of my dishes. I hate it. Don’t know what’s causing it. I use the rinse aid in the dispenser. I use pods and I’ve cleaned the dishwasher as well. Will try turning hot water on in sink first and taking it off normal.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      When did you last clean the filter? You may be adding too much detergent. Find the owner manual for that machine online and see how much it requires. I’d pour some vinegar in there as well.

      Reply
  11. G Helms
    G Helms says:

    Only a scraper here. 🙂 Also, a repairman told me not to use the gel packs, they never fully dissolve & clog some areas.

    Reply
  12. Q
    Q says:

    I used lemon Kool-Aid w/ no results, but Affesh is outstanding. Bought a bulk pkg. and it was reasonably priced after searching different sellers. First time, I ran 2 cycles / packs to remove accumulated buildup, but haven’t done it again, because it has stayed clean for months. I would be concerned about ants if leaving food on items in the dishwasher, but may do it in the winter to try. When I buy anything except Cascade Complete, I am disappointed w/ results.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Run it daily! Spread the items out so they have lots of room and wash the days’ worth of dishes etc. Dried on food on dishes in a close dishwasher just makes an awful stinky mess. Your dishwasher was never meant to be used occasionally. Or weekly … when it’s gathering dirty dishes all week.

      Reply
  13. Kim Schaeffer Venezia
    Kim Schaeffer Venezia says:

    I’m guilty of washing my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher…and also of number of other things you mention above. I’m going to follow your check list and let you know how I made out!

    Reply
  14. sadnana
    sadnana says:

    There is one exception to the no scraping policy and that is cheese. I can’t think of a worse mess than melted and redeposited cheese on dishes that have just come through a clean cycle in the dishwasher. It will also form an extremely difficult to remove clog in the washer arm, etc.

    Reply
      • sadnana
        sadnana says:

        My crew loves nachos, and that involves melted cheese that is stuck to the dishes. That can’t be completely scraped off, and any cheese left on the plate will come off when the hot water in the dishwasher hits it. And that cheese has to go somewhere. It’s too gooey to go through the outlet that takes solids out of the dishwasher, so it will be redeposited somewhere. That could be on the other dishes or on the inside of the dishwasher. Both result in a big mess. I’d rather just wash the cheese off by hand with cold water before the plates go into the dishwasher.

      • tboofy
        tboofy says:

        It may not be the most economical or environmentally positive, but I always use paper plates for nachos, for that exact reason. I don’t want to stick it down my drain or my dishwasher.

      • Mary Hunt
        Mary Hunt says:

        Yes scraping chunks is mandatory! Even if it washes off, it clogs the filter and creates a stinky, awful mess (Have you cleaned the filter lately?)

  15. Happy Homeowner
    Happy Homeowner says:

    Our dishwasher had a layer of white sediment coating all the insides. My daughter mentioned using white vinegar in with the detergent. After 1 month of using the vinegar with every wash, the insides were like brand new again.

    Reply
  16. Maryann Sezaki
    Maryann Sezaki says:

    I do rinse, but am going to try to switch to just scraping. I usually use one of the Cascade pods, but the magic touch that I found (we live in southern California, where the water is SO hard) is adding 1/4 to 1/3 cup of white vinegar each time I run the dishwasher. Our glasses come out spot-free, the stainless steel interior of the dishwasher, after nearly two years, is still spotless, and everything feels clean.

    Reply
  17. Mary
    Mary says:

    Mary, tell me you have tried this “no pre-rinse” method with dishes that have dried oatmeal, egg, and cheese, and have sat for a full week! Yes, a week. Please tell us when you have tried this. In the meantime, I will continue to pre-rinse my dishes if I am not washing them immediately.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Well no I don’t let dishes sit for a full week. You need to use you dishwasher daily. If not, then spend the time and money to wash them by hand and use your dishwasher for a weekly sterilizer. You cannot expect your dishwasher to work well, the way it made to work, if you are not using it the say the manufacturer intended that you would. Daily dishwashing. Save up the dishes and other dishwasher safe items throughout and run it after dinner. That just makes sense. It was not made to be a repository for dirty dishes and left there for days.

      Reply
  18. Jana
    Jana says:

    I am a rinser, my dishes never come out clean unless I do, I also open up the detergent paks, use 2 instead of one and sprinkle the powder on the bottom of the dishwasher – they never dissolve in the compartment in the door and I end up cleaning a mushy mess of detergent out of my silverware basket… I run the tap to get it hot before starting and use vinegar in the rinse aid compartment. I have soft water too, but this is the only way I get clean dishes. Sometimes I also sprinkle in citric acid. I’m going to take your advice Mary and see what happens, i’m a normal cycle gal as well so i’m going to change it up, do a deep clean of the machine, start using Cascade, and see what I can get my dishwasher to do for me! Thank you so much for all the great tips and – readers, I love your comments and tips too!!

    Reply
      • Jana
        Jana says:

        Sadly, i don’t even know where the filter is! I am also running the dishwasher every other day – so perhaps it’s too full as well. I vow to find the filter, clean it and then run it every day like it was meant to be used, and no more rinsing, only scraping. I’ll keep you posted on my results! Thanks again Mary!

    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Yes you should scrape them regardless. That’s what I mean by removing the chunks with a rubber spatula. Remember dirty dishes sitting in a dishwasher for hours or days, get hard stuff stuck to the and they stink. Just use your dishwasher once a day, the way it was made to be used.

      Reply
  19. Deena Costley
    Deena Costley says:

    there’s only 2 of us in our house and we only run our dishwasher a couple times a week (I see other’s do the same). So will this method work for dishes that have set in the dishwasher a couple days?

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      I wouldn’t recommend that, Deena. Run that awesome machine once each day, even if it is not full. You don’t want the food on the dishes to get hardened. If you don’t want to run it daily, I suggest you just start doing your dishes by hand.

      Reply
  20. Char
    Char says:

    I have not rinsed my dishes for years and fill detergent cup half full of Walmart brand dishwasher powder and rarely have unclean dishes. Too much dishwashing detergent will cause pitted glasses. Hot water is a must!

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      You’re right … sizzling hot. My new dishwasher heats the water to 140 F before it releases it into the machine. That’s the ideal temperature for great dishwashing results.

      Reply

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