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.


During our recent kitchen remodel, we donated the old appliances to Habitat for Humanity, all except for my stripped down 14-year-old Whirlpool dishwasher.

Even though it has been replaced, it awaits its new home in our future basement remodel. I could not part with it. It does a flawless job, not because it’s such a high-end machine but because I have learned the secrets of how to get any dishwasher to perform well.

I don’t care how old your dishwasher is. If it will turn on, spray water and go through some kind of cycle, you can turn out sparkling clean dishes. Trust me on this. 

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 by cleaning the sprayer arm and the hoses fairly often—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 easily become clogged. Once a month or so, 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 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!

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Question: Are you a habitual rinser/pre-washer or a scraper? No judging here, just a quick poll using the comments below. 

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