Dishwasher and Image

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 and Image


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.

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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 racks 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 chance to get filled up.

As part of your monthly clean, place a bowl or large cup of white vinegar inside the dishwasher … and that’s all; no other dishes, pans or utensils. Now, run it set to the hottest and longest wash cycle.

Or another option is to 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


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    • 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.

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

      • 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 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 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?)

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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!!

      • 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 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.

  7. 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?

    • 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.

  8. 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!

    • 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.

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