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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  1. 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 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
  2. 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 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
  3. 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 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 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 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
  4. 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 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 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 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
  5. 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 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
  6. 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 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 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?

  7. 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 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
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