Want Cleaner Dishes? Follow These Dishwasher Dos And Don’ts

Yay for dishwashers! I know of no kitchen appliance that improves my life as much as my dishwasher does. After living in a series of rentals with no dishwasher for most of my 20s, I’m now loving home ownership, complete with an ultra-fancy Frigidaire that gets my dishes squeaky clean.

And although dishwashers often seem pretty self-explanatory—place dirty dishes inside, press start, the end, right?—there are quite a few ways you can optimize your dishwasher use to save water, get cleaner dishes and make your machine run more smoothly. Here are our dishwasher dos and don’ts

DO: Learn how to load properly

Arguments over the “right” way to load the dishwasher are common. A 2015 report found that a full 40 percent of American couples argue over which ways the plates should go and how to place the glasses in the top rack. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Educate yourself and your family members about the correct way to load the dishwasher by reading the manual that came with your machine. (If you bought it secondhand, there’s a good chance the manual is available online with some careful Googling). If you’re still puzzled on just where and how to place your dishes, this video from YouTuber Melissa of Clean My Space will set you straight.

DO: Run at night

Did you know that utility companies charge less for water used at non-peak times? That’s why it’s a good idea to run your dishwasher when you sleep. Just load it up after dinner and remember to press start before you hit the sheets. Running it at night also makes it easier to get into a routine with your dishes, since you know you’ll always have clean dishes to put away in the morning.

DO: Organize utensils

Sort utensils by type so it’s easier to put them away when you unload. Be sure to place knives sharp side down. Avoid spoons “spooning,” as this will prevent them from getting clean. So when you group them, place some spoons spoon-side up, and some down.


DO: Clean your dishwasher

Experts say you should clean your actual dishwasher about once a month. Follow the directions of home expert Bob Vila via the TODAY show and try a drain clear, vinegar wash and baking soda rinse. This is sure to keep your machine in optimal working shape over time.

DO: Use a rinse aid

Martha Stewart’s website reports that rinse aids actually play an important role in getting your dishes clean. They lower the surface tension of the water being used in the washing process so it’s harder for droplets to form on your dishes. This is most useful if there’s hard water in your area.

DO: Choose the right cycle

Have you ever found yourself choosing the “pots and pans” cycle for a particularly filthy load of dishes…a load that doesn’t actually include many pots and pans? While it makes sense in the moment to use the heaviest cycle, it’s actually not the most efficient in terms of cleaning or water use. Be judicious and take time to actually select the appropriate cycle for the dishes or other items.

DON’T: Rinse your dishes before washing

I know, I know. How will dishes ever fully get get clean if you don’t do that trusty rinse before putting them in the dishwasher? I’ve got one word for you: scrape. That’s right: a simple scrape of food residue will work just as well as a full rinse. Jill Notini, spokesperson for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, told Real Simple that today’s machines can handle some food residue, especially if they’re washed within a day of the meal.

dish sink photo
Getty Images | Joe Raedle

DON’T: Unload the top rack first

It seems only natural to go for the top when you open to unload, but doing so can splash leftover water on the clean dishes below. Unload the bottom rack first and then any pesky liquid will fall into the empty dishwasher cavity instead of onto your sparkling dishes.

DON’T: Overdo it on the detergent

More is not more in terms of detergent use. The more detergent you use, the greater the opportunity for the soap to leave residue on your plates, cups and bowls. Vernon Schmidt, a repairman of 35 years, told the New York Times in 2010 that “Most people use 10 to 15 times the amount of soap they need, and they’re pouring money down the drain.” You don’t actually have to fill up the entire soap container in the dishwasher to make sure your items are getting clean—just shy of the fill line (or even less!) will work fine.