10 Things You Didn’t Know About…Using Your Dishwasher
If, like me, you ever spent a significant part of your adult life living without a dishwasher, then you’ll know what I’m talking about: the indescribable feeling of supreme comfort and ease the first time you load your very first dishwasher after a big dinner, press that button and hear it hum to life.
Whatever conflicted feelings we may have about technology, at that moment it seems like humanity couldn’t possibly have come up with a more perfect invention (forget antibiotics or automobiles). For all the promise of microwaves, we may not be able to cook dinner with a touch of a button, but we can come close to cleaning up after dinner by pressing one.
Their genius, of course, is their simplicity — even a kid could operate one of these, right? And while that’s (mostly) true, a few simple tricks can make sure your dishes come out spotless every time.
Getting your salmon to cook perfectly in your dishwasher, however … that may take some practice.
You don’t have to rinse your dishes before loading them — in fact, experts actually discourage it. “Dishwasher detergent aggressively goes after food, and if you don’t have food soil in the unit, it attacks the glasses, and they get cloudy,” Mike Edwards, a dishwasher design engineer, tells the New York Times. So let your dishwasher do what it’s designed to do: wash dishes. Scrape food solids into your garbage disposal, but don’t rinse the plates.
So what’s the best detergent to use? A lot of people recommend powdered detergent as tops, but Consumer Reports recently tested a whole range of products (“gels, liquids, packs, pods, powders and tablets”), and Finish Powerball Tabs and Cascade Complete All In 1 ActionPacs ranked at the top of their list (thumbs down to Walmart and Costco store-brand detergents).
Want to try a cheaper alternative? According to the folks at DIY Natural, you can get great results by making your own powdered dishwasher detergent (wowzer!). I can’t vouch for it, but I’m intrigued. Here’s their recipe for Homemade Dishwasher Detergent.
When it comes to “rinse aids,” I’ve often wondered if they were just some holdover from the 1950s, when anxiety-riddled housewives resorts to Valium if their dishes didn’t sparkle just so. It turns out, rinse aids are important, especially if you have hard water: they keep the rinse water from collecting on your dishes and leaving spots or film during the drying cycle. That said, you can get the same results by just filling your rinse aid compartment with something far cheaper: white vinegar.
Load your dishwasher with glasses, mugs, saucers and other lightly soiled items on the top rack. Reserve the bottom rack for more heavily soiled plates as well as pots and pans.
Two more top tips for loading: make sure that the dirtiest part of the dishes are facing the spray arm (so the water hits, say, that leftover gravy), and don’t overcrowd your dishes and utensils, taking special care that similar items like spoons and bowls don’t nest with each other. Aim for “full” and not “packed.”
Here’s a simple list of what you should never put into your dishwasher: wood, cast iron, crystal, fine china and hand-painted dishes. Beware of plastics: only load plastic containers or utensils that are specifically marked “dishwasher safe,” and even then, note whether they’re marked “top rack only.” The heating element, located on the bottom, can melt even some “dishwasher safe” plastics if they’re too close to it.
Hot water is your best friend for getting cleaner dishes. Make sure your water heater is set above 120˚F. Also important: before turning on your dishwasher, let your kitchen faucet run until you have a steady stream of hot water. That will ensure that your dishwasher isn’t starting its cycle cold.
An easy way to clean your dishwasher and keep it smelling fresh? Fill the bottom of your (empty) dishwasher with 1–2 cups of white vinegar and run it through a cycle.
Whether you’re looking to save money or save the planet, folks have long wondered which is better: washing dishes by hand or using the dishwasher. It turns out, this question has been studied … in a lab … by fastidious German scientists!
Several years ago, researchers at the University of Bonn observed more than 100 people washing dishes, then crunched the data and compared how much water and electricity the humans used compared to the machines. The results? For the same amount of dishes, humans used an average of 27.2 gallons and 2.5 kWh of electricity, while energy-efficient dishwashers used about 4 gallons of water and 1.5 kWh. (The machines also got the dishes cleaner.)
But really, aren’t the humans the real winners here?
Want to liven up your next dinner party (or clear it out, depending on the company you keep)? Try cooking the main course in your dishwasher!
Bob Blumer, author of The Surreal Gourmet, created kind of a stir awhile back when he went around the country serving up variations of his Dishwasher Salmon (yes, the fillets are “steamed” in the dishwasher — you can even wash a load of dishes along with them if you keep the foil packets tightly sealed … you don’t want sudsy salmon). You can also try these recipes for Dishwasher Lasagna Florentine, Dishwasher Potatoes and Dishwasher Turkey.
Are you in the know? From boiling an egg to cooking rice, check out all our “things you didn’t know” articles!