How to use a dishwasher for best results

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 A couple of months ago a friend asked me about how to use a dishwasher. I was shocked she didn’t know, but when I thought about it, not all houses have dishwashers so there are people out there who don’t know. I’ve been lucky enough to have a dishwasher at all the places I’ve lived, except for one (and that was a total nightmare having to wash dishes!) and I grew up with one, so I’ve always been a dishwasher user. I give credit to all those people out there who wash their own dishes every night, but if you do have a dishwasher then make the most of it. Utilize the time you save for spending with friends and family (or in the kitchen creating your next masterpiece dessert). 
So, in helping my friend I realised that there must be others out there who might want some tips about using a dishwasher. It might seem like using a dishwasher is pretty straight forward, but there are actually a few tips you can follow for best results so if you’re new to using dishwashers take note, and if you’re an old hand, maybe you’ll find something you hadn’t thought of before.
Dishwasher stacking 101
It’s easy enough just to stack the dishes in the dishwasher but if you want to maximise space and get everything washed properly, follow these simple tips. 
Top shelf stacking:
  • Mentally divide the top shelf into three even areas that run from back to front. (See pic below).
  • On one side place short cups and glasses as this will usually be under an overhanging shelf
  • Put larger and taller mugs, cups and glasses on the opposite side. 
  • In the middle stack you plastic containers and their lids, or other assorted containers and small dishes.
  • The overhanging shelf is the best place to put large utensils, but you can also lay them on top of the mugs if you need to. 
  • My current dishwasher has a hanging space for teaspoons and this hangs over the large cups. If you don’t have one of these, just put the teaspoons into the cutlery basket on the bottom shelf.

Bottom shelf stacking:

  • The bottom shelf can be mentally divided into 4 zones (see pic below).
  • Put the dinner plates up the back so they are all in one place (Zone 1). Put the tallest plates nearer the sides.
  • Chopping boards can go behind the plates (also in Zone 1). Only put plastic chopping boards in the dishwasher as wooden ones can fall apart because the glue is melted off in the high heat of the dishwasher.
  • In front of the plates place the cutlery basket and use the few extra rungs to put smaller plates (Zone 2).
  • My current dishwasher allows me to move the cutlery basket anywhere along the bottom row of rungs on the bottom shelf. If you can’t move yours work out which side of the cutlery basket has the smallest distance to the edge of the dishwasher and put the smaller plates there.
  • In Zone 3 I place the bowls. Bowls are the trickiest to manage so you may need to add them to other areas of the top or bottom shelf depending on how many you’re washing at once, how big they are and their shape. Use Zone 3 if you can.
  • I always leave a large space at the back of the dishwasher (Zone 4) for the saucepans, mixing bowls and large oven dishes. You can’t fit all of them in the same space if you’re washing more than one, but you can generally leave this space for big items and be satisfied that you’ll still be able to get all the rest in as well. I do put larger flat dishes on the top shelf when I have no space in Zone 4 and when the top shelf is almost empty of cups and containers.  

Tips for getting clean and sparkling dishes
It might seem a bit silly to be giving you tips on clean plates when the dishwasher is supposed to do the cleaning, however you can do a few extra things to ensure you get the cleanest dishes each time: 
  • I recommend rinsing the biggest dirt off your dishes. The dishwasher doesn’t scrub so you could get residue left on the dishes even after they’ve been through the machine. This is especially true for any dish you’ve baked on the oven
  • These days there are a lot of dishwasher tablets on the market. These are great and simple to use, but I recommend throwing them under the bottom shelf before you turn it on. If you put the tablets in the door latch they tend to get stuck there and the dishes aren’t always clean when you take them out.
  • Watch out with tablets because some come wrapped in dissolvable wrappers while others have wrappers that need to be removed – read the packaging carefully because you don’t want to throw a tablet in the dishwasher without having removed its wrapper (again no clean dishes)
  • To make your dishes really sparkle you should put some rinse aid in as well. There is usually a cavity for this in the door of the dishwasher. 
  • Rinse aid helps with the cleaning and drying of your dishes so I don’t consider it an optional extra. It’s fairly cheap to buy an a single bottle should last you 3-6 months.
  • You will need to clean your dishwasher regularly as well. You can buy a dishwasher cleaner from the supermarket and all you need to do is put the bottle of cleaner in the bottom shelf and run the machine as normal. How regularly you do this depends on how much food residue you leave on your plates. Because I rinse my plates quickly I only wash my dishwasher every 6 months. If you don’t rinse your plates you’ll have to do it every 1-2 months. 
  • If you’re renting it’s a good idea to use the dishwasher cleaner before you use the machine for the first time. Also clean it before you leave the property too.
Tips on Dishwasher Cycles
To get the best results from your dishwasher you need it to be pretty hot – heat removes grease and grime. Each dishwasher has different washing cycles, however all machines will have cycles that are:

  • A normal cycle.
  • An eco cycle.
  • A hard washing or heavy washing cycle for pots.
  • A quick wash.

If your dishwasher comes in a drawer version you’ll also have a half dishwasher cycle (where it cleans either the top or bottom draws separate to the whole thing).
In general the quick cycles and the eco cycles are the coolest temperatures, ranging from around 45-55 degrees normally. These cycles are great if you have dishes that haven’t been really dirty, do they basically sanitize rather than do a powerful clean.
A normal cycle will heat to around 65 degrees and this is the optimal setting for your usual dishes. The hotter heat takes off more grime but it doesn’t get everything that’s been baked on and left to harden for a few days. I run my dishwasher on the normal setting each time I use it. The normal cycle will last around 1.5-2 hours in total.
A heavy or hard washing option will usually clean the pots and pans at around 70 degrees. This is the hottest setting and will get the heavier grime off. These cycles also take longer and can sometimes be up to 3 hours in length.
Some dishwashers give you the option of a pre-soak, where the machine sprays the dishes with water then goes silent for a while before actually washing the dishes. This makes the cycle longer, but it’s a handy feature if your dishes have some baked on spots of food, or you haven’t run the dishwasher in a number of days.
The other feature of some dishwashers that you might want to utilize is the delay setting. You can choose the cycle you want to run the machine one, throw in the tablet of power, and then set the dishwasher to start in 1-12 hours time. It’s great if you know you’re busy and want it done by a certain time, or great to pre-set the machine before going to bed so the dishes are washed ready for breakfast.

General Things to Remember
Here’s a few extra things to remember so you get the most out of your dishwasher. 
  • Always put plastic containers on the top shelf – plastic can melt to the elements on the bottom of the dishwasher (I have actually done this and it smells really bad).
  • Before starting the dishwasher check that the spinning arm under the top shelf can rotate without hitting anything. If it doesn’t move properly adjust your taller items to the sides. 
  • Never run the dishwasher when you’re not home. You want to be there if anything goes wrong (and water and electricity are never a good mix to be left alone).
  • Make sure young children don’t play around the open dishwasher door. My aunt used to have to prop her dishwasher door open with a block of wood after my cousin fell on it once. Same goes for pets.
  • If you’re going on holiday for a few weeks, it’s a good idea to leave the door of the dishwasher slightly ajar so any moisture can evaporate while you’re away. If you close it up tight before you go then you could come back to a foul smelling machine.
Question: Do you have any other great dishwasher tips? Do you think you should rinse the dishes before they go in? Or is that just a waste of water?

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