The Best Way to Load and Use Your Dishwasher

Woman loading dishwasher
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The benefits of having a dishwasher in your kitchen are endless. According to Ron Shimek, the president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, there are two major plusses to keep in mind: "Water savings is the biggest perk of using a dishwasher, which utilizes less water than washing by hand," he says. "Time savings is another perk—you can do other things around the house while the dishwasher is running."

Since this kitchen appliance is so helpful, you probably switch it on every day. When was the last time, however, that you really considered how you use it? Most of us give little thought to our dishwasher—we just load the dishes, add the detergent, and turn it on. But a bit of planning goes a long way when it comes to protecting your appliance and keeping your dishes and utensils safe during each cycle—in addition to getting them as clean as possible, that is.

The first rule of thumb to caring for your dishwasher is to follow the manufacturer's instructions for your specific model, Shimek says. "No one knows that machine better—or the best way to load it—than the manufacturer," he affirms. From there, look to this guide, which will come in handy at each step of use, from choosing detergent and loading to drying. Read on to discover the dos and don'ts of using this integral appliance—including everything from tried-and-true wash and dry settings to the dishes, utensils, and pots and pans that you should avoid putting into the dishwasher altogether.

01 of 07

Choose the Right Type and Amount of Detergent

Man adding detergent pod to dishwasher
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To get started, use only the recommended amount of detergent—too much can leave behind a residue, and too little can result in dirty dishes. Dishwashing detergent can also disfigure some types of metal and cause dark spots, says Ron Shimek, the president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, so be sure to look at the detergent instructions to see if it is compatible with your cookware and flatware.

02 of 07

Select the Correct Cycle

Loaded dishwasher
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It's important to use wash settings strategically, says Shimek. "Let's say you have someone in the home who is sick. You want to ensure that their dishes are clean and germ-free and that the dishes will not contaminate anything else in the dishwasher; the sanitize cycle would help with this," he explains, noting that this particular setting heats water to a higher degree than a regular one. "The pots and pans cycle heats the water a little more, too, to help melt grease, and it runs longer to remove stuck food," he adds.

03 of 07

Don't Overcrowd the Loading Racks

kitchen with open dishwasher full of dishes
Kate Sears

It's best to run your machine when it's full, but not packed. If the dishwasher is partially full, use the rinse-hold cycle to remove odor-causing foods. This is still more economical than rinsing dishes by hand, which can waste up to 20 extra gallons of water per load—or 6,500 gallons per household each year.

04 of 07

Try a Rinse Aid

Sparkling clean dishes
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Consider using a rinse aid, as they lower the surface tension of water so droplets can't form. These are particularly helpful if you have hard water and they also make dishes dry faster, which comes in handy if you switch on the energy-saving dry cycle—or if you are air-drying your load. Citric acid, another popular ingredient in rinse aid formulations, also collects deposits found in hard water, which otherwise linger around dishes and create cloudiness and spotting, explains Alona Wells, the senior category manager of dish care at Bosch.

05 of 07

Opt for a Cool Dry Cycle

Dry dishes on top rack of dishwasher
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"The more plastic you have in a load, the less everything will dry, whether you have heat-dry selected or not," Shimek says. "Some manufacturers now have a fan that comes on during the drying cycle to help." However, a hot dry cycle isn't necessarily the best choice, regardless of the types of pieces in the wash: Instead, consider using lowest temperature setting, as hotter ones can leave spots on glassware.

06 of 07

Avoid Putting These Items Into the Dishwasher

Non-dishwasher safe cast iron skillet and wooden spatula
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Don't put the following items into a dishwasher, as they can warp during the wash and dry cycles: acrylic, adhesive-joined pieces; all aluminum; antiques; blown glass; bronze; cast iron; china with metallic decoration; crystal; disposable plastics not labeled "dishwasher-safe"; flatware with bone, plastic, or wood inlays or handles; gold-plated flatware; iron; knives; many nonstick pots and pans; milk glass; pewter; rubber tools; tin; or wooden spoons.

07 of 07

Be Mindful of Your Flatware

Flatware in dishwasher
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Lastly, make sure not to place sterling or silver-plated and stainless-steel flatware into the dishwasher at the same time—a reaction between the two metals can damage both finishes. Since most knives, including sterling ones, have stainless-steel blades, keep them away from other silver pieces, too. And, don't jam too many pieces into the silverware basket—doing so could lead to scratches.

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