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Dishwasher FAQs

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Q. How much detergent should I use in my dishwasher?
A. For starters, check the directions on the detergent label for the recommended amount. You can also refer to the dishwasher's User Manual. Here's an additional tip: If you have hard water, you may need to use a little more detergent to get the best "clean" . . . and if your water is soft, do the opposite and try using a little less detergent.
Q. Should I use a powder, gel or tablet automatic dishwasher detergent?
A. Yes, yes or yes! All three of these are up to the job - so the choice is up to you.
Q. Can I use liquid hand dishwashing detergent in my dishwasher?
A. No! Not only would this mean soapy suds all over your floor . . . but there's also a technical reason why this doesn't work. The suds created by a hand dishwashing detergent interfere with the mechanical action of the dishwasher - they "smother" the water action that's necessary for effective cleaning. So leave hand dishwashing liquid at sink-side!
Q. What's a rinse agent . . . and do I need one?
A. A rinse agent is an additive that makes water "wetter" - meaning that the water sheets off dishes more readily and rinses away residue. That translates into fewer water spots - making a rinse agent especially helpful if you have mineral-rich hard water. And as an added bonus, rinse agents also help dishes dry more quickly.
Q. Can I use automatic dishwasher detergent to presoak my dishes?
A. Normally, you simply scrape food particles from dishes before loading them in the dishwasher, making presoaking unnecessary. But if you're dealing with dried-on, baked-on food or grease, try presoaking in a hand dishwashing detergent and water solution. Check the label on your automatic dishwasher detergent. Some of them are appropriate for presoaking, too.
Q. Can I use automatic dishwasher detergent to wash other things - like sinks, windows, floors, or clothing?
A. Simply put: no. While some household cleaning products are multi-purpose, automatic dishwasher detergent is formulated specifically for use in a dishwasher. In fact, it could damage other surfaces - so use it only as intended!
Q. What's the best way to store automatic dishwasher detergent?
A. If you're using a powder form, you should keep it in a cool, dry place to prevent the detergent from picking up moisture. Otherwise, it could become caked or lumpy. But no matter what type you use - powder, gel or tablet - be sure to close the package tightly after use and store out of the reach of small children and pets.
Q. Is automatic dishwasher detergent safe to use around children?
A. Yes, automatic dishwasher detergent is safe when used and stored according to the directions on the label. But because accidents can happen, it's important to keep all cleaning products out of the reach of children and pets to avoid accidental ingestion.
Q. Does automatic dishwasher detergent harm the environment?
A. No. Automatic dishwasher detergent is formulated to go down the drain with the wash water . . . and from there, it's safely treated in both municipal sewage treatment facilities and home septic systems.
Q. Can I put everything in the dishwasher - or are there items that should be washed by hand?
A. As tempting as it is to throw everything in and get that load going, there will always be some items that are better suited to washing by hand. The force and heat of the water - and even the detergent - can damage fragile pieces. If possible, check with the manufacturer to see if the item is "dishwasher safe" - although this may not be easy in the case of older items. As an alternative, your dishwasher manual may give suggestions for the washability of delicate items.
Still in doubt?
To be safe, unless the manufacturer can tell you otherwise, you'll probably want to hand wash these items:
  • aluminum untinsils
  • cast iron
  • china (hand painted or antique
  • crystal
  • cutlery
  • decorated glassware
  • hollow-handled knives
  • milk glass
  • pewter
  • plastics
  • silver
  • wooden items
Q. How do I load the dishwasher?
A. "Let me count the ways!" Seriously, every dishwasher is designed differently, so the best approach is to check the manual that came with your machine. To get you started, here are some general guidelines . . .
  • Place the dirtiest side of the item facing the source of the water spray.
  • Don't let large items cover small items, like cups or upside-down flatware.
  • Avoid stacking items together - if they are too tight, water can't get to them.
  • Place sharp items with points down (safety first!)
  • Make sure delicate items are firmly secured on the rack to avoid toppling.
Q. What temperature should the water in my dishwasher be?
A. In a word: hot! In fact, most newer dishwashers heat the water right in the tub, using a "heat booster." Does your dishwasher have one? Check your User's Manual to find out! If not, run the hot water at the sink for a few minutes before starting the dishwasher, to make sure there is hot water filling the dishwasher.
Q. What is hard water . . . and how can I tell if I have it?
A. Hard water contains dissolved mineral salts - like calcium and magnesium. These minerals can interfere with a detergent's ability to clean - which is why you may need to use more detergent if your water is hard. Hard water can also cause spotting or filming on your dishes. Since water hardness varies from town to town, the easiest way to know if you have it is to call your local water company, public utility service department or Cooperative Extension Service.
Check it out!
You probably have hard water if:
  • You suffer from "ring around the bathtub."
  • Soaps and shampoos don't lather easily.
  • There is white residue around your faucets and drains.
  • Washed fabrics feel stiff, not fluffy.


Automatic Dishwashing Introduction | Frequently Asked Questions
Common Dishwashing Problems & Solutions | Safety, Energy and Disposal