What All Those Compartments on Your Dishwasher Door Are Actually For

updated Jun 8, 2021
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Have you ever stopped and taken the time to look at your dishwasher door? Like, really look at it? Chances are, you just fill the racks up, add the detergent, push the same button every time, and go about your day. But your dishwasher wants to help you. Help it help you by taking a second to look at all those detergent compartments. See them? You likely have some questions now. Why are there so many? Should you be using them all? What do those little icons mean? (You may have questions about all the buttons now, too, and we’re working on another post to explain those. Stay tuned!)

Obviously, your owner’s manual is going to be the most useful for model-specific best practices (when it comes to explaining these compartments and beyond). If you no longer have the physical copy, you can likely find a PDF online. Additionally, we’re here to fill in some gaps! Let’s take a look. These are the compartments that most dishwashers have, what they mean, and how you should use them.

Pre-Rinse Compartment

This compartment is usually located right next to the main latched detergent compartment. (Sometimes it shares the latched door with the main compartment.) Most people don’t use this compartment, but of course it’s there for a reason. The pre-rinse cup is meant for holding extra detergent — if you feel like you need more oomph to tackle a heavy load, like greasy pots and pans or dirty casserole dishes. The detergent in the pre-wash compartment adds bonus cleaning action to the pre-wash cycle of your dishwasher.

Main Wash Compartment

This is the main compartment that we should all be using every time the dishwasher is run. All types of dishwasher detergent go in this compartment, including powder, gel, and pods. This last point is crucial: Many people think you can just toss the pod into the dishwasher and you’re good to go, but if you do that, the pod will dissolve as soon as water is introduced into the dishwasher, which is well before the actual wash cycle starts. The whole point of a latched compartment is so that the detergent gets released at the right time, and this is important no matter what kind of detergent you use.

Related: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Dishwasher Detergent

Also, many of us use too much detergent. The amount of detergent you need depends on lots of factors — including water hardness. In fact, you may notice little sprayer icons in the main detergent compartment and/or fill lines marked 15 or 25. The explanation gets a little science-y, but it has to do with the number of grains per gallon in your water. If you know you have hard water where you live, use the 25 side/fill line. If you have soft, use the 15. (Translation: With hard water, use a little bit more detergent; with soft water, use less.) Of course, you should feel free to experiment. Chances are, though, you’re using too much detergent!

Related: The Dishwasher Mistake Almost Everyone Makes (and How to Quit)

Rinse Aid Compartment

This compartment is another one that isn’t always used, but it should be! Rinse aid helps break the surface tension of the water that rests on your dishes after they’re washed so the water can slide off easily. This means, it helps dishes dry faster and prevents water spots on your dishes. Fun fact: Rinse aid compartments hold more product than you need for a single run of the dishwasher. Fill the compartment, then refill when the product runs out. Usually there’s an indicator to let you know when you’re getting low. You can also adjust the amount of rinse aid released each cycle to match your specific needs. 

Read more: What Is Rinse Aid and Should You Be Using It?

Have questions about dishwasher compartments or dishwashers in general? Ask us in the comments below!