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

updated Apr 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Sylvie Li)

I tend to be suspicious, as you likely are too, of headlines like the one above — this mistake! Everyone makes! Maybe you! Is it the false sense of mystery? The breathless promise of disaster? So annoying, I know.

But I stand by it and really want to get your attention on this one. You guys, almost everyone does make this mistake — and it is the easiest thing to fix. I’ll just state it upfront: You are using too much dishwasher detergent. Probably way too much. And it’s costing you money.

Let me back up. I have a simply lovely dishwasher: Miele’s entry-level model. It was one of the top appliance splurges we put into our kitchen renovation and I adore it. Reliable, quiet, whiz-bang-good at cleaning everything from spaghetti pots to baby bottles.

But over the past year, we’ve dealt with an increasing amount of clogs in the drain and also a roughness deposited on some of our glasses. When we called the Miele support line, they coached us through emptying drains and reattaching parts (side note: These German appliances really are built for life; they make it so easy to fix and clean yourself without paying for a professional visit).

They also suggested one other thing: using less soap. We had switched to those convenient, temptingly packaged pods, silvery sleeves of detergent that looked more like a block of candy than a piece of soap. So easy and satisfying to drop into the dishwasher.

“Your dishwasher just doesn’t need that much detergent,” they told my husband.

Sure enough, when my husband cleaned out the drain to the dishwasher, he found an accretion of soap growing inside, like an artery clogged with plaque.

So we made a change: When our pods ran out, we bought a cheaper bag of detergent powder, and started using a third to a half of the recommended amount. Bingo! Fewer clogs, less film, and a disappearance of deposits on our glasses. Our dishes and silverware come out cleaner, not less so.

My favorite dishwasher detergent: Grab Green Natural Automatic Dishwashing Detergent Powder, $15

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

The difference has been marked — and we save money too. Per load, this routine costs us much less than half that of the pods.

But don’t just take my admittedly anecdotal experience at face value, however; according to this interview in the New York Times, the number-one sin people commit with their dishwashers (and washing machines) is adding too much soap. “‘Most people use 10 to 15 times the amount of soap they need, and they’re pouring money down the drain,'” the Times quotes repairman and author Vernon Schmidt. Modern appliances use less water and thus make an even more concentrated slurry of (even yet more concentrated) modern soaps that is not only unnecessary, but downright harmful.

The takeaway? Experiment for yourself, and don’t blindly accept the size of the soap dispenser in your dishwasher, or the recommended dose on your detergent bottle. Start with a tiny amount, and scale upwards if dishes seem greasy still. Assume you’ll cut your detergent in half — and your costs too.

See, isn’t that one piece of clickbait you’re glad you clicked? It ain’t all bad.

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