The Surprising Reason Your Dishwasher May Be Scratching Your Dishes

updated Jun 7, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

We talk about the dishwasher a lot in our household. I have strong opinions on how it should be loaded (back to front, with the plates lined up just so), my husband has some strong opinions on how everything should be prewashed before it goes in (super-well, with nary a food smear in site). We discuss when it should be loaded (immediately after dinner, or can it wait a while), whether forks should point up or down, and when it should be unloaded (first thing in the morning, or whenever we have a spare five minutes).

Recently I spoke to Dirk Sappok, director of product development for Miele, and it turns out most of these things don’t matter. As long as you’re not blocking the sprayer (with, say, a large bowl) it doesn’t really matter how you load it up. Newer dishwashers don’t need pre-rinsing and can even sense the soil level to stop the wash cycle when plates are clean — although our ancient dishwasher definitely does not have that feature (it’s technically called a turbidity sensor; try to use that in a sentence today). And those other issues are more marital questions than dishwasher ones.

But there is one thing that you can do wrong that will turn your dishwasher into your enemy: using too much detergent.

Don’t use too much detergent!

Now, dishwasher manufacturers have tried to help you. They’ve made little, perfectly sized trays for your detergent to go into. They even remind you in the manual. But sometimes, you may think, because soap makes things clean, more soap will make things more clean. So after you fill the little tray, you add more detergent along the door or maybe even around the dirty dishes and get the thing going.

The problem is, too much detergent will not only leave a residue, so your dishes will look filmy and taste soapy, but it can also actually scratch the finish on your dishes over time. “When people complain about having etching on their glassware, it’s usually from too much detergent,” says Sappok. That’s because if you put so much soap in there that it’s already eaten away all the food, the extra soap will get to work on your glassware.

The fix is easy: Just put in a normal amount of soap. Fill the tray (and only the tray) and follow the manual. I can do that. And I bet my husband and I could agree on that, too.

Are you guilty of putting too much detergent in your dishwasher?