The Worst Things You Can Do to Your Dishwasher, According to Appliance Repair Pros

published Jul 18, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Like all major appliances, dishwashers are super helpful — until they aren’t. Mold, mildew, scum buildup, inefficient cycles, and straight-up-busted mechanisms can all disturb the flow of meal prep and kitchen cleanup. And if you get to the point of repairs, things can often be costly. To avoid the headache of a poorly performing dishwasher, we consulted appliance repair professionals about the biggest mistakes people make when using dishwashers. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Running it on a short, cold, or lukewarm cycle.

Many dishwashers feature a variety of different cleaning options, including cold washes and rinses or short cycles. While this may save you time (or gently nudge down your hot water bill), it’s not in the best interest of your dishwasher. Terry Carmen, the owner of Terry’s Appliance Service, advises against anything other than a full, hot cycle. Cold and abbreviated cycles cause sludge and slime buildup, he says. “[Buildup] doesn’t hurt the dishwasher but defeats the purpose of using it to wash dishes, since nobody really wants to have dishes that have been cleaned in a slimy box,” he adds.

Here’s a clever little trick from Eric Hollister, the instructor at Dyer Appliance Repair Academy: To ensure that the water is truly hot, he tells his customers to briefly run the hot water from the faucet closest to the dishwasher (usually your kitchen sink!) before starting the wash cycle.

2. Skipping the heated dry.

Piggybacking off of the first tip, you really do need that heated dry to burn off any lingering dampness and humidity in the dishwasher. A cool, wet dishwasher breeds mold and mildew, which will affect its ability to, you know, wash your dishes. “Long ago, before federal energy standards took effect, dishwashers never built up slime inside because the cycles were longer and hotter, the detergents were better, and the pumps were more powerful. Now to get the same cleaning as the old dishwashers had in 45 minutes, you need to use the longest hottest cycle available and it takes about three hours,” Carmen says. Using the heated dry option helps give the unit a little more “juice” to do its job.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

3. Using detergent pods.

Yes, detergent pods are convenient and easy to store in bulk. But, unfortunately, they just don’t do as thorough a job at cleaning your dishes as liquid detergent. “Most newer dishwashers don’t get the water hot enough to completely dissolve the pods,” Hollister explains. If you’ve ever noticed a half-dissolved pod gumming up the door, or leaving residue on your glassware, that’s why.

Related: What All Those Compartments on Your Dishwasher Door Are Actually For

4. Skipping weekly maintenance.

Most homeowners never clean their dishwashers. But Hollister recommends doing it weekly. Don’t worry — the method is easy and inexpensive. Here’s how he does it: “Run a cup of white vinegar through the dishwasher once a week to disinfect the unit and naturally remove any hard water buildup or lime scale throughout.”

For a deeper clean: How To Clean a Dishwasher

5. Not cleaning filters daily.

It may be news to you that your dishwasher has a filter for food debris. Of course, it makes sense. Think of this filter like the basket drain in your kitchen sink. It’s necessary for capturing large food particles. The water used to wash your dishes moves through the filter, making it pretty imperative that the filter is clean.

In case you needed a little incentive, here’s a horror story with a happy ending from Hollister about a customer who had never emptied her filters: “The filter was so full of rotting food debris that it was coated in a thick ‘slime’ that would not allow the water to pass through the filter membrane and circulate through the unit. Cleaning the filter fixed the issue and allowed the water to drain. The homeowner was shown how to clean her unit and never had the issue again.”

Related: The Single Most Important Thing You Should Do on the 1st of Every Month

6. Ignoring a problem for weeks.

“Dishwashers use electronics and sensors to wash properly while using a minimum amount of electricity. However, when the sensors malfunction, the dishwasher will stop heating the water and will wash poorly no matter how it’s set,” Carmen explains. In other words: If you notice that your regularly efficient dishwasher leaves food residue on half of the plates and bowls, it’s time to schedule an inspection or maintenance.

This may seem intuitive, but underperforming dishwashers are often ignored until they break down completely. “The worst thing is when a customer notices that their dishwasher isn’t draining out the water properly at the end of a cycle, but waits a few weeks to call the technician to come fix the issue. That dirty, smelly water sits in that unit for a few weeks, and I am sure you can imagine the  odor coming out of it,” Hollister says. A repair technician will be able to identify and fix any obstructed or faulty sensors before the whole thing goes haywire.

Do you have any smart tips for making the most out of your dishwasher? Share them with us in the comments.