7 tips for getting a cleaner wash out of your dishwasher


We hear over and over again that there is no need to pre-wash dishes. Modern dishwashers are made to clean dishes all the way, and pre-washing only wastes money. Perhaps this is true, but anyone who has relied on this knows that dishes occasionally still come out dirty.

The truth is that dishwashers that are being properly used and cared for probably will clean dishes without pre-washing. However, there are a variety of problems that can come up without a little bit of work beneath the hood. We've put together a list of everything you need to know to ensure that your dishwasher keeps cleaning your dishes right every time.

1. Remember that scraping isn't pre-washing
All of the hype about the end to pre-washing has left a lot of homeowners thinking that dishes can go straight from the dinner table to the dishwasher. Sometimes this is true, but just as often a little bit of scraping is essential.

If there is enough food left on a dish that you could pick it up with your fingers, your dishwasher is going to have trouble getting rid of it all. You don't need to wash your dishes off in the sink, but you will need to scrape them off into the trash before a wash.

2. Maintain the spray arms
Over time, the spray arms that shoot water and soap onto your dishes can become clogged by food, debris or mineral buildup from your water. In particular, this is a problem in areas that experience hard water, which contains more minerals than soft water. Naturally, this results in problems with the wash cycle and dishes that are still dirty after a wash.

Start by removing your spray arms. In many machines, this can be done by turning the lower arm counterclockwise and lifting. Middle and top spray arms may require a ratchet. (Warning: Be gentle and check your machine's manual before attempting this!) Once the arms are out, use a piece of wire or the end of a coat hanger to clear any visible blockages. 

After clearing larger blockages, take advantage of the fact that the arms are out to soak them in white vinegar. The vinegar will help to dissolve any other blockages or debris present in the arms. When you're done, rinse the arms thoroughly and return them to the machine.

3. Run hot water before washing
Dishwashers pull water from the same system as all of the other appliances in your house. Think about how long it takes to get hot water from the tap – especially during the winter. Your dishwasher experiences the same problem, but in a much larger container. This means that a considerable amount of water – and sometimes a large part of the wash cycle – gets wasted at the start of every wash.

The solution to this problem is actually very simple. Turn the hot water on before you run your dishwasher and wait until the water coming out of the tap warms up. Once it's warm, you can shut off the tap and turn on the dishwasher. This will help your appliance to start washing right away and save you money on your utility bills.

4. Clean the trap
Most dishwashers contain a trap for food particles that are too large to pass through their drains. This is good for keeping your dishwasher from becoming clogged, but means that your dishwasher may contain ancient, waterlogged food after a while. Gross.

Every few months, take the time to reach down into the bottom of the washing machine and remove the trap. The entire thing may come out, making it easy to wash in the sink, or just the top, in which case you will need to reach in with paper towels. Either way, making sure that it is clear will help your dishwasher run better and avoid bits of food stuck on your dishes.

There is also usually a fine filter in your dishwasher that works to separate out tiny food particles that aren't caught by the coarse particle trap. This should look like a round, UFO-shaped piece of plastic with mesh. Clean this out in the sink as well.

5. Do a vinegar load
Just like you might do with your washing machine, consider running a vinegar load every so often to get rid of grime and other gross stuff covering the inside of your dishwasher. This is relatively simple and will prevent you from having to scrub the inside walls of your appliance.

Simply run an empty load with nothing but a cup or two of white vinegar tossed into the bottom. The vinegar will help to break down the oils that make up the grime inside your dishwasher.

6. Don't overcrowd
One of the most easily overlooked solutions to a dishwasher that isn't effectively cleaning dishes is to reduce crowding. It can be very tempting to try to fit one more bowl or cup into the dishwasher to avoid washing by hand or doing another load, but this can cause the dishwasher to fail to clean all of the dishes effectively. The result is that you are left having to do the entire load again or wash many of the dishes by hand.

7. Buy a home warranty
If your dishwasher is getting old, or you think it may be close to breaking, investing in a home warranty may be an effective solution. A TotalProtect® Home Warranty is a plan to protect the appliances and home systems, like dishwashers, that keep your home running normally. By paying just a small fee every month, you can guarantee that you won't have to pay a large bill for repairing or replacing a covered appliance. 

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.