Expert Advice on Cleaning Dishes

Thanksgiving is almost here and it’s a time of family, togetherness…and dishes. Fortunately, technology has come a long way and your dishwasher may be capable of more than you realize. To help you get through that pile of plates in the most efficient way possible, we’ve brought in experts to answer questions on dishwashing. Thanksgiving is almost here and it’s a time of family, togetherness…and dishes. Fortunately, technology has come a long way and your dishwasher may be capable of more than you realize. To help you get through that pile of plates in the most efficient way possible, we’ve brought in experts to answer questions on dishwashing. 

Thanks to Chris Doscher from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), Morgan Eberhard, Cascade Senior Scientist for Procter and Gamble, and Andrea Diaz Papa, R&D Director Finish Additives and Gels for Reckitt for answering our questions. 

We’ve heard that we should no longer rinse our dishes. Is that really true? 

Chris: Yes, that is true. There is no need to pre-rinse your dishes. Allowing your dishwasher to do the work will both save you the work and a significant amount of water. How much water? A newer ENERGY STAR dishwasher uses no more than 3.5 gallons of water per wash cycle. Even non-ENERGY STAR dishwashers use no more than 5 gallons of water per cycle.  A kitchen faucet runs at a rate of about 2.2 gallons per minute. So if you consider how many dishes are in a full load, by pre-rinsing dishes you will use as much or more water within a few minutes than your dishwasher uses in a complete cycle, before you have even turned on the dishwasher.

A dishwasher is designed to get the job done without pre-rinsing. It uses a combination of the force of water, temperature and time, combined with detergent, to remove the food from your dirty dishes. You don’t have to worry that your dishes are too dirty. Many models even contain sensors that can tell, by testing water turbidity, how soiled your dishes are and can adjust the amount of water needed accordingly.

Dishwashers are also rigorously tested. Under AHAM’s dishwasher performance standard, which is used widely by the industry, dishwashers are tested using a mixture of egg yolk, creamed corn, oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, ground beef, coffee, raspberry preserves, peanut butter and tomato juice, applied to dishes. That’s probably a bigger mess than anything you will encounter in your kitchen, even on a heavy cooking day like Thanksgiving!

Many households are looking for ways to save energy and water, particularly at the holidays when they are spending more on things like food and gifts. Using your dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand is one of the best ways to save water. It’s an easy opportunity to make your Thanksgiving more sustainable.

How should we be preparing our dishes for the dishwasher then? 

Morgan: Proper loading will also help you get the best performance out of your dishwasher. Here are some tips:

  1. Remove Excess Food: Simply scrape off all excess food into the trash or compost, but go ahead and leave the remaining soil and grease behind.
  2. Skip the Pre-Rinse: If you’re using a premium dishwasher detergent, like Cascade Platinum Plus, there’s no need to pre-wash dishes before you place them in the dishwasher. Special enzymes in each ActionPac latch on, break down, and wash away food, so you can skip the sink.
  3. Double check it’s dishwasher safe: A dishwasher may be too rough for some prized kitchen items or might not be appropriate for some materials, like wood, aluminum, and cast iron. Be sure to double check all items are dishwasher safe before loading if you’re unsure.
  4. Load the Bottom Rack: Put plates and messy, burnt-on pots and pans on the bottom rack in the direction of the prongs, facing the water source. Typically, the water source is in the center of the machine, and you want as clear a path as possible between the spray and your dirty dishes.
  5. Load the Top Rack: Place cups, mugs, and bowls face down on the top rack between prongs to prevent rattling. This way, they’ll also get cleaned better and won’t collect water, which can leave behind unsightly deposits. With wine glasses and other delicate glassware, ensure to load them a finger-width apart on the top rack and utilize the stemware holder, if your dishwasher has one, to keep them in place so they don’t fall over. Plasticware also belongs on the top rack. Temperatures typically remain cooler on the top rack, which will prevent plastic from melting.
  6. Load Silverware: You don’t want your spoons to spoon, so carefully load utensils to prevent nesting, and distribute them evenly in the silverware compartments. Load forks and spoons facing up, so the dirtiest part is more exposed to the spray, instead of getting packed into the bottom of the basket. Load knives and other cutlery with the sharp end down to protect your fingers when unloading.

Should you clean dishes differently if there’s really stuck-on food?

Andrea: In short, no. Dried-on and even burnt food can still be tackled with a normal dishwashing program and quality detergent. In the case of very heavily burnt on food, we recommend a higher temperature, longer program such as the option for Pots and Pans. As ever, rinse aid helps deliver the best results.

Does the food gunk up the dishwasher? Do you need to clean it more often? 

Chris: Food removed from dishes during washing is drained away with the water as part of the cycle. Dishwashers contain filters to capture larger debris. You should clean your dishwasher’s filter based on the recommendations in your dishwasher’s use-and-care manual, though that can vary depending on how often you do dishes. You may want to clean it more often if you plan to wash more dishes than usual, such as if you have guests visiting. It is a good idea to clean it in advance of a heavy cooking day like Thanksgiving.

Is it still efficient to run the dishwasher if it isn’t very full?

Chris: Yes, using your dishwasher will usually save water, even when it isn’t full. Many dishwashers have settings for smaller loads of dishes. These are sometimes known as “half-rack” or “half-load” settings.

Which is best choice to clean with lowest energy consumption, short or normal cycle?

Andrea: Some short cycle may not be able to clean dishes that are very heavily soiled. In this case, a normal cycle is the better choice. If your dishwasher has an eco-cycle, this is often the most efficient program for the best clean while saving energy.

What is still worth washing by hand? 

Morgan: Although a large amount of kitchenware is dishwasher safe, some products need a little more TLC and a little less dishwasher clean. Here are some items we recommend to avoid putting in the dishwasher.

  • Cast Iron: Washing a cast iron skillet inside a dishwasher will cause it to rust, or worse, lose its seasoning.
  • Wood: The heat and humidity inside dishwashers can cause wooden kitchen items to warp and crack.
  • China and Delicate Crystal Glassware: The intense heat of a dishwasher might be too much for delicate crystal to handle.
  • Insulated Travel Mugs: Putting insulated travel mugs into the dishwasher may ruin their vacuum seal and ability to retain temperature.
  • Aluminum: Not only is aluminum prone to scratching inside a dishwasher, but it can also develop a dull finish over time.
  • Non-stick Pans: The high temperatures in a dishwasher can wear many non-stick coatings.
  • DIY Dishware: Homemade things are precious; don’t risk damaging them.

Can I use hand dish detergent for the dishwasher?

Andrea: In short, no! Washing-up liquid is not designed for your dishwasher! Unlike dishwasher detergent, it creates foam, which will prevent your dishwasher from running properly. You might even end up with a kitchen floor covered on soap suds!

Is there anything else we should know as we get ready to wash dishes after Thanksgiving dinner? 

Chris: Thanksgiving is often the biggest cooking day of the year, and you may be using more dishes than you normally would. Make sure you don’t overload the dishwasher. Overloading is improper loading. Those extra dishes can interfere with cleaning by blocking jets of water or preventing spray arms from turning. Put the extra dishes aside for the next dishwasher load.

Beyond washing dishes, taking some time to plan out the day’s cooking and cleaning tasks might reduce your stress level. Pull your family and guests together and assign tasks in advance to share the workload. Clean as you go to minimize the work at the end of the day, when you’ll likely be tired. That means putting the dishes into the dishwasher when you’re done with them instead of letting them pile up. Planning, delegating and cleaning as you go will allow you to relax more and enjoy the food and company.

Thanks again to our experts! Have a wonderful holiday and don’t forget safe cleaning product storage practices, especially since there may be more guests in your home over the holiday weekend.



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