help! dishwasher-novice needs advice

When we bought our house about a two years ago, it was nearly perfect. Porch, backyard, short walk to the train. Coming from a small apartment meant we had stars in our eyes at thought of a things like an attic, garage and a basement. Storage galore. We were smitten. So smitten we casually overlooked that the kitchen didn’t have a dishwasher. I had lived 40 years without one, surely I could go a little longer, I thought. However, once we moved in my inner baker and closeted hostess-with-the-mostest personality came out. I cook at least three times a week and we have guests over several times a month. Suddenly, the no dishwasher thing was getting to be a real drag.

We called in a kitchen contractor type and were dismayed to learn that slipping in a dishwasher was not going to be an easy task. Our cabinets were all custom-sized, and the nice stone counter top could break if they tried to lift it up. There was some extra space in the corner of the kitchen, were we had placed a small bistro table. It was nice to have a table in the kitchen, but honestly we never used it. Our solution became clear: Extend the counter with butcher block (so we didn’t have to worry about matching the stone counter) and put the dishwasher there. There’d even be room for a stool, if we wanted to tuck one under.

A few weeks later, and voila! I can’t believe how much I am in love with our new appliance. We picked a Bosch — not the most expensive model, but a nice one that hums quietly when it’s on. It also has a pretty red light that beams on the floor so we know when it’s in use. Unlike dishwashers of my youth, this one does not have a drying cycle. I suppose it is to save energy, but if you open it up too soon things will definitely be too wet.

Now I am trying to learn the tricks of good dish loading. How dirty can things be when I put them? How closely can I pack things together? I definitely have noticed a few butter knifes that still look dirty after a cycle, and if we put the plates too close together, the backs will stay gunky.

Got any good dishwasher advice to share with me? I’d love tips on loading. What does your dishwasher clean that surprises you? What do you never put in there? As always, your shared wisdom is deeply appreciated! — Angela M.

From our partners

Congratulations! I have a love/hate with my dishwasher. I use it a lot and kind of abuse it. I don’t rinse enough, I overload, and occasionally get crazy things stuck in it (like string cheese wrappers stuck on the little swirly jet thing). In return, it makes strange sounds and things sometimes have to be run through again.

All I can say, is play with the settings and feel out the limits of your dishwasher. And pre-rinsing never hurts.


I have a German dishwasher also (and it rocks!). I would suggest making sure that you have it full of jet dry, salt (if it takes it), and a good soap (I had to experiment for a while). I always run mine on pot scrubber (Level 4). I also always put my utensils with the usable side up. I find that they get cleaner this way. Good luck!


Not a pro but here are some tips:
I do my best to run the thing only when it’s full and I almost always only use the ‘quick’ cycle
I pre-rinse everything at least a little unless the dish/bowl etc… was used for something like cereal or a drink. And if I think the items might sit for a while (a day or more) I rinse more vigorously just so things that might stick (cheese? tomato sauce? etc…) won’t be as bad. If I’m going to run it soon I don’t worry about pre-rinsing as much
I place all utensils handle down EXCEPT knives because I don’t want to cut myself
I try to leave space between plates/bowls so they don’t have to be washed again but it all depends on how much I need to wash in the dishwasher.
I put tupperware/plastic things in the dishwasher but they don’t dry the same way metal/crockery will so be prepared for things to be damp if you do the same
When emptying, empty the bottom rack first. My dad always said to do this because if you empty the top rack first, you’ll get everything on the bottom rack wet.
I think that’s it! Good luck!

The biggest ‘trick’ I know about dishwashers (from talking with a repair man) is that you shouldn’t fill the soap dispenser all the way. About half-full will actually get your dishes cleaner. He also said to run the tap until you have hot water, then start the dishwasher – because modern dishwashers use so little water they can fill while the water is still cold, and cold water doesn’t clean as well. I’m not so sure on this one – I think newer models have built-in water heaters to combat that problem, but it’s worth a shot if you’re having trouble.

As to how much you have to rinse – it really varies model to model. Use trial and error – if it didn’t come of before, you should probably scrape it or hand-wash next time.

Overloading is a big issue. You can only fill every slot if the dishes are pretty clean to begin with. Again, I think with how efficient modern dishwashers are it still uses less water and energy to run two small loads than it does to pre-rinse a large load, so run it often to keep load sizes small.

Otherwise, I’ve been really impressed with how much my dishwasher will handle, and it’s not a fancy one either. As a kid, I remember carefully pre-rinsing everything and still getting gunk dried onto the clean dishes, but we keep putting dirtier and dirtier things in and unless we overfilled it, it’s gotten almost everything. It doesn’t seem to matter what arrangement we load it in either, as long as there isn’t too much total.


I don’t think you need to run the tap or worry about hot water. From what I understand all dishwashers use cold water and the water is heated within the unit. Definitely make sure things are facing in towards the sprayer.

Other than that, I have found it depends on the washer how much pre-rinsing needs to be done, how full it should be etc. You will just have to play around with your machine until you find the right mix.

Angela! Congrats on the dishwasher. I know what you mean…though I did have one in NYC in my last apt but as a single woman I really didn’t find the need to use it much! Now living with a family of 5, well, let’s just say sometimes we run it twice a day! I find that you want to alternate spoons and forks and knives so that they don’t “nest” in one another. I put some upside down, some upright, don’t put all the forks in one section, etc. While my husband hates the next thing, I always use one of the used tall glasses in our sink and place all our utensils in it so they get a soak before heading into the dishwasher (he thinks it creates a toppling hazard in the sink that will end in disaster). Otherwise the peanut butter and things like that is caked onto the knife and it will be nearly impossible for the dishwasher to ever clean it off! I had a Bosch in my old house — so quiet and energy efficient — but I found that it took extra long (probably because it was air drying?). But it really cleaned well. Now we have a GE that works fine. We use the little packets that have detergent and jet dry in them and find that they work well (I think Cascade?). Your kitchen looks adorable. I hope all is well with you and the fam! xo

I didn’t grow up with one either. However we are kind of anal retentive about the dishwasher. We rinse everything before we put them in. Then overloading is not a problem. Ours always cleans beautifully and never gets stinky or plugged up. They also last forever that way. We don’t “wash” them before we put them in there, we’re not nuts but they weren’t built to be garbage disposals. Rinsing takes seconds and its an appliance worth taking care of. We tried organic soap but it just didn’t work. We are pretty uber green but clean dishes are a must and running it twice is not very eco either so we use Cascade. My sister does NOT rinse her dishes and hers is always plugging up and stinks like garbage :P
A quick tip for baked on messes: Put a couple teaspoons of hot water in the dish, put a lid on it, and stick it in the fridge overnight. In the morning it will all come right off with a sponge or washcloth. Much better than leaving a watery mess in the sink to wake up to. If the dish has no lid, cover it tightly with foil.


if you have hard water, i recommend adding lemi-shine
my favorite detergent is cascade action pacs (i use the one with dawn but not jet dry)

Angela M.

Oh my goodness what great advice. Thanks for the loading tips (i will try the alternating fork idea, Alice!) and also the soap recommendation… ours came with some soap — little premeasured packets — so we haven’t bought any yet. I wasn’t sure if they were the best option, but they do make it easy. There’s also some jet dry fluid you have to refill every now and then… ?

I read a piece of dishwasher advice in a Martha Stewart magazon a long time ago that I still use to this day. When you put your utensils in the basket don’t put all the same utensils in the same section or have them all turned the same direction. By doing this you minimize the chances of them nesting together and as a result they get cleaner.


1. Place utensils in with the handles down. Don’t put utensils of the same type together because they can nest together during the wash cycle, all surfaces won’t be exposed, and they won’t get clean. I know this makes it a little more tedious to put it away but it’s better than having to rewash.
2. Never put your cutting and steak knives in the dishwasher. It will ruin them- makes them dull and the handles can crack.
3. Try not to put plastic in the dishwasher. It’s better for both the plastic and you if you don’t.
4. Don’t overfill the dishwasher detergent. If you’re using Cascade (dry form) and you overload it then the door that releases the detergent won’t open. The Cascade will solidify in the compartment and then you can take one of the still dirty knives and spend 10 minutes chipping away at the block of Cascade until you can get it out.
5. Cups always go on top. If you can fit bowls and pots up there too it’s better. A lot of dishwashers have spray that comes up from the bottom and if you put cups on the bottom rack it really blocks the spray and the top rack will stay dirty.
6. Pre-rinse. If it is soluable the washer will take care of it. If it is not, every if it’s tiny, then it may “disappear”…but not really. It’s just in a place you can’t get to, impeding the flow of water and making your washer less efficient.
7. Use the warranty. Like a car, if your dishwasher came with the offer or a check-up or service call in the first year or something–do it. You may not think something’s wrong, but the mechanic knows more than you (i.e. how my mom discovered #6)

I told my fiancee that I would marry him on one condition: we get a house that has a dishwasher. I was joking… mostly.

Also… not digging the new layout! What happens if I miss a day or two of blog-reading-ness? How do I see the posts I’ve missed without seplaceing all the different categories?

Angela M.

So sorry you are not digging layout Jennifer. The most recent five stories are in the top carousel at the top of the homepage.. and if you scroll down homepage you will definitely see everything that has been published in the past week. Even in the old format, things were bumped off the main page after one week. Any category you click on will show the most recent posts on top, and in a traditional blog scroll too….. We’ll see how it goes! Change is good!


I have a Bosch, also my first dishwasher bought along with my first house. I love it. My best advice is: read the instructions. There are instructions in there on how to load it, how to load the silverware, etc. I can’t seem to get my husband to understand this, but it does work better when loaded correctly as it was designed to work. Also, as others have said, you only need a small amount of dishwasher liquid–nowhere near what the little cup will hold. That also holds true for your washing machine, BTW.

Angela, it sounds like other commenters are happy with their Bosch machines, but here’s my story: we bought a less expensive Bosch three years ago, and we really ended up hating it. I began to feel like I had to wash the dishes by hand before putting them in, and I felt like I had to run it every day because it just didn’t hold very much — and we are a family of three! I even tried calling Bosch to find out if we had a lemon, but they were completely unhelpful. Finally after two years we threw in the dishtowel and bought a Kitchenaid. So far, so good…it fits more and requires a lot less work to load it up.


It’s definitely worth experimenting with brands and amounts of detergent to find the one that works best for you. My favorites are the powdered stuff from Trader Joe’s and Method dishwasher tabs. I use 1 T. of the powder or cut a Method tab in half; if I use more than that, the dishes look scummy. I don’t use rinse aid very often, but when I do, white vinegar gets the job done.

Here are some of my dishwasher rules:

Make sure nothing has peanut butter on it.

No pots/pans in the dishwasher

Things on the top rack face the door (except cups obviously)

Always rinse everything well enough that you can’t ‘see’ the stuff on it anymore

Every couple of weeks throw some vinegar in the base and put baking soda in with the detergent- keeps that icky smell of dishwasher away!

One thing I can’t figure out about my Bosch is why the glasses come out with a film on them that won’t come off. The first year or so everything was fine, but now the glasses are never really clean. :(


I have a Bosch and generally, I scrape the plates instead of rinsing. I only rinse when there is a particularly chunky or greasy residue on the items.

To the person who said their glasses don’t get very clean – have you tried cleaning your filter? These new style dishwashers that don’t require prerinsing will require you to periodically clean the unit’s filter. The filter in my Bosch is easy to remove. When I notice my plates and glasses don’t look as clean as they should, I take the filter out and soak it in Dawn and very hot water. Afterwards my glasses are squeaky clean. Consult your machine’s guide on how to remove and clean yours.

I want to second everyone who mentioned that you should only fill the detergent halfway – there was an article about this in the New York Times that detailed how most repairs to dishwashers are caused by using too much soap. This also applies to your washing machine – I only put 1/4 of the recommended soap in both after reading that article, and our dishes and laundry come out just fine.


for the person with the residual film on her glasses – it might be hard water. i definitely recommend trying lemi-shine (i buy mine at target)


I agree with the peanut butter comments but NOT comments about rinsing anything else! read your manual and google dishwasher tips. Dear Abby, Heloise, etc publish something ever so often that specifically says new dishwashers and detergents work with food particles and if there aren’t any in your dishwasher then your dishes aren’t really getting clean. You’re just not supposed to leave large chunks of food. Hope you enjoy it!


Erin confirms what I have read/heard – if you have a new dishwasher scrape but don’t rinse, otherwise you’re just wasting water

My newest energy saving item:

Mary S

Never put old Pyrex in the dishwasher; it will destroy the finish. I learned by doing. : ( I also discovered that parts of our food processor warped slightly when put in the dishwasher, even on the top shelf. So when in doubt, wash by hand!


My husband is a repairman for an appliance company he recommends checking the temp. of your water heater, a lot of people have it turned down to low for dishwashers and this causes the non-drying thing to happen. Also make sure if you are using Cascade which at the time I purchased my Bosch dishwasher they sugested make sure it is Cascade Complete not just Cascade. If you have hard water make sure you run a product like Lemi shine or if you can find it Glisten through your dishwasher especially if you are noticing residue on you glasses. Plastic will not dry in a dishwaher so you can expect that to come out wet. Good luck getting used to a dishwasher it is a little tricky if you decide you hate it you could always store your potato chips in there or maybe the China for Christmas. ;)