Over one in five UK households now has an automatic dishwasher, and more people each year are discovering the benefits of owning one. It has been estimated that using a dishwasher can save up to 3 weeks time over a year, but the biggest benefit is cleaner and more hygienic dishes - because the washing is done at high temperatures, using highly efficient cleaning agents.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO TO GET THE MOST FROM MY DISHWASHER?
Cleaning your machine about once a month will remove any grease and lime scale deposits which can build up on the inside of the machine. Special dishwasher cleaners are available which are used when the machine is empty. These cleaners will often leave a fresh smell in the dishwasher too. If you want to have that fresh smell all the time, use a dishwasher freshener. These are usually supplied as hanging tags, which should be carefully positioned away from any moving arms. A freshener is essential if you load during the day and then run the machine at night.
HOW A DISHWASHER WORKS
Put simply, the dishwasher takes in cold water and heats it to a temperature far higher than possible for hand washing - usually above 130ºF. The dishwasher does not use a great deal of water, as it does not actually fill up. The water enters through a resin-based water softener, usually in the base of the machine. The water softener uses granular salt to maintain its efficiency and will require topping up regularly. Pumps force the water at high temperature into rotating arms containing spray jets. It is the force of the water that rotates the arms and enables the water and detergent to reach all parts of the load. After the programmed cycle of washing and rinsing is complete, heating elements dry the dishes, or they are left to drain dry, dependent on the programme you've chosen.
dishwasher in wash mode
dishwasher in drain mode
Scrape off as much surface food as possible and place larger and dirtier items on the bottom rack with cups, glasses and less soiled items on the top rack. Load plates and glasses so they aren't touching and put cutlery in the special basket, handles facing downwards.
These items can be washed in a dishwasher, with the following guidelines:
Glassware - Any ordinary glassware and ovenware such as Pyrex. Do not wash lead crystal glasses unless they carry a "dishwasher safe" label.
Tableware - Most everyday crockery is safe. Bone china usually has under-glaze decoration and should be safe. Avoid antique or hand-painted and over-glaze decorated items. If in doubt, check with the manufacturer.
Cutlery - Stainless steel and silver cutlery are normally suitable for machine washing, but it pays to rinse off any acidic food before loading to prevent any corrosion and, if possible remove the cutlery immediately after the cycle, to avoid prolonged exposure in a humid atmosphere. Do not mix steel and silver cutlery in the same basket and wash bone or wooden-handled items by hand.
Plastics - Check whether they are dishwasher safe and do not place in the lower rack, where the heating element may affect the plastic during drying.
Pans - Stainless steel is ideal for dishwashers. Aluminium can be washed in the machine, but may discolour during the rinsing. If in doubt, remove aluminium pans before the rinse cycle.
Always wash cast iron and wooden handled items by hand.
WHY DOES MY MACHINE HAVE A WATER SOFTENER?
If the water is soft (i.e. does not contain calcium particles), the detergent will work more effectively and there will be less streaking on dishes. Hard water can also block the washer jets with lime scale and cause deposits on heating elements, which will reduce the cleaning efficiency, increase electricity costs and shorten the life of the machine. All dishwasher manufacturers (Bosch, Miele, Siemens) and detergent suppliers want you to get the best results from the machine - and soft water is one of the most important factors in achieving this. The way to ensure water remains soft is to regularly top up the reservoir with granular salt.
Three in one salt tablets do not activate the water softener. For optimum results, the reservoir should be topped up with granular salt.
Three-in-one and 'salt action' tablets do not top up the reservoir and should be used in conjunction with granular salt for optimum results.
Using granular salt will mean that you won't need to use as much detergent and rinse-aid - saving you money!
HOW MUCH SALT DO I NEED TO ADD?
adding granular salt
Your machine may have a float indicator or a warning light to tell you when salt needs adding to the water softener. Often float indicators are difficult to see, and there is no accurate guide as to how much salt you need to add. Quite simply, just add granular salt to the reservoir until it won't take any more!
The softener will use the salt to replenish itself each time you wash. As an approximate guide, you should do a full top up about once a month. If your machine doesn't have a warning light, a good way to remember to check and / or top up is to do it on a regular day of the month (e.g. the first Saturday or the 15th)
CAN I USE ORDINARY TABLE SALT?
No. Table, cooking, rock and sea salts may contain additives that can actually increase water hardness. Also, the fine consistency of some of these salts mean they are likely to clog when wet. Always use granular dishwasher salt because it is very pure and is the right consistency for use in your machine.
Granular salt is the ONLY type of salt that should be used to regenerate the softener. Be aware that some varieties of dishwasher salt use Dead Sea salt. This variety may contain minute insoluble organic matter that may adversely affect the resin within your softener over time. If you are in doubt about the origins of the salt, ask the retailer or manufacturer.
You can determine the cause of cloudy glassware by soaking a glass in vinegar for 5 minutes. If the cloudiness is removed it is due to hard water deposits; make sure the salt reservoir is topped up. Do not worry about over-filling it.
If the cloudiness is not removed, it is a permanent condition known as etching. In this situation, use less detergent and stop pre-washing. Dishwashing detergent needs a bit of soil to work on, otherwise it will tend to foam up.
WHAT DETERGENT SHOULD I USE?
All modern dishwasher detergents are formulated to work specifically in dishwashers. On no occasion should ordinary washing up liquid be used, as it will cause excess foam, which can result in a leak. If it is accidentally used, sprinkle ordinary salt into the chamber to disperse the resulting suds. Then rinse away the excess salt before using.
There are 3 main types of dishwasher detergent - Powder, liquid or gel and tablets. Which one you choose will be down to personal preference, but most people find tablets very convenient, although using powder is usually more economical and liquids are less abrasive on more delicate items.
WHAT IS RINSE AID?
Rinse Aid is added to a special compartment in the machine and a very small amount is released during the final hot rinse cycle, to reduce the formation of water droplets on crockery etc and so ensures that the water dries away properly and evenly to avoid leaving smears.
CAN I USE DUAL OR TRIPLE ACTION DETERGENT?
dishwasher detergent tablet
Dual action detergent usually contains rinse aid, which is released at a different rate to the cleaning agent and so helps reduce smearing etc without the need to add separate rinse aid. Some 3-in-1 tablets contain an ingredient, which has a 'salt action', which also helps to improve cleaning, but NOTE this is not a substitute for adding salt to the water softener.
The salt action takes place in the cleaning chamber of the machine, but does not actually replenish the water softener. Research has shown that whilst 3-in-1 detergents do clean dishes effectively, their performance is improved by adding salt to the water softener reservoir.
As the performance of machines can vary, as can local water conditions, it is always best to follow your manufacturers advice. Some manufacturers advise that if you have unsatisfactory cleaning performance eg white powder residue, poor drying or dirty dishes, then you should return to using three separate products ie detergent, rinse aid and granular salt. Be aware that if you have not been filling the salt reservoir and relying on the salt in 3-in-1 tablets, then it may take a few cycles to re-generate the softener.