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Dishwasher Tips for Your Holiday Meal Cleanup

For many of us, the Holiday season is a mixed bag of fun and stress. There’s the joyous celebrations with friends and family, the sights and sounds of the decorations, and all of the food. But then there’s also the stress of planning parties, the feeling of having one too many pieces of pie, and, finally, the dreaded cleanup. A party for a dozen or so people can create a mess that feels like it needs an army to clean. It’s important to clean smarter, not harder, so before you start loading up the dishwasher, read through these dishwasher tips to ensure your dishes come out their cleanest with minimal work on your part.

1.) Do NOT pre-clean dishes before loading them.

It may seem like a good idea to clean dishes off before loading them, so the machine has less work to do, but that will actually make the dishes less likely to get cleaned. Dishwasher soap is specially formulated to attach to and attack foods left on your dishes. When you wash off all of that debris, the soap has nothing to attach to and simply gets rinsed off, so it doesn’t fully do its job. The best tactic is to remove only the large bits of food, and leave the sauces, grease, and other residue on the dish.


Taking the time to properly load your dishwasher will increase the likelihood that every dish gets thoroughly cleaned.

2.) Load strategically

It can be tempting to overload your dishwasher in an attempt to maximize your time savings, but a packed machine won’t clean as well and you may end needing a second washing, wasting more time in the long run. Some loading tips:

  • Plates go on the bottom rack, all facing the same direction
  • Don’t overload the cutlery basket. If water can’t flow through it, your forks and knives won’t get washed. Load knives blade-down for safety, but forks and spoons handle-down so the dirty parts get clean. Be careful when removing cutlery after the wash!
  • Ideally, you should put cups and small bowls on the top rack, with large bowls and pans on the lower rack. Face the dirty side down, but try to keep large dishes angled; laying flat across the rack can block the sprayer from reaching other dishes.
  • Wine glasses can go on the top or bottom rack, depending on their stem length, but should always be placed along the side of the rack if possible.
  • If you have lightweight plastic containers on the top rack, the water jets can blast them upside-down which will keep them from getting cleaned. Try to secure them by overlapping heavier glass dishes on top.
  • Make sure nothing pokes through the bottom of the racks or reaches too high, which could block the spray arms from spinning.

3.) Jet Dry and other rinse aids

Water spots are caused by droplets of water that stay on your dishes after the cycle ends. When they dry, the minerals in the water stay behind, forming the unsightly blotches that mar your fancy wine glasses. If you have particularly hard water, the problem will be worse. Jet Dry and other dishwasher rinse aids work by lowering the surface tension of water, inhibiting its ability to form into droplets and stick to the surface of your dishes.


Fight water spots with a rinse aid or white vinegar.

If you’ve never had a problem with water spots, or if you’ve had a mild problem and it doesn’t bother you, there’s no need to start using a rinse aid. But if you have hard water and are tired of having to rinse your glasses after running a cycle, consider a rinse aid like Jet Dry. It’s important to note that some authorities have rated Jet Dry and other chemical rinse aids as potentially harmful to your health, because of the surfactants they contain. If this concerns you, an all-natural option is to fill the rinse aid compartment of your dishwasher with normal white vinegar. It will achieve the same function and contains no harmful chemicals.

Why not wash by hand?

Washing dishes by hand might be a therapeutic chore for some, and it makes sense when you have only a few dishes to wash. But beyond that, there aren’t any practical reasons to hand washing compared to running the dishwasher.  Besides saving time, the main benefit of using the dishwasher is its ability to use water much hotter than human hands can withstand, creating conditions that will actually sanitize dishes. Additionally, because only hot water and soap actually touch the dishes, there’s no risk of germs being spread, whereas the sponge you reuse to hand wash your dishes is actually chock-full of bacteria. And if you’re concerned about environmental impact, you might be surprised to find out that running the dishwasher saves energy and water compared to washing dishes by hand.

A few simple tips can lead a whole lot of saved time, energy and aggravation this holiday season. Unfortunately, we can’t help you with the leftovers.

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