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21 Ways You’re Shortening the Life of Your Dishwasher

Bear in mind these ways to keep this appliance running or else risk washing your dishes by hand.

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Child hand washing dishes over the sink in the kitchen

Not cleaning or overcleaning dishes before loading them

Don’t fall for ads which show dishwashers cleaning practically full meals off of dinner plates. Doug Rogers, past president of Mr. Appliance, says food particles remaining on plates can gum up the moving parts of the appliance and get cut in the crevices. Rinsing can help prevent this and keep your machine running smoother for longer. However, cleaning your plates entirely is one way you’re loading your dishwasher incorrectly. Leaving some residue on them is necessary in order for the detergent to work properly, says Shirley Hood, an appliance expert and sales representative with Abt Electronics.

Dishwasher Dog - cute Jack Russell doggy with dishwasher mashine
Maria Borodulina/Shutterstock

Abusing the door

Don’t let your pets or children sit on the door to the dishwasher. It may sound obvious, but it’s something Hood, with over 20 years experience, sees often, along with damage from people tripping over the doors of their dishwashers. Plus, it’s so fun to play with the door at the end of the cycle and watch the steam come billowing out!

Dishwasher capsules three in one

Using too much detergent

Hood says overloading on detergent—one of the most common dishwashing mistakes—can cause residue buildup in the wash and rain pumps. Use pre-measured detergent packs like these to make sure you’re not overdoing it.

Open dishwasher with clean utensils in it, man hands loading dishes to the dishwasher machine, introducing or taking out a plate and cup, clean tableware after cleaning process
Alena TS/Shutterstock

Running small loads

Always be sure your dishwasher is full, Rogers recommends. Not only will it save you on water and electric, but it’ll mean fewer uses and a longer life for the appliance. A rare instance in which it might be better to hand wash instead!

Installation of household appliances. Workman attaches a drain hose to a sewage pipe.

Forgetting to replace the hose

Change inlet/outlet hoses every five years to avoid calcium buildup, Mark McCleary, vice president of marketing for Beko and Bloomberg told Consumer Reports. You can change the hoses on your own or call a technician if you’re uncertain. A hose like this should work if you decide to take the DIY avenue—but make sure it’s the right size first! Have you ever wondered why plastic containers don’t dry in the dishwasher? So have we!

pouring the powder into the dishwasher. work on cleaning the house

Using hard water

The quality of your water may not be on your side depending on where you live, but hard water causes dishes to break and builds up mineral layers on the inside of your dishwasher and its pipes, according to Smith. Luckily, she says, there’s a number of ways to soften water whether it’s detergent with water softeners, water filters, water softening units, or conditioners. “They have the same goal, namely, to improve the overall appliance efficiency, avoid damaged components, and extend the dishwasher lifecycle,” Smith says.

Professional worker repairing the dishwasher in the kitchen

Avoiding regular inspections

If there’s something wrong with your dishwasher, don’t hesitate to call a professional, advises Stephany Smith, part of the handyman crew at My Handyman Services. “It’s important for an experienced repairman to check for loose, damaged valves, tub or door troubles that may further result in drips, leaks and even worse, in substantial water damages,” Smith says. “Professional help will keep the mechanics operate efficiently and save you from major repairs and replacement costs in the long run.” Here are some surprising items you can put in the dishwasher.

clean dishes inside the dishwasher after washing

Putting sharp objects in the racks

Leave the knives in the silverware rack. Sharp edges will scrape off the plastic covering the metal of the racks, Rogers says. Without that plastic protection, the metal of the racks will begin to rust and break down the machine. As for other utensils, should they be loaded up or down?

broken glass on dark wood background, concept of danger

Leaving broken glass in the bottom

It happens: things break in the dishwasher. But Hood says people often don’t realize there’s glass in the appliance. “Depending on the size, glass chards can get past the dishwasher filter and make its way into the drain pump where it can cause real damage,” she says. Next, check out these other things that are not dishwasher safe and can cause potential damage to your dishwasher.

Small dishwasher full of clean dishes

Overloading it

“If there are too many dishes loaded in the washer, the chances of overheating go up greatly,” says Mark Stoltzenburg, an HVAC/R-MAR program director/instructor at the Midwest Technical Institute. “Many of the components inside have a safety device to protect them from overheating, but by overloading the dishwasher those devices have a harder job, and component failure is more likely.”

Control panel of a household or kitchen appliance

Using the delay cycle

“Even if the delay start option is invented to deliver comfort and convenience, in a mechanical point of view, your appliance works harder to warm the water to the required temperature for dish-washing,” Smith says. “A harder and longer operation always impacts service life and reliability.”

Maintenance of home appliances. Man cleans the filter in the dishwasher.

Forgetting to empty the food trap

Extra food particles that don’t come off dishes from an initial rinse gets collected in your dishwasher’s food trap. To avoid clogging, Family Handyman recommends lifting up the arm at the bottom of your dishwasher to empty the food trap about once a week. It might be making your dishwasher moldy.

Beautiful burning wax candle in holder on table
New Africa/Shutterstock

Running through candle holders without removing melted wax

Hood says people often throw candle holders and glass votives in the dishwasher without removing the melted wax first. The wax can cause residue buildup, which if not removed, can clog the wash and drain pump over time.

dirty dishes in the dishwasher

Putting in items that are too dirty

Items marred by dirt, sand, machine grease, and metal shavings should all be kept out of the dishwasher. “The system is robust, but if too much dirt gets into the dishwasher these fine particles might get into the rack tracks and inner workings of the system,” says Christopher Carlson, a senior analyst in dishwasher engineering and technology for Whirlpool Corporation. “Best to rinse off those picnic dishes from the beach before loading them.” Try out some of these things you never knew your dishwasher could do.

man unplugged plug to save on energy
Casezy idea/Shutterstock

Skipping surge protectors

It may seem extreme, but installing surge protectors can prevent future dishwasher breakdowns by diverting extreme voltage in the case of a power surge or spike brought on by a thunderstorm or lightning strike, Smith says. The bonus: these protectors will protect all your big appliances from electrical shock during a storm.

Dishwasher Capsule hand holds the capsule
Sergey Lapin/Shutterstock

Not using a dishwasher cleaning product

You know to use dishwasher soap to clean the dishes, but are you cleaning the dishwasher itself? Rogers recommends running a dishwasher on an empty cycle every three to six months to clear calcium deposits. “This prevents the sprayer arm from becoming clogged, so you don’t have to worry about repairing it prematurely,” he says. Running once a month with white vinegar instead of detergent also keeps the machine running efficiently and eliminates any lingering odors.

placing the dishwasher detergent for dirty dishes.
Beykov Maksim/Shutterstock

Using cheap dishwasher products

Saving a buck on dishwasher soaps, detergent, or degreasing products can cost you in the long run, Smith advises. “The best rule of thumb is to use only top-rated dishwasher products to clean the dishwasher interior,” she says. The best bet is to buy products labeled as “detergents.” The particles in cleaning powders can scratch the interior appliance surface, lead to clogs and cause leaks. Sam’s Club’s Member’s Mark Dishwater Detergent has been garnered an Excellent rating from Consumer Reports’ testing lab.

the dishwasher carriage. Dishwasher from the inside close up

Forgetting to lock the filter at the bottom of the dishwasher

“This can cause large food items like nuts or even glass to get into the drain pump and cause damage to the line,” says Hood. “The mesh filters at the bottom of most dishwashers is for protection of the wash pump. If you don’t place the filter back into the lock position after removing it for cleaning, you are giving it the chance to move around during the wash cycle, allowing room for food particles and even glass to get into the drain pump which over time can clog or damage the line.”

Filter with mesh for dishwasher.

Neglecting to clean the dishwasher screen

Check to see if there’s a filtering screen under the bottom spray arm of your dishwasher. Rogers says this is present in some models and cleaning this regularly can prevent trapped food particles from turning into a sludge that blocks water flow.

control panel, select a washing program in the dishwasher

Running the wrong cycle type

“It could be tempting to use a lighter, faster, and economical program to save water and energy,” Smith says. “However, you won’t only lose cleaning efficiency, but also risk to leave dirty ingredients and clogs on the mechanical parts.”

dishwasher, open and loaded with dishes, man hand taking out clean wine glass, after washing

Loading it incorrectly

It may seem more efficient to fill your dishwasher quickly and sometimes stick items on shelves where they don’t belong, like glasses on the bottom rack. But this can actually result in broken glass or a blocked water sprayer, says Family Handyman. Not great for a machine you want to last! While you’re carefully loading your dishwasher correctly, be sure to add this ingredient to add sparkle and prevent that filmy residue from your glassware.

Erin Kayata
Erin Kayata joined Reader’s Digest as an assistant staff writer in March 2019, coming from the Stamford Advocate where she covered education. Prior to this, she was part of a two-year Hearst fellowship program where she covered crime and education in suburban Connecticut. She graduated from Emerson College and spent part of her undergraduate career writing for the Boston Globe. When she’s not writing articles about useful facts and pop culture, you can find Erin enjoying the local theater scene and working toward her goal of reading 50 books a year.