It’s a closely run race as to which appliance gets the greatest work-out in the kitchen. Sure your fridge is on 24/7 and many people regularly cook up a storm in their oven or air fryer, but for some busy households, the dishwasher is the true hero. Constantly being loaded up with all our dirty dishes and discarded cups which it graciously returns to us freshly rinsed and sparkling clean, ready to be put away for another day – it’s the appliance many of us could not do without.
But have you been giving your dishwasher the love that it deserves in return for being such a magic kitchen helper? A little regular TLC and maintenance means that your diligent little dishwasher will last as long as it should – about nine years on average – which may mean one less appliance heading to landfill sooner as well.
Plus, with dishwashers costing anywhere from $300 up to around $4000, it's worth doing a few simple tasks to ensure you can hold off any expensive calls to the repairperson and get the most for your money.
1. Clean the filter properly
We know it's not a pleasant job – that filter can get pretty gross and gunky after all – but our experts say this is one of the most vital things you can do to keep your dishwasher running smoothly. And you should do it at least once a month, avoiding potential issues that can arise from a clogged filter.
CHOICE dishwasher expert Ashley Iredale says: "A dirty filter left for too long can cause bad blockages, not to mention a bad smell when food gets stuck in there a little too long. Keeping your filter clean helps your dishwasher run more efficiently and means food scraps are less likely to find their way deeper into the machine, which can cause problems."
Not sure where your dishwasher filter is? It's at the bottom of your dishwasher, under the bottom rack – just pull out the bottom drawer/rack and look in one of the back corners or around the base of the bottom spray arm. It looks like a basket that you can easily remove and rinse under hot water to remove grease and grime – so there's no reason to put it off any longer. Find out more about how to clean a clogged dishwasher filter.
A dirty filter can cause blockages, not to mention a bad smell when food gets stuck there too long.
2. Run an occasional cleaning cycle
Ash says that every now again you should run your dishwasher on empty, using the hottest cycle possible. This can help to flush away built-up grease and limescale that can create issues down the track if you don't take care of it.
"There are several commercially available cleaning products that claim to clear out your dishwasher's internals and leave it sparkling clean. You can use those or plain white vinegar works as well – pour two cups of vinegar into a dishwasher-safe bowl and place it in a rack in your empty dishwasher, then run the cycle," he says.
"Vinegar is much cheaper and can help shift discolourations, foul smells, and nasties built up in your pipes."
Check your dishwasher manual first though, as some manufacturers advise against using vinegar in their appliances.
Every now again you should run your dishwasher on empty, using the hottest cycle possibleAshley Iredale, CHOICE appliance expert
3. Don't put things in the dishwasher that you shouldn't
While there are a great number of things you can use the dishwasher to clean beyond your standard tableware and pots and pans (ever tried cleaning your fridge produce drawers in there? Genius!), our experts do have a few warnings to help you limit damage to your appliance.
"There are just some things that don't belong in your dishwasher," says Ash. "Anything that might clog it up – such as ash from ashtrays or, perhaps obviously, anything coated in solvent or flammable liquid. Take care that when putting certain things in your dishwasher you're not impeding the spray arms or bending the dishwasher racks, and that you're stacking it properly to avoid issues such as broken glass ending up in the filter."
4. Don't ignore an issue that's easy to fix
This pretty much goes for any appliance – if you see a problem, don't ignore it and hope it's going to magically fix itself. Many minor issues, such as leftover standing water after a load or a broken spray arm, can be easily fixed before they turn into a bigger issue.
Most big-brand dishwashers will have spare parts available to purchase for general maintenance (such as new baskets or trays if yours break) but if you have an issue you can't fix yourself, you may need to call a plumber or service technician.
If your machine is out of warranty, you may have to shoulder this cost yourself – read more about your rights in regards to refund, repair or replacement under the Australian Consumer Law.
5. Leave the door ajar between cycles
Whenever possible, leave the door on your dishwasher ajar to give it a good air out. This will help the seals retain their shape and will reduce odours and mould growth.
Leave your dishwasher door ajar to prevent mould and unpleasant smells.
6. Run your dishwasher regularly
To maximise performance and longevity, it's a good idea to run your dishwasher regularly – at least once a fortnight. It helps keep everything running smoothly and can stop your dishwasher's seals from drying out which can lead to issues with its ability to run or pump water.
"A common issue that causes dishwasher failure is actually insect infestation – for some reason, insects love dishwasher electronics. Running your dishwasher regularly will mean the little critters won't have the chance to move in," says Ash.
7. Use dishwasher salt
Dishwasher salt helps soften the hard water (i.e. water with a high mineral content) that over time can create a mineral buildup that can clog up your dishwasher, causing it to break down more easily or require more regular repairs.
In Australia, we mostly have 'soft water', however, if your water supply has a particularly high mineral content then adding dishwasher salt to your appliance can help soften the water, improving wash performance and reducing mineral deposits.
Most dishwashers will have an indicator light to tell you when to top up the salt – check your manual for instructions on how to do it, or how to deactivate the light if you find dishwasher salt is not necessary.
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