Friday, January 22, 2010

Dishwashing 101

I do not have (and have never had) a dishwasher. Even as a child, my parents usually did the dishes by hand, prefering to use the dishwasher on holidays or after big dinner parties, rarely on everyday occasions. Both parents did the dishes and both parents swear by the benefits of washing by hand. I suppose old habits die hard.

I had to chuckle the other day when Martha said on her program that she looks forward to washing the dishes after a party, calling it "fun" and "satisfying" to clean up the dinnerware, silverware and glassware. I'm not sure I'd personally go so far as to call it "fun" but it is satisfying. And Martha, of course, has it down to a science, as she does with all homekeeping duties. There is a correct way to do dishes. There is a correct way to load the dishwasher and there are definitely some important tips to always keep in mind. Below is a synopsis of the dos and don'ts of washing dishes, courtesy of's latest newsletter. Notepads ready?
  • When using the dishwasher, put heavy-duty wash jobs on the lower rack, delicate dishes and glassware on the upper rack. Use the prongs to hold glasses and dishes in place.

  • Contrary to what many people think, you can put silverware in the dishwasher. Do not, however, mix silverware with stainless steel culterly as this will cause a chemical reaction that will irreparably damage both sets.

  • Don't jam too much cutlery into the utensil holders. This will not only prevent them from becoming as clean as they can be, but it may also cause their surfaces to scratch.

  • Don't spill dry dishwashing detergent on flatware; it can cause dark spots on the surface.

  • Don't put the following items in the dishwasher: acrylic, adhesive-joined pieces, alluminum, antiques, blown glass, bronze, cast iron, china with metallic decoration, crystal, plastics not labeled as 'dishwasher safe,' flatware with bone or wood inlays or handles, gold-plated flatware, iron utensils, non-stick pots and pans, milk glass, tin, rubber tools, pewter and wooden spoons.
    Contrary to popular belief, you can wash sterling-silver and silverplate utensils in the dishwasher. The key is never to mix these with stainless steel cutlery. A chemical reaction occurs in the high temperatures that will irreparably damage both sets. It's also best to use less detergent when there is silverware in the load. (Personally, I would simply advise washing these by hand. Why risk even the chance of damage to valuable silverware?)
  • Dry dishes on the lowest temperature setting. Hotter temperatures can leave spots on glassware.

  • Use a rinse aid. They lower the surface tension of the rinse water so that droplets don't form, particularly helpful if you have hard water. They also help dishes dry faster, which can be helpful when using the Energy-Saving dry cycle or by letting the dishes air dry.

  • Try to run full loads. If the dishwasher is partially full, use the Rinse-Hold cycle to remove odour-causing foods. This is more economical than rinsing dishes by hand before loading the dishwasher, which can waste up to 20 gallons of water per load, or 6,500 gallons of water per household per year.

  • Always use the recommended amount of detergent; too much can leave the dishes streaky, too little can result in unclean dishes.
To facilitate her love of entertaining, Martha had four dishwashers at Turkey Hill to help with clean-up, including this one shown above in the main house. Here, it is filled with Wedgwood drabware, wine goblets and silverware.


  • Use a plastic tub to do the dishes in the sink. This prevents breakage and also limits the amount of water one uses.

  • Two or three squirts of dishwashing liquid is plenty for a family-size load of dishes. This is more economical than squirting the dishwashing liquid directly onto the dishes or onto a cleaning sponge. Choose a dishwashing liquid that is mild but effective on grease.

  • Use hot water. The hotter the water, the less scrubbing and washing you'll have to do and the faster the dishes will dry, since hot water evaporates faster. (To protect skin from the damage hot water can cause, use rubber gloves.)

  • Wash dishes by hand in this order: crystal, glassware, clear glass plates and platters, other plates, flatware, serveware, the greasiest serving dishes and then pots and pans. Drain the tub and refill with clean water as needed. Rinse four or five pieces at a time, using hot running water from the tap.

  • The sooner you rinse pots and pans after using them, the easier it will be. Salt can be an effective grease-fighting agent. Rub salt into stubborn grease residue and rub it gently with a sponge until the grease is gone.

  • If you've left pots and pans and the food and residue has hardened onto the surface, fill them with hot water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Bring the water to a boil and let it soak for about an hour and then clean it as you normally would.
  • Badly burned pots and pans without a nonstick coating can be cleaned with cold water and two or three tablespoons of salt. Let the solution soak overnight. The next morning, slowly bring the mixture to a boil. The burn markings should disappear. You may need to repeat a few times, then wash as you normally would.

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