Comment Of The Day: Dishwasher, Clean Thyself

(Anne Makaske


We’re reviving an old-school Consumerist feature last seen circa 2008: the Comment of the Day. On this morning’s post about cleaning ‘taters and cooking salmon in the dishwasher, commenter Pasketti observed that only a dishwasher that is itself clean can clean your potatoes properly.

Here’s a direct link to the original comment.

Maybe if I’d cleaned the dishwasher out beforehand.

What’s that you say? How can a dishwasher not be clean? It cleans dishes, surely it cleans itself as a side effect?

When they took phosphates out of the detergent, our dishwasher stopped cleaning the dishes as well as it used to. A coating of slime and funk started appearing in nooks and crannies. It eventually got so thick that I had to partially disassemble the dishwasher to clean it out.

I discovered that if I run it empty with some bleach and OxiClean it will clean it out really well, so I haven’t had to disassemble it again.

I also picked up some TSP, and put a tablespoon or so into every load.

Meanwhile, RoguePisigit doesn’t bother with the dishwasher at all.

The closest I’ve come to this is thawing Toaster Strudel icing packets by putting them in my bra.


Edit Your Comment

  1. macemoneta says:

    The cheap dishwasher detergent we buy has bleach; no problems.

    • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

      That is different than USING bleach to clean the unit.

      • BeaconSlash says:


        If there’s bleach in the machine while it’s running, the bleach will affect anything inside.

        Unless you’re trying to differentiate running an empty machine with some bleach in it vs a normal load with some bleach-containing detergent… bleach will still clean the inside, regardless.

  2. He says:

    You’re lauding the suggestion that putting the stuff that causes algal blooms back into the detergent? Bleach sure, but don’t feed the algae.

    • MrEvil says:

      I thought Algae were like other photosynthetic plants, they take in CO2 and produce O2.

      • MaryK says:

        Yes but in the event of a bloom, too many algae are produced and then die and then the bacteria that decompose the algae become too numerous and oxygen near the bottom is depleted, creating a dead zone.

        That’s the simplified version of it. It’s very bad for the environment. The dense algae on the surface also prevent light getting to other plants.

      • iesika says:

        Phosphates are in fertilizers as well as in detergents. The algae can’t tell that you intended these phosphates to get stains out, not to feed the tomatoes. Hence, the boom in algae growth.

        (MaryK’s comment explains the result nicely, but not the connection between phosphates and algal blooms, so I wanted to clear that up for any confused readers).

    • Powerlurker says:

      Home washing is one of the smallest contributors to algae causing phosphate pollution. Most of the phosphate entering waterways comes from industrial plants, largely paper mills.

  3. NickRayko says:

    Is that kitty waiting for you to put salmon in the dishwasher, or is she in there because it now smells like fish?

  4. rookie says:

    to heck with the dishwasher,
    i wanna hear more about frozen icing packets…

  5. Mr_Magoo says:

    You can still buy commercial grade dishwasher detergent that has phosphates. As soon as we switched back to this about a year ago, are dishes started getting clean again and the white film disappeared.

    • Willow16 says:

      Where do you get this? We have such hard water that when they reformulated the dishwasher detergent, our dishes/glasses never got clean. We add Lemi Shine to each wash but it’s pretty expensive.

  6. ovalseven says:

    A tablespoon of TSP is way too much.

  7. Willow16 says:

    I tried using TSP but it didn’t work with our very hard water. Only Lemi Shine works.

  8. curiositykt says:

    How MUCH oxyclean and bleach? I would like to try this!

    • Pasketti says:

      About as much as you’d pour into your washer. Probably overkill to use both, but see the pictures I posted.

  9. Pasketti says:

    Well, this is unexpected.


  10. Jimbo says:

    I’ve been using Finish Glass Magic Dishwasher Performance Booster and it works wonders. Had foggy glasses and a white film over everything for years and it was all gone in one wash. Been buying it on Amazon as it a little hard to find locally.

  11. kbsparky says:

    What about using TANG to clean your dishwasher? I’ve heard that running an empty machine with a bunch of TANG breakfast drink mix in the soap dispenser will clean a unit’s innards quite nicely….

    Click here for more info

    • NorthJersey says:

      The solution is definitely and conclusively TSP. We faced this precise problem almost immediately when phosphates were stripped out of dishwashing detergents. We tried most of the new reformulated detergents but nothing was as quite as good as the old phosphate-laden stuff. Finish tabs did the best, but were still a poor substitute.

      After some Googling the TSP solution was mentioned and I bought a box from a local Sears Hardware. A little goes a long way. We found that no more than 3/4 of a TEAspoon’s worth is enough, and usually a half-teaspoon for normal loads is sufficient. It really *does* work miracles.

      We also clean the dishwasher monthly. When it’s empty, start a “lite” cycle and add about 2 cups of household white vinegar at the beginning. DO NOT USE ANY DETERGENT!

      A repair tech suggested the following protocol that hasn’t failed us yet: Put the vinegar in at the start of the cycle. Our machine does a pre-wash for for about two minutes. We run it for roughly 90 seconds, allowing the pump to push the vinegar-and-water solution into all the sprayer nooks and crannies. After 90 seconds OPEN THE DOOR and LEAVE IT OPEN FOR AN HOUR. The vinegar-and-water solution will remove the hard water deposits in the pump and disposal parts.

      After one hour close the door and resume the cycle. In a few seconds the pump will push out the vinegar solution and refill it with just regular water. Let it continue as normal and that’s that. The harder the water in your area the more often you should do this. Monthly or every 2 months seems to work well for us here in Northern NJ, where the water is extremely hard.

      • Michael990 says:

        TSP can cause problems overtime, if possible I would try to purchase STPP.

      • deckm00 says:

        Well I’ve just been filling the open cup with plain vinegar with every other load and adding a Finish tab in the enclosed cup and everything comes out spotless including the inside of the machine. So far I don’t see any harm in doing it this way.

    • wm says:

      you are using the effects of vitamin c,(a form of acid) as in lemon/orange juice. I use the powered form of this vitamin (I work in a chemical manufacturing plant) to clean my dish washer and coffee maker and so on. It does do wonders, and at worst if you do ingest the cleaner for some reason you get a healthy shot of the said vitamin.

  12. gedster314 says:

    I must be weird but I never use the dish washer. I prefer to hand wash and dry. Most meals take less then 15minutes to clean up and when there is a party there are usually more dishes then what the dishwasher can take.

    Anyone else notice that dishwashing soap is not as good as it use to be? I find myself having to use more soap then I use to Does not matter which brand, they all seem pretty wimpy now days.

  13. Press1forDialTone says:

    Dishwashers are one of the most unnecessary kitchen appliances
    (in the same group as trash compactors) ever invented especially
    if you don’t have to wash many dishes and you just put dishes
    in the dishwasher (often without rinsing them) and -wait- (ugh)
    until its ready for a full cycle. They waste water and the ones that
    don’t don’t use enough and get slimy. Food hardens on the dishes
    and makes them more difficult to get really clean. They use electricity
    like its going out of style (Energy Star big numbers means they’ve
    toned down the cycles which encourages slime. If you’re only washing
    dishes for 2 or 3 adults most of the time, you should never use a dishwasher.
    And if you’re throwing a shindig, your guests should be grateful enough to
    help with the dishes, its a great way to chat and have fun.

    • FreddyJohnson says:


      A Consumer Reports study shows that washing by hand is much less efficient than using a dishwasher, and Energy Star confirms this:

      “Thought you were efficient? A new ENERGY STAR qualified dishwasher uses less than half as much energy as washing dishes by hand and saves nearly 5,000 gallons of water a year!”

      Not to mention the value of my time hunched over a sink scrubbing dishes.

      • tungstencoil says:

        You stole my thunder :)! I love facts and studies, they trump impressions and feelings every time. I’ve never experienced ‘slime’ or problems. Seems if you did it’s easily rectified by cleaning the dishwasher, which is something I do monthly (along with my washer and dryer).

        There are two adults in my house, and we use enough dishes to run the dishwasher at least every other day, sometimes every.

        I cook from scratch, and so there’s prep articles as well to clean. I also tend to start most dinners with a salad (so salad bowls, etc) before the main (dinner plate), and we tend to have a glass of wine with dinner but then drink water the rest of the night (extra glasses).

  14. wm says:

    I do my dishes by hand.
    My question would be as follows. Why does the dishwasher detergent not also take care of the machine itself. I know that the detergent is useless in a sink, so I assumed that it had additives to help take care of the mechanical washer as well. It surely uses enough water to do this. Is it just because of the moisture, (mold/fungus)?

  15. Michael990 says:

    As someone who formerly worked at P&G (who makes Cascade) I would like to say that those phosphates being banned really destroyed all detergents. What a lot of people don’t understand is 87% of Americans live in hard water areas, and without the phosphates to reduce the hardness most dishwashers have a harder time dissolving food particles and preventing them from re-accumulating on dishes. That and calcium deposits start to accumulate on dish’s because the phosphate in not there to dissolve them. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, those calcium deposits are the white salt looking stuff on your dishes.

    The best solution I can actually recommend is to purchase STPP and use a 2/3 of a table spoon with some powder detergent. Or simple purchase some detergent with phosphates still in it.

  16. Rahnee says:

    About once a month I run my dishwasher empty with a packet of unsweetened powdered lemon aid mix. The citric acid seems to clean it well and leaves it smelling nice. Its also cheap at around 25cents a packet.

  17. missy070203 says:

    Considering everything in my home is old school 1940’s style …. I have never owned or used a dish washer….I also do not have a clothes dryer either and cannot understand why someone would want to try to cook things in a dishwasher.

    I’m curious to know who just woke up one day and decided hmmmm what would happen if I tossed some taters and salmon in the dishwasher?

    • Charmander says:

      What does the age of your house have to do with whether you have a dishwasher or not? My house was built in 1945 and maybe the house didn’t originally come with a dishwasher, but one was installed at some point.

      I’m sure there are people living in houses over a hundred years old that have toilets in them that weren’t there originally.

      Also, there were dishwasher prior to the 1940s. Just toured an historic home that had a circa 1916 dishwasher in the kitchen. It was not electric.

  18. ArizonaGeek says:

    We have super hard water here in the Arizona desert so about every month or so I dump a couple of cups of CLR in my dishwasher and run it through a cycle empty. That seems to help clean it pretty well.

  19. tungstencoil says:

    People who question why you’d have to clean the washer:

    Why do you have to clean your shower or bathtub? After all, you use them to wash something, stands to reason….

    I wash/clean my dishwasher, clothes washer, and dryer each about once a month.

    • missy070203 says:

      what do you use to clean your washer? — just wondering if there is a more simple way of doing other than taking it half apart —

      • tungstencoil says:

        Dishwasher: the (I think Jet brand) dishwasher cleaner works well.
        Washing machine: bleach on the steam/sanitize cycle (front-loader). When I had a top loader it was just cup of bleach on the hot cycle.
        Dryer: Wipe it down with mild soap solution (on the inside) followed by a couple of wipe-downs with just a damp cloth to get the soap out.

        • missy070203 says:

          I tried the bleach thing it didn’t help much as my washer is almost 20 years old (has to be for me to be able to plug it in…. I have an old federal pacific glass fuse box) plus I use liquid fabric softner (because I don’t have a dryer….again can’t plug one in and don’t like crispy clothes) which turns to glue in all the nooks an crannies of the agitator…. i take it apart once a week and clean but its a painful process…..