On average, a dishwasher should last for 10 years. But if you want to ensure a decade of trouble-free use, you'll need to maintain it. Here are our best tips for taking care of your dishwasher.
1. Read the manual
The best way to extend the life of your dishwasher is to tailor all of your actions to the information in the instruction manual. While manuals are sometimes a nightmare to navigate, and those that are less than perfectly translated are often cryptic in their advice, it's worth your time to try to read it through. You may be surprised by your dishwasher's features and functions.
When you get a new machine, it's tempting to treat it the same way you did your last appliance. But technologies change and what gave you the best performance from your old dishwasher may not work for your new one.
Even if you've had your dishwasher for a while, we'd recommend dusting down the manual and having a look-through. If it's made its way to the Narnia of single socks and household scissors, then get online and search for the make and model number of your machine and you should find the product instructions.
2. Run the clean cycle
You may find that your machine has a self-cleaning cycle. If so, run it! People who previously had older dishwashers without this function are often reluctant to use it as they believe that they are just wasting electricity. But programmes like this are included by engineers for a reason and it will extend your dishwasher's life.
3. Use your dishwasher
Your dishwasher is made to be used. Running it regularly will help you to keep it clean.
And, although it sounds unlikely, it's best for everyone to do so. Modern dishwashers will actually save you water. They are much more efficient than washing by hand: between three and five times more efficient. They also use less detergent. And, although they obviously use power, so does heating up the water for hand washing.
Dishwashers are also more hygienic. Although few get hot enough to completely sanitise dishes, the fact that they are much more efficient at removing food debris means that there are fewer places for bacteria to live.
Finally, using your dishwasher means the end of the puddles of food-flecked water around your sink, as well as less reliance on your tea towel, which is nothing more than a damp, foetid holiday home for bacteria.
4. Add dishwasher salt
Dishwasher salt will soften hard water, ensuring that your kitchenware is perfectly washed and that the inside of the dishwasher stays clean. It will also protect your dishwasher from limescale deposits, which will help to keep it running efficiently. Only use dishwasher salt for this. You can’t substitute any other kind of salt as it could damage your dishwasher.
You should top up your dishwasher salt once a month, or when you see that the salt indicator light has come on.
Multi-tab detergents usually contain dishwasher salt and their packaging will encourage you not to worry about adding salt separately, but the best advice is to use it no matter what kind of detergent you buy. It will make a difference to the life of your dishwasher, particularly if you’re in a hard water area.
If you want to know how to add dishwasher salt, check out our how-to guide.
5. Clean your dishwasher
Keeping your dishwasher clean will ensure that it's running efficiently and that no product builds up inside to affect its operation.
For a step-by-step guide and some tips on what cleaning products to use and what to avoid, have a look at our dishwasher cleaning guide.
Should you use a rinse aid?
Rinse aid is a surfactant: it reduces the surface tension of water, which means that it prevents water from forming into droplets and instead allows it to drain away in sheets, preventing spots on glassware and cutlery.
These water marks are more likely in hard water areas. Water droplets evaporate, leaving behind calcium and magnesium deposits.
Rinse aid is not vital to the health of your dishwasher the way that salt is, but if your glassware isn’t coming out of the dishwasher sparkling, but streaky or with spots, then it’s a good idea to use it.
Some people have concerns about the environmental effects of rinse aid. If you have concerns about pumping out more detergents into the environment, opt for an environmentally friendly brand, such as Ecover.
Rinse aid is usually added to a small reservoir in the door of the dishwasher – right next to the tablet compartment. It only holds a small amount of liquid, so be careful not to overfill it. If you spill any inside the dishwasher, wipe it up.
Powder, gel or tablets?
Powder is generally your cheapest option. It's also more effective than liquid. One advantage of powder is that it can contain both bleach and enzymes. Liquid detergents can’t do that as bleach, in liquid form, will kill enzymes.
The main disadvantage of powder is that it's messy and takes a bit more effort to measure out the right amount. If you over or under-use it, it can affect the working of your dishwasher.
Powder has fallen out of favour in recent times with the suggestion that it never completely dissolves and so can build up on the inside of your dishwasher. However, a regular cleaning programme will get rid of any deposits.
Powder has also gained the reputation of being less effective. There’s a good chance that this is because it begins working when it comes into contact with water. If it’s stored in a cardboard box under the sink, it's probably getting damp. This means that it's beginning to react when it's stored, rendering it far less effective by the time it goes into your dishwasher. If you buy powder, keep it in a sealed tub and keep it dry.
Dishwasher gel is generally considered the least effective option. It's more expensive than powder, less easy to use than tablets and less efficient than either. It's your last resort.
Most of the new cleaning advances have gone into tablets and they regularly top product testing tables. Although they are the most expensive option, they are easy to use and contain just the right quantity of each ingredient. Our advice would be to find a well-reviewed tablet (ideally ones that aren't individually wrapped, to minimise their environmental impact) and go with that.
And that's it. Love your dishwasher and it'll – well, not love you back, so much as continue to wash your dishes, so you can sod off to the sofa with a cup of tea. It's the perfect relationship.
If your dishwasher is coming to the end of it's life and you're considering replacing it, we've reviewed both a full-size integrated dishwasher, the Hisense HV651D60UK, and a slim model, the Neff N50 slimline S875HKX20G – which has smart features.