How to Remove Residue from Your Dishwasher and Dishes

You’ve just bought a brand new dishwasher. You’re using high quality detergent. Yet each time you run the dishwasher, the dishes are coated with a white sticky residue of detergent. This practically requires you to rewash all the dishes by hand to remove it. How could this happen?

There are several different reasons why dishes don’t get clean in the dishwasher. The most important one is that you’re using a dishwasher detergent which isn’t compatible with your dishwasher model. Each dishwasher functions differently, so a detergent which worked fine in one machine leaves residue another.

I had this same problem when I bought a brand new Frigidaire dishwasher at Best Buy for around a thousand dollars. I thought that buying the higher end dishwasher would get my dishes sparkling clean. But when I continued to use my old baking soda Palmolive dishwasher detergent, which was the only thing that worked in my old machine, there was a residue on everything.

Here are some tips on removing that residue.

Use Vinegar

Vinegar is the first and least toxic cleaner to use on the inside of your dishwasher. You shouldn’t use it too often, since it will erode the lining of the washer. One trick is to pour a cup of vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher, and then run a rinse cycle. If this doesn’t get the dishwasher clean, spray some vinegar on the surfaces and use a plastic scrubber to remove residue buildup. Be sure to scrub the heating element, which is prone to attracting and holding the residue more than other surfaces.

Refill the Rinse Aid

If the rinse aid has run out, this can cause significant problems with your dishwasher. Refill the reservoir, then wipe the outside with a towel or napkin and replace the plug. The rinse aid plays a very important role in getting dishes clean. Without it the dishwasher simply can’t get the detergent residues off your dishes.

Change Detergents

Check your dishwasher manufacturer’s recommendations for detergent. In my experience, the best detergent for removing residue by far is Cascade Complete. It seems a little expensive right off the shelf, but compared to the frustrations of running a dishwasher and not having clean dishes, it’s a small price to pay. It will cost you a fortune to take your dishwasher in to the shop or have a technician come to your home. So Cascade Complete is by comparison a bargain.

The only drawback is that while Cascade Complete really gets dishes clean, it is a relatively toxic detergent. I strongly recommend that you do not wash any plastics in the dishwasher, especially not in Cascade Complete. The plastic absorbs toxins from the detergent, and the heat in the dishwasher releases the toxins in the plastic. So clean your plastics by hand if you can find the time.

Always Use Fresh Detergent

If your detergent has become old and dried up, this can contribute to dishwasher residue. Discard the old cakey detergent and start afresh. The buildup of bad detergent inside the washer can also contribute to this effect, so clean it out regularly.

Don’t Run the Heated Dry

Dishwasher detergent residue is like clay. If you run a heated dry, you’re basically baking it on, and it will be that much harder to remove. You don’t really need a heated dry cycle anyhow, and doing without it saves money.

Do Run the Heated Wash

Especially if the weather is cold outside, or if your water heater is not doing a good job, the heated wash is essential to getting dishes really clean. This is because the temperature in the water heater often is less than ideal for washing dishes, and can lose heat traveling through the pipes in your house. My dishwasher also has a “Sanirinse” function which subjects the dishes to a hot rinse after they’re done washing, and helps to sterilize the dishes, rinse off any remaining dishwasher detergent and food particles. During the hot months of the summer, the heated wash may actually raise temperatures inside your dishwasher to above optimum, so turn it off if you experience problems.

Test Your Water

If you don’t know whether your water is hard or soft, you may need to test it. Hard water requires more detergent, and soft water requires less. If you use lots of detergent in a soft water area, you can actually etch your glassware. Then that white “residue” film will become permanent, because it’s not really residue. So be sure that you know what water conditions you’re working with before you add your detergent.

These techniques should remove all of the residue from your dishes and dishwasher. If the build-up or food particles aren’t too severe, you can spray them with vinegar and wipe them with a towel. As a last resort, or in a pinch, you can hand wash the dishes which didn’t get clean.

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