Last updated on February 9th, 2015
For eons, etiquette columns have doled out advice on being a good houseguest: bring gifts, don’t overstay your welcome, respect your hosts’ privacy. Even the Medieval Gazette probably had a few tips on what to do if your horse accidentally nibbled Lady Agatha’s precious family tapestries. But woe to the houseguest who’s faced with an OCD host, filling the house with lists of draconian rules for every aspect of life under his or her roof.
Hand in the air. That’s me, at least when it comes to use of my kitchen. Come on, after reading about the level of detail I put into my dinner party menus, would you want to move any pan or touch a knife without my approval? Even a seasoned expert like Stephanie Stiavetti was slightly cowed by my stringent guidelines when she spent a few weeks with me this winter.
As someone who admittedly ran her machine half-full every night, Steph was especially frightened-slash-impressed by the military precision with which I managed my dishwasher. Every time I yelped at her for putting an item on the forbidden list into the top rack, I felt awful, but I just couldn’t help myself. This stuff is important, you know?
Steph, I’m sorry, and I’m turning your pain into everyone else’s gain. For the edification of anyone who spends the night at Casa Barber—and anyone who wants to make his/her dishwasher more energy efficient and the expensive cookware last longer—here are the five rules to remember for dishwasher happiness:
- No good knives. Obviously the stainless-steel dinner or butter knives that came with your five-piece cutlery sets are A-OK to withstand the dishwasher spray. But stick to hand washing for all your forged steel knives—chef’s, paring, serrated, santoku, steak, and so on. The heat and pressure of the water jostles the knives like a mosh pit circa 1994, causing the wood or plastic handles to eventually warp and crack, and dulling the blades at warp speed. You paid a lot of money for those German and Japanese beauties; you don’t want to be forced to buy another set, right?
- No Tupperware-style plastic. Polypropylene cutting boards pass muster (although the heat of the dishwasher is likely not enough to sanitize the salmonella away—review my post on cutting board safety for a rundown), but the threat of BPA and other super-awesome chemicals (sarcasm!) leaching from plastics is more than enough to keep the Gladware, Tupperware, and Rubbermaid out of the dishwasher. Yes, even the top rack. Until I win the lottery and can completely move from plastic-based storage to glass jars and containers, this is the next best solution.
- No nonstick cookware. Even if the company swears up and down that their brand is completely dishwasher-safe, there’s a way greater chance of the nonstick coating peeling or flaking off when constantly subjected to the harsh cleaning environment of a dishwasher. It seems silly when a dishwasher’s water temperature only reaches about 140˚ and a skillet reaches 350˚-400˚ over medium heat (the highest temperature setting you should use when cooking with nonstick pans—no broiling, no searing, no high heat). But unlike a round on the stovetop, where the nonstick surface is well-lubricated with olive oil, butter, or duck fat (yeah!), there’s nothing protecting the coating when the pan goes into the dishwasher. And that’s where the high heat and detergent do their worst.
- No (well, very little) rinsing. Newer dishwashers—essentially any Energy Star-rated model made in this millennium—are more than able to dissolve food residue. Rinsing the dishes before stacking them in the dishwasher means you’re using twice the amount of water to accomplish the same task; that powerfully heated spray I’ve been bitching about in the above bullet points is going to take care of the gunk without your pre-rinse intervention. Just scrape the big chunks off and load up.
- No running until bursting full. I know it’s hard when you’re a household of one or two, but your dishwasher’s working just as hard to clean a mostly-empty load as it is to clean a jam-packed one. Pennies down the drain, my friends.
For bonus energy savings, use the “delay start” function to run your dishwasher overnight, when electricity rates are lower (I’d do all my laundry in the middle of the night if I could) and skip the “heated dry” cycle to let the dishes air-dry inside the washer overnight.
Don’t feel chastised enough? .Read through these dishwasher tune-up tips from The Kitchn, and stay tuned for my strong opinions on how to load the draining rack.