Friday, June 27, 2008

Clean as a Whistle: A Dishwasher Hack from the Land of Very Hard Water

One of the first things we did upon moving into this house was replace the avocado green dishwasher, not for looks, but for lack of function. The poor thing just didn't clean the plates or glasses.

Jim and my dad installed a new dishwasher, and I was pretty surprised when it didn't clean the dishes very well either. They came out with bits of food sealed to them rather than rinsed clean and the glasses (dark blue) looked like they had been dipped in milk and left to dry. After a couple years of rewashing many dishes per load and having glassware that I was embarrassed to show to guests, we resorted to handwashing everything.

Our still pretty new dishwasher became a giant drying rack. That lasted for almost a year before I got tired of seeing the perpetual backlog of dirty dishes on the counter. So, I started looking for solutions.

Our water (from the Ohio River) has very high levels of calcium and other minerals. The water here is actually so hard that I'm reasonably wigged out when we're somewhere that water is more tempered. On a recent trip I finally asked Jim what he thought was in the water that just didn't rinse off. He informed me it was properly softened water and that the unpleasant experience was merely liquidity without massive mineral deposits (as opposed to the normal pelting of tiny rocks one experiences here).

It turns out that the hard water was giving our dishwasher a hard time. Rather than looking at a whole house water softener, I looked for a solution localized to our dishwasher. A lot of people with hard water suggested a performance boosters like Glass Magic to solve these problems (but such products are heavy on phosphates which encourage algae growth downstream).

Someone in the Amazon comments for Glass Magic mentioned the use of vinegar instead, so I started experimenting. By adding 2/3 cup white vinegar to the bottom of the dishwater before washing, I've been getting splendid results.

It's nice to be able to hand a guest a sparkling glass now (that I didn't have to handwash).

I guess there's a little Stepford wife in me after all.


indywriter said...

Thanks for the hack! We also have hard water. I am always fascinated when I stay in hotels and the water literally feels soft.

But I grew up on hard well water, so hard city water is still like a luxury.

adrienne said...


I also grew up with well water, so I too know the delicious luxury of city water.


Michael Phillips said...

Oh the joys of living on the Indiana Lime Bed. The vinegar trick is important (and in my experience, works as well or better than special purpose commercial solutions.) Water heaters herabouts get interesting too. They will develop a huge amount of calcium flakes in the bottom, eventually covering the lower element and drastically impacting its effectiveness. (At which point you can either kludge up a tool to scrape out the nasty limey mess or get a new water heater or I suppose, accept that you only have about half as much hot water as you are used to.

adrienne said...


In Muncie our gas water heater would periodically start banging (like there was a person trapped inside struggling desperately to get out). It was a byproduct of sediment build-up.

We brought our water heater scraper contraption (artfully bend coat hanger) with us in the move.

A couple years ago we replaced the water heater here, so we're (knock on wood) coasting along on the appliance's newness for now.

Mimi-n-Moe's Mom said...

That is fantastic! I wonder if it will get the water stains off of glasses? We have plenty of those....

Michael Phillips said...

Our scraper device was an artfully bent coat hanger too. Wire coat hangers, is there anything they can't do?

AJ said...

Are you tossing vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher or in the rinse agent compartment?

Listen to the dishwasher before it starts up. Dishwashers often empty standing liquid prior to startup as a safety measure in case the washer was previously stopped mid-cycle.

adrienne said...

aj- Ours doesn't seem to pump before a new cycle. Either ours lacks the safety measure all together or the scant 2/3 cup isn't enough to activate it.

The rinse agent compartment only conditions the rinse cycle and releases only a minuscule amount of fluid. We need the vinegar to condition the actual wash cycle. We have some standard rinse agent in the dispenser for now, though I might try vinegar next (now that you mention it). A gallon bottle of white vinegar costs far less than a tiny bottle of rinse agent.