I have a dishwasher that I wrote about here sometime last year -- a nice Whirlpool portable kind with a roomy interior and a quiet and restrained way of operating that has solidly eclipsed a former under-counter model I had once. That thing sounded like five jet planes taking off during a thunderstorm on a runway next to a railroad track with a double-engine train moving briskly along. It was seriously loud and we grew weary of neighbors down the street calling us up in the evenings after dinner, demanding that we hand wash our dishes and stop disturbing the peace.
Unfortunately, we also have hard water. Indiana is famous for its beautiful, mellow limestone that has contributed to the elegant exteriors of such edifices as the Empire State Building and Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. But that same water that creates the stone is the same water that is so hard, we practically have to chisel the water spots off our glasses. Our house does have all new plumbing, which means that we could easily have a water softener installed. It's just the minor matter of the $300 a plumber would require to do the job.
Well, obviously, my dishwasher is suffering. The girls and I have noticed that the dishes are getting noticeably less clean, which is exasperating. Plus, the hard water absolutely ruins the glasses. They get etched and streaked from mineral deposits and I refuse to use nasty-looking glasses to serve iced tea to guests, or more to the point, drink from them myself. Meelyn and Aisling are the dish-doers after dinner and they already have to the silver flatware, which can't go in the dishwasher, and I went out last week and bought some new glasses which I'm making them wash in the sink and loud has been the grumbling.
So this morning, I decided to search around on the internet for an answer to the problem of streaky, etched glasses, dried food flecks on plates and a general state of yuckiness inside my dishwasher, which is not very old and a fairly pricey mid-range model.
This is what I came up with, for my edification and yours:
1) Hard water is hard on dishwashers. Turns out that those mineral deposits that streak and etch the glasses are also clogging up the hoses and nozzles and water-squirty things, causing them to work less efficiently. Thus the dried food flecks.
2) One simple answer to this problem is to run the dishwasher, empty, on the regular cycle, with two cups of distilled white vinegar added to the water once the dishwasher has filled. If the dishwasher has been neglected -- I felt momentarily guilty, as if I'd been mean to a kitten. How could I be so thoughtless, so heedless, as to neglect my dishwasher, which does so much work for us, so quietly, so uncomplainingly? -- it might take a few cycles of running the white vinegar through before things get better.
3) All dishwasher detergents and rinsing agents aren't the same. Cascade is strongly recommended because it has superior dissolvability when compared to other detergents. I have never used Cascade, mostly because I am a big cheapo and I always cynically figured that Whirlpool had some kind of cozy arrangement worked out with the manufacturers of Cascade when I got that free mini-box with my new dishwasher. But I think this really might be true. I've used several other brands (all cheaper than Cascade) and several different types (powder, liquid and tablets) and I have found out a few things on my blundering own.
For instance, liquid detergents are always gone when I open the dishwasher later; some powders are completely gone and some are still clumped up in the little dispenser tray; and the tablets? Well, those things are completely useless. They don't dissolve at all and we wind up with a dishwasher full of dishes that are not just unattractively speckled with dried-on food flecks, but are downright dirty. Byuck.
The other recommendation for dishwashers is Jet-Dry, the rinsing agent, but the kind internet users advised to use on the help site I found was the old-fashioned Jet-Dry that comes in the things that look like wee little baskets. Using those kind makes more sense, help site posters agreed, because you can physically see with your own two eyes when the rinsing agent is gone. With the liquid Jet-Dry, you pour it into the little dispenser and you forget to use it again. Maybe there is a fancy dishwasher out there that has a little sensor light that comes on when the rinsing agent dispenser is empty, but mine doesn't do that.
So. I went out and spent $2.39 on a gallon of distilled white vinegar and I just started the dishwasher on its third cycle today, using three cups of vinegar to strengthen the solution since my dishwasher had a lot of mineral deposits on its interior. It's working, too! I am really pleased that the answer to this problem was so easy, and although the silver flatware still won't be able to go in, and I'm still concerned about the glasses, I do plan to buy some Cascade and some Jet-Dry and hopefully, we won't have to hand-wash the plates and the serving dishes and the iced tea pitcher by hand, right after they've been "washed" in a dishwasher suffering from calcium deposits.
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