On my personal list of favorite inventions ever, the dishwasher hovers somewhere in the top three, right around the printing press and Dairy Queen Blizzards. I grew up sharing KP tasks with my older sister. And by sharing, I mean fighting viciously over whose turn it was to wash dishes and whose turn it was to sweep the floor and take out the garbage.
When we finally got a dishwasher (our first one was a portable model in a glorious shade reminiscent of newly shoveled dirt), I made it my personal mission to pack that sucker as full as it would possibly go every night so I never had to do another dish by hand. I got so good at it, I liked to say I deserved an honorary degree in civil engineering.
Over the years, I have relentlessly honed my dishwasher-loading technique. It serves me really well now that I have two kids. In fact, it’s hard to fully express the level of appreciation I have for my dishwasher, what with all the sippy cups, miniature plates, and fat-grips utensils we cycle through on a daily basis.
Which is why, when the dishwasher at our new house started leaving a filmy, white residue on my dishes, I was quite perturbed. After a little bit of research, I determined the likely culprit was hard water. Our old house had a water softener, but the new home doesn’t.
Before I had a chance to propose that we consider either investing in a new water softener or replacing our current dishes with all-white ones, my husband heard something somewhere about adding white vinegar to the dishwasher. (“Something somewhere” and its close relative “Somebody said” are our initial go-to resources for problem solving.)
He couldn’t remember where he heard about this supposed solution or any of the details, like how much to add and when, so I just poured about a quarter of a cup into the bottom of the dishwasher before I started it.
Miraculously, it worked! The white streaks I’d been seeing for a few weeks were gone in just one cycle. I was also worried before the test run that our dishes would smell of vinegar and my already stellar cooking would take on another unwelcome tang. Neither of these concerns turned into realities. The vinegar smell completely dissipates and must get rinsed off during the cycle.
Of course, after I tried it, I started looking into the science behind it. Turns out, it’s really boring. The bottom line is, vinegar is acidic and cuts through minerals and soap scum. I think.
Anyway, specific suggestions on how and when to use the vinegar ranged by source. Some recommended adding a half cup before starting the cycle. Some recommended adding it during the rinse cycle. And some even recommended using vinegar directly in the rinse-aid dispenser. I don’t think I’ll go that far, and I would highly recommend that you check your dishwasher manual before you mess with your rinse aid dispenser. But it makes me feel better that even Maytag recommends the vinegar trick. It helps that it’s a cheap solution that uses a common household item. I’m a big fan of not spending money when I don’t have to.
The whole situation has me wondering what other folksy solutions are out there? Anyone have a great suggestion for replacing the expensive laundry stain pre-treatment sprays?