by Jon Nunan

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Though older model dishwashers are notorious for leaving particles of food stuck to glasses and plates if you don't rinse them properly beforehand, for modern dishwashers, rinsing the dishes is unnecessary and a waste of water and time. Most dishes can go from the table to the dishwasher without a stop at the sink. Some dishwashers also come equipped with special cleaning cycles that automatically adjust by the soil level of the dishes in order to save water and energy.

Getting the Most from Your Dishwasher
Wait until you have a full load before running the dishwasher so as not to waste water and energy. When loading the dishwasher, make sure no dishes obstruct the rotating spray arms. There's an arm that spins under the bottom rack, another above the top rack and often a third that telescopes up through the bottom rack to spin just under the top rack. Make sure to load more fragile items in the top rack. The highest-pressure jets are directed at the lower rack to help clean pots and utensils.

If you have a garbage disposal, make sure you run it before running the dishwasher. A clogged drain can cause a flood when the dishwasher drains. If your dishwasher has a strainer or scrap bin in the bottom, clear it before running each load. If your dishwasher has a water heating option, use it.

The dry cycle uses a lot of energy. During the winter months, when the air in the house is generally dry, you don't need to use this option. Instead, when the dishwasher stops, open it and pull out both racks. Everything will be dry in about an hour.

Dishwasher Troubleshooting and Dishwasher Repairs
A dishwasher is comprised of several different systems and many parts; dishwasher repair is a complex task when it comes to fixing the mechanical or electrical components inside the unit. There are, however, several problems where calling a dishwasher repair person might be a waste of money. Here are a few common dishwasher problems (and simple dishwasher repairs) that handy homeowners may be able to do themselves.

Most cleaning problems are caused by the dishwasher not getting enough wash water, so the water-inlet valve is often to blame. This valve is usually at the bottom left or right of the dishwasher behind the lower access panel. It's the device with the main water line from the house, a rubber tube to the dishwasher, and two wires attached to it. If the water-inlet valve is defective, it needs to be replaced.

Most modern dishwashers have self-cleaning filters that don't need any routine cleaning, but some have filters in the bottom of the dishwasher that you need to clean periodically. You don't need any tools to remove the filter, and cleaning it is easy. Consult your owner's manual to determine which type you have and its maintenance requirements. If your filter is clogged, it may be causing an insufficient cleaning problem.

Some dishwashers have a valve (or gate) that should open only during draining. If debris gets lodged in the valve, it can't close properly, so water drains out during the wash cycle. Most dishwashers drain into the garbage disposal. If yours does that, listen for water flowing into the disposal during the wash cycle. If you can hear it, the drain valve may be clogged.

There's a spray arm at the bottom of your dishwasher, which may have a tall spray tube mounted to the center of it. There may also be a spray arm located directly beneath the upper rack of dishes and/or above the upper rack. If debris is blocking the holes in the spray arms where the water comes out, it could cause unsatisfactory results. Regularly inspect each of the spray arms and clean out the holes with hot vinegar and a safety pin.

While these tasks are relatively easy, dishwasher repairs aren't always so simple. If you cannot easily identify the problem, or are at all uncomfortable with performing any of the above tasks yourself, it's time to call in a pro.

Dishwasher Water Temperature
To get the best cleaning results, the water entering your dishwasher needs to be hot. Try running the hot water in your kitchen sink for about 30 seconds to heat it before starting the dishwasher. Also, if possible, select a higher wash or rinse temperature to see if it helps.

To check the temperature of the hot water that comes from your kitchen faucet use a waterproof thermometer. If the water isn't 120 degrees Fahrenheit, your dishwasher may have trouble getting your dishes clean. You could increase the temperature of the hot water to the whole house by adjusting the hot water heater thermostat. However, to reduce the risk of scalding, don't set the hot water heater temperature higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Jon Nunan is a freelance writer who draws on his experience in construction, ranging from landscaping to log home building, for his articles on home improvement.