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With Thanksgiving around the corner, let us all give thanks for dishwashers. These modern marvels can handle gravy-smeared plates, coffee mugs and eggnog cups, bowls that once teemed with stuffing, pie-flecked forks and more. No question, dishwashers are a host or hostess’s best friend, and help make cleanup a breeze.
But not everything should go in your dishwasher, as anyone who’ve ever ruefully retrieved a melted takeout container will tell you. Home-appliance maker Whirlpool offers a page of general dishwasher tips, and it’s careful to note that the dishwasher is a fickle friend. Some items, especially plasticware, are fine on the top shelf, but will twist and turn like molten lava if washed on the bottom rack.
So review these tips before you wash, and everything will come clean after the big meal. For those items that just have to be hand-washed, take heart. There are worse things than taking a few minutes to immerse your hands in warm soapy water, device-free for once, and catch up with whoever’s doing the drying.
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Cast-iron skillets are beloved for their heat retention, and many cooks swear by them for almost everything. But they require special care: Cast-iron cookware must be seasoned with regular applications of oil, and putting them in the dishwasher will strip it right off. Thankfully, wiping and washing them out after cooking is often all it takes, though scrubbing with coarse salt will also work.
Wooden cutting boards
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So you’ve just chopped a smelly onion on your nice wooden cutting board and are tempted to toss it into the dishwasher. Don’t. Heat and water can warp and crack your board, and the resulting cracks can breed bacteria. Hot water, soap and elbow grease should work wonders. If you’ve used the board for raw meat and are worried, try a sanitizing solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. (Wooden spoons should also get the hand-washing treatment.)
Moscow mule mugs
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Moscow mules are trendy and tasty cocktails consisting of vodka, lime juice and spicy ginger beer. They’re often served in special and stylish copper mugs, which are usually mugs lined with another metal for safety. Toss them in the dishwasher, though, and that vital lining could chip and wear off, and the stylish look might tarnish. Wash them by hand. and they’ll be there to clink toasts for many years to come, even if you never get closer to Moscow than the occasional bowl of beef stroganoff.
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Sure, your basic, inexpensive butter knife can go in the dishwasher, but for the fancy, pricey knives kept in a cutting block, stay sharp and wash them by hand. Handles are often wood, which can warp or crack just like cutting boards, blades may be carbon steel, and thus prone to rust. Detergents can discolor or damage the blade, and water jets can jostle them around, dulling or breaking the blade. And on a purely personal level, reaching in to empty a dishwasher that’s full of deadly sharp knives feels like reaching into Amity Island’s waters to pet Jaws.
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Even Whirlpool hedges on the rules for fancy china, calling it dishwasher-safe, but then setting a table full of caveats. Antique, hand-painted or gold leaf patterns can discolor and fade in a dishwasher’s strong chemical bath. So while Whirlpool encourages china owners to check with the manufacturer, the safe bet is to keep those fancy dishes for the hand-washing pile — especially if they’re a pattern you hope to pass down to future generations.
Certain reusable plastic containers
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Plastic storage containers can be a lifesaver, for leftovers, pre-chopped ingredients, freshly picked fruit or almost anything that needs its own little temporary apartment. But, like apartments, the containers’ quality varies wildly. Some of the thicker, sturdier cartons are fine for the dishwasher, but keep them and their lids together on the top rack — if they touch the heating elements in the bottom of your machine, they may melt. That 1950s favorite, Tupperware, has been mostly dishwasher-safe since 1979 (with some exceptions), but if you own any passed-along pieces from the disco era or earlier, wash them by hand for sure. You can turn on “Saturday Night Fever” to make them feel at home.
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Some aluminum bakeware is OK in the dishwasher — check the label or wrapper when you buy a new pan to be sure. But if your item isn’t specifically labeled as dishwasher safe, don’t risk it. Many pans can dull and darken due to a dishwasher’s chemicals and heat. And while that’s the way the cookie sometimes crumbles, you can prevent it with a little hand-washing action, if you’re a smart cookie.
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Fine crystal can sparkle like sunlight on a snowy field, catching the light and casting it off into rainbows. But when mistreated, it can also shatter like an icicle hitting pavement. Stick with the sparkle — hand wash the crystal wine goblets, or Grandma Eliza’s punch bowl, or the champagne flutes from your wedding. Dishwasher heat, friction and detergents can dull or scratch the surface, Waterford Crystal warns. Really, you didn’t need a crystal ball to figure that out.
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If your fancy cutlery, or any of your formal dinnerware, is good as gold, you’re as lucky as a leprechaun. Gold-plated cutlery can be a beautiful addition to any holiday table, and it’s a nice change from traditional silver. But to keep the gold rush going, wash each piece carefully by hand. It’s likely to be delicate, and the gold coating can come off in the dishwasher. Think of it as following the golden rule.
Anything with a label
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Hot water will attack paper labels with the ferocity of a guard dog going after the letter carrier. Obviously, then, if you want the label preserved, you want to wash your jar or other item by hand. But maybe you think running a mayonnaise or honey jar through a dishwasher cycle before recycling it is a smart way to remove a label you don’t want or care about. Think again. The label can sludge off in pieces and get stuck just where you don’t want it to be, clogging your dishwasher’s spray arms or pump.
Anything repaired with glue
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Just as those labels prove, anything attached with glue is a risky dishwasher item. Hot water dissolves glue, so if you’ve carefully glued a handle back onto a beloved mug or bowl, keep it far from the dishwasher’s hot little hands.
Items with printed measurements or words
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It doesn’t always happen, but items with printed measurements or words on them can lose their legibility in a dishwasher’s hot steamy belly. Most glass measuring cups are strong enough to keep their markings for years, but plastic cups may not be as tough, and soon that 1/4 indicator could look like a 1/1. And don’t even think about loading up that Class of 1985 beer stein you brought back from the 30-year reunion. It could look like you graduated from the class of 1905 before you know it, and you’ll be yelling at kids to get off your lawn.
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Nonstick pans are a gem of an invention. The cookware is lined with a special coating so foods (mostly) come right off and don’t stick — hence the name. They’re generally quite easy to wash by hand, so if you end up with a messy one, don’t be tempted to try the dishwasher. The heat of the machine can wear away at the coating, and wash the “non” right out of your “nonstick pan.”
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Here’s a shocker: You don’t actually have to wash flour sifters at all, if you just use them to sift flour. The mesh sieve part doesn’t do well in a dishwasher’s hot water, and sifters are often made of thin, cheap metal that will rust and pit easily. (And if the handle is part wood, as shown above, that’s another reason to steer clear.) Generally, you can just rinse or wipe out the flour. But if the sifter is absolutely clogged, let it sit for a while in a sink full of soapy water, dry as best you can, and put on a cookie sheet in your oven under very low heat to dry. (Or blast it briefly with your hairdryer.) An old toothbrush will also help with any clumps of flour that don’t want to give way.
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Aw, who can resist that charming cat-food dish your first-grader personalized for Mittens at the paint-your-own pottery place, or that cute cupcake-shaped coin holder she made at a birthday party. You wouldn’t put a Picasso in the dishwasher, so don’t put little Peyton’s artwork in there either. Wash it by hand. Jackson Pollock may have freed the line, but in this case, you’ll want those precious paint strokes to stay right where she intended for them to be.
Insulated coffee mugs
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How much do we love our insulated travel coffee mugs? A whole latte. They keep coffee warm through the most agonizing commute, and turn a barely-awake morning into a brew-tiful day. But to keep the cup as fresh as it keeps you, don’t send it through your dishwasher. These cups keep your coffee warm by virtue of two separate shells, and the dishwasher’s heat can breach them, trapping water between the two walls and ruining the cup’s heat-holding ability. And that would be depresso.
What dishwasher disasters have you witnessed? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.