How to remove detergent residue from a dishwasher

Updated July 20, 2017

Even brand new, expensive dishwashers can leave detergent residue all over your dishes. The residue also tends to accumulate inside the dishwasher, creating a mess that seems impossible to clean. This often happens because the detergent used is incompatible with the dishwasher model. Making a few simple changes to the way you manage your dishwasher can eliminate the residue and get both your dishes and your dishwasher clean; here's what to do.

Clean the inside of the dishwasher with some vinegar and a coarse plastic scrubber. Running a rinse cycle with a cup of vinegar can also help to remove the residue.

Check to see which detergent your dishwasher manufacturer recommends. Often dishwashers are designed for a specific detergent, or tested with a specific detergent. Switching detergents can solve a number of problems that you may have with your dishwasher. Also, Cascade Complete can help to solve the problem. Cascade Complete dissolves food on dishes much more effectively than other detergents and doesn't leave a chalky residue. In fact, over time it can remove the chalky residue left behind by other detergents.

Use the heated wash whenever you run your dishwasher. Many dishwashers take all their hot water directly from your water heater by default, which means it must travel through long pipes before it reaches your dishes. Then a significant portion of the early part of your dishwashing cycle is too cool to effectively dissolve the detergent and clean your dishes. The water doesn't really heat up until too late. The heated wash function effectively eliminates this problem. However, take care in the summer months that the water temperature doesn't get too hot.

Check the rinse aid container to see if it's low. If it is, refill the container with the rinse aid recommended by your dishwasher's manufacturer. Be sure to wipe away any excess rinse aid before you close the door.

Determine whether your water is hard or soft. Hard water generally requires that you use more detergent, and soft water requires that you use less. Using more detergent may seem like a solution to a residue problem. However, using excess detergent with soft water can cause your glassware to become etched. Etched glass may look like it's covered in residue, but in fact it's been irreparably damaged.

Ensure that your detergent is fresh. Detergent which has been sitting around too long can't dissolve properly in the dishwasher, contributing to a build-up of residue.


If the residue has begun to build up on your dishes, washing them once by hand can stem the problem. Avoid using your dishwasher's heated dry function, which can bake the residue and food particles onto your dishes. Don't forget to scrub the dishwasher's heating element, as well.

Things You'll Need

  • Vinegar
  • Plastic scrubber
  • Cascade Complete
  • Dishwasher manual
  • Rinse aid
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About the Author

Jennifer Claerr is a web writer who has written for online sites such as Demand Studios,, and She has a degree in art from the University of Texas at Arlington. She writes on a variety of topics, including holidays, health and fitness, travel, computers and art.