Sure, it cleans that stuck-on cheese, but your dishwasher is a bit of a magician.
I was watching an episode of House Hunters recently when I had a bit of an out-of-body experience. A couple was looking at older homes in what I always assume is some quaint New England suburb.
As the two toured their second home, they realized the kitchen didn’t come with a dishwasher, and—the moment when I almost came out of my skin—it wasn’t a deal breaker. The tour didn’t stop right there. They kept going!
I stared in amazement that the couple would even consider an abode that was sans sanitizing dish machine. What year is it? Why would anyone torture themselves in such a way?
Alas, the house hunters chose another home, though I doubt the lack of dishwasher was the determining factor. Still, this episode brought home to me something I had perhaps not realized quite so much until that point: I am spoiled by my dishwasher. I quite simply don’t know what I’d do without it.
In fact, I’ve found more things I can wash in it besides my cereal bowls, cups, and spoons. I mean, if you’re got caged magic in the form of a machine that will wash just about anything, don’t let that go to waste.
Here, several household items you can wash in your dishwasher that you may not have considered before.
Sanitize Kid and Pet Toys
The two creatures may walk differently and eat different things, but their toys can be hotbeds for germs and dirt. Plastic toys can be washed easily in a normal dishwasher cycle. For small toys (think: building blocks), consider putting the toys in a mesh bag first. And don’t try to wash pet toys that have rope, hide, or fabric. They likely won’t sustain the wash well.
This trick is especially helpful when your little one has been sick. The cold, flu, and stomach virus can linger on play toys for many days and weeks after your child is better, so don’t risk a rebound illness. Pop those toys right into the machine for rinsing and sterilizing.
Steam Vegetables and Fish
I’m not saying this is an optimal way to cook dinner, but if you find yourself without an oven (or just feel up to a fun challenge), you can actually make dinner in your dishwasher. Tightly wrap quick-cooking vegetables like asparagus, squash, and carrots in aluminum foil with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper. Wash in a hot cycle without soap. The heat and steam will tenderize the food.
You can do the same for packets of fish like salmon or halibut, en papillote style. Thinner cuts will cook more evenly than thick pieces like cod or grouper. The hot temperature and water helps to steam the fish inside the packets.
Watch: What to Use If You Accidentally Run Out of Dishwasher Detergent
Rinse Your Garden Haul
After a trip to your garden or local farmers market, you may come back with a bounty of fruit and vegetables that need to be washed before cooking or storing. You can stand over the sink and wash each piece by hand, or you can load up the trays of your dishwasher for a quick cold-water cycle.
Place delicate things like tomatoes or berries on the top shelf or away from spinning arms. Hardy foods like root vegetables and potatoes can sustain the pressure of the bottom shelf.
You don’t need to use any soap, though feel free to use food-safe produce washes. Even a touch of vinegar in the detergent cap is OK for the rinse.
Keep Food Warm
When you need to keep cooked food warm but find yourself short on oven space (or without those warming drawers I’ve heard so much about), consider putting food in your dishwasher to keep it warm. Your dishwasher is essentially a large hot box, if you think about its construction. It’s meant to keep the heat of hot water and drying mechanisms contained inside the machine, so you can use that thermal capacity to your benefit.
If you need extra heat, you can run a drying cycle (no water) to heat up the food and dishwasher. Just be sure a rinse cycle won’t run before the drying cycle begins. No one likes a water-logged casserole.
Make Household Items Like New
Sticky vent fans, dusty flowers, dingy light fixture bulbs—all of these items can be easily washed in your dishwasher. The thick layer of dust that often settles on these out-of-sight-out-of-mind items needs to be rinsed away, but hand washing can be time consuming. Use your dishwasher’s cleaning powers for good.
Be careful to not put thin glass items, heirlooms, or antiques in the dishwasher. Those should still be washed by hand.
Anything else should make it through a typical dishwasher cycle with no problem. If you have a lot of glass, consider using the gentle cycle so the shaking and rattling doesn’t cause any of the fixtures to bump into one another and crack.
Sanitize Kitchen Sponges
The thing you use to clean your kitchen needs to be cleaned, too. Instead of microwaving your sponge (which you can do for 60 seconds on high), just place the sponge in your next load that will end in a sanitizing cycle. The hot water and temps will kill lingering bacteria and make the sponge safe to use again.
If the sponge is small or the openings in your dishwasher trays are large, consider putting it in the silverware basket for safe keeping.
Make Dirty Shoes Shine
Rubber shoes like flip-flops, rain boots, and water shoes can be easily washed in your dishwasher. Canvas-topped sneakers with rubber soles can be safely washed in there, too. For added odor-busting measure, sprinkle the inside with a bit of baking soda the night before you plan to wash. Turn the shoe upside down over the garbage before you wash to remove any remaining residue.
To prevent water pooling, place these shoes horizontal to the dishwasher’s spraying arms. Be sure to remove any liners or orthopedic inserts. Don’t run the drying cycle. Put the shoes in a warm place to dry. It may take several days, but they’ll be like new again—or at least almost.