Why today's dishwashers can't dry dishes

Efficiency is king.

It’s a complaint we hear every day from our readers: “That dishwasher you recommended doesn’t get my dishes dry, but my old dishwasher did!”

Well, dear readers, you're not wrong. Newer machines really don't dry like older models, and there are a few good reasons why.

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It’s not your fault your dishes aren't drying.

Yes, today’s dishwashers are different from those of yesteryear. They can fit more dishes, they’re a lot quieter, and they’re far more efficient.

That last reason is also the primary explanation for why many modern dishwashers no longer offer a heated dry cycle.

GE Dishwasher Heating Element
Credit: Reviewed.com / Johnny Yu
That black heating element at the bottom of this GE dishwasher is what's traditionally been used to dry dishes.

In the past, dishwashers would turn on an exposed heating element at the base of the unit to dry dishes at the end of a cycle, essentially turning the dishwasher into a low-power electric oven.


As you can imagine, a heating element uses a lot of electricity. With tightening federal energy standards, most manufacturers have ditched the heating element in favor of a condensation drying system.

These systems use a heated rinse at the end of a cycle to coat dishes in hot water. The cool, stainless-steel interior walls of the dishwasher then draw the hot water off of dishes and channel it into the drain.

I’ve Got One Word For You: "Plastics."

Condensation drying works fine for most glasses and porcelain, but even manufacturers will admit that plastics may not get completely dry. That’s a problem for consumers, because today’s dishwasher loads contain more plastic than ever before.

Whirlpool Dishwasher Plastic Clips
Credit: Reviewed.com / Johnny Yu
If your dishwasher has clips in the top rack—like the blue ones on this Whirlpool—make sure to use them to keep your plastics in place.

Not only do plastics not retain enough heat from a hot-water rinse for condensation drying to work, but they’re also light enough to flip around and move during a wash cycle. As a result, no matter how carefully you load them, there’s a chance that your reusable containers and kids’ cereal bowls will end up filled with water at the end of a cycle.

If your dishwasher uses condensation drying, put plastics anywhere you like. Tweet It

The irony is that condensation drying is also the only way to safely wash plastics in a dishwasher. You might have learned that it’s never OK to put plastic items on the bottom rack, because they might melt. Well, that’s only the case if you have an exposed drying element at the base of your dishwasher. If your dishwasher uses condensation drying, you can put plastics anywhere you like.

You can help your dishes dry off.

If you’re sick of hand-drying, there are some things you can do.

Some dishwashers from GE and most from Whirlpool Corporation—including many Maytag, KitchenAid, Kenmore, and Whirlpool models—still offer an exposed drying element. These tend to be cheaper models with plastic tubs, but some stainless-tub models also have a heated dry. If you see a black ring around the filter at the base of the machine, it's a sure sign that your dishwasher has an exposed heating element.

GE Dishwasher Control Panel
Credit: Reviewed.com / Johnny Yu
Some dishwashers—like this GE—require the user to manually engage a heated dry option.

Sometimes, dishwashers require you to manually turn on the heated dry option. If your dishes aren’t getting dry enough, make sure that you’ve pressed all the right buttons to engage the drying options.

If you’re finding plastics full of water at the end of a wash, they’re likely getting moved around during a cycle. Many dishwashers have clips to keep plastics secure—be sure to make good use of them.

Finally, make sure you’re using rinse aid. A magical liquid that could be more accurately referred to as “drying aid,” it helps water roll off surfaces. That’s especially important for the more porous materials that tend to attract water.

And if all else fails, it doesn’t hurt to keep a dishtowel nearby to dry off those last remaining drips of water.

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