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Have you ever wondered why some of your cookware is marked “not dishwasher safe”? Having to hand wash certain things might be inconvenient, particularly when everything else can be washed in the dishwasher. However, manufacturers advise against washing certain cookware in the dishwasher for a few reasons. High heat and strong detergents may harm the nonstick coating on certain pots and pans, accelerating its breakdown. Additionally, the extreme heat may cause certain plastic handles to melt or come free. Aluminum and other softer metals are susceptible to dents and scratches from the strong water jets and racking mechanisms used in dishwashers. The best method to keep some of your pots and pans in peak condition and make sure they last as long as possible is to hand wash them, even if it may take a bit of extra elbow grease.
What Makes Cookware Dishwasher Safe or Not?
A few important considerations determine whether or not cookware is dishwasher safe.
The largest substance is the one that makes it up. Dishwasher detergent’s heat and chemicals may be tolerated by cast iron, enameled cast iron, and stainless steel. It is advisable to hand wash aluminum, copper, and non-stick coatings since they are prone to harm.
The way the parts are put together is also important. Dishwasher safety is often guaranteed for pots and pans with riveted handles, tightly fitting lids, and securely fastened knobs. Anything that isn’t fitted properly might distort or fall off in the heat.
Another factor is the dishwashing cycle’s intensity. While a heavy-duty or sanitizing cycle’s extended high heat might be harmful, a regular wash cycle with moderate heat can be OK.
Ultimately, if in doubt, go to the manufacturer’s specs. If the item is dishwasher safe, they will make it obvious, otherwise, they will suggest manual cleaning to prolong its life.
If you must wash by hand, run some warm water and a little detergent in the sink. Exfoliate stubborn areas gently, then thoroughly rinse with water to get rid of any soap residue. Dry completely before storing to avoid water stains.
Even though hand cleaning can take a few more minutes, your pots and pans will appreciate the years of dependable use. If you treat them well, they’ll reciprocate the favor. Remember these pointers and your cookware will be long-lasting and in good working order.
The Effects of High Heat and Harsh Detergents
The harsh reality is that not all pots and pans can withstand the high heat and intense detergents of a dishwasher.
The Effects of High Heat and Harsh Detergents
Dishwashers expose pots and pans to extremely hot water, sometimes over 130°F, for an extended time. This can damage materials like aluminum, cast iron, and nonstick coatings. The high heat causes these materials to break down faster, corroding aluminum, stripping seasoning from cast iron and damaging the coating on nonstick surfaces.
Powerful detergents contain degreasers and bleach that strip oils and stain pots and pans. The strong chemicals steadily erode materials and coatings over time. Nonstick surfaces can start to peel and flake, aluminum will pit and dull, and cast iron will rust.
To extend the life of your cookware, hand wash delicate pieces. For pots and pans that are dishwasher safe, run them on the lowest heat setting using a gentle detergent. Avoid overcrowding the dishwasher, which prevents effective cleaning and subjects the pots and pans to higher heat for longer.
With care and maintenance, many pots and pans can last for years. However, if damage has already been done, it may be best to avoid further dishwasher use and hand wash the item instead. For severely damaged cookware, replacement is the safest option to avoid the potential leaching of chemicals into your food.
Your pots and pans work hard for you, so take good care of them, and they’ll continue cooking up meals for years to come. A little effort goes a long way toward protecting your investment and ensuring safe, healthy cooking.
Aluminum and Copper Cookware: Too Delicate for the Dishwasher
Aluminum and copper cookware should generally be hand washed instead of put in the dishwasher. These materials are more delicate and can react negatively to the heat and harsh detergents used in dishwashers.
It is very easy for aluminum to rust and damage when it comes in contact with alkaline substances, such as washing soap. Metal pots and pans can twist and bend because of the high heat. When aluminum comes in contact with acidic foods like tomatoes, the surface gets pitted and dull. This is why you should always wash metal dishes by hand with a light soap and a soft sponge or non-abrasive brush after each use. To avoid water spots, rinse and dry thoroughly.
You need to wash copper dishes by hand carefully because it reacts with food. Tints on copper can form due to the hard chemicals and high heat of a washing, leaving a dull brown film. You can use a mix made of coarse salt and lemon juice to clean copper pans, or you can buy a copper cleaner. To get rid of water spots and leave a bright, shiny finish, scrub the wood in the direction of the grain with a soft cloth.
To keep your aluminum and copper cookware looking and performing at their best,
- Hand wash after each use with a soft sponge or non-abrasive scrubber using a mild detergent and warm water.
- Rinse and dry completely to prevent water spots.
- For stuck-on messes, fill with warm water and detergent and let soak before scrubbing.
- Use a commercial copper cleaner or paste of coarse salt and lemon juice to polish copper.
- Avoid harsh abrasive cleaners which can dull and scratch surfaces.
- Re-season or re-tin copper pans as needed.
- Never put in the dishwasher.
By properly caring for your aluminum and copper cookware through gentle hand washing and polishing, you can keep these pans performing well and looking lustrous for many meals to come. The extra effort will be well worth it!
Cast Iron and Carbon Steel – Prone to Rusting
Cast iron and carbon steel pans are prone to rusting in the dishwasher. The high heat and harsh detergents can strip the seasoning from these pans and cause rust spots to form.
Cast iron and carbon steel pans develop a natural non-stick patina called seasoning over time and with use. Seasoning is oil that has been baked onto the pan at a high temperature. It creates a hard, slick coating. The seasoning protects the pan from rusting and gives it non-stick properties.
Putting these pans in the dishwasher removes this seasoning, requiring you to re-season the entire pan. Re-seasoning a pan requires coating it in oil and baking it in the oven for over an hour. It’s a time-consuming process and can be frustrating to have to repeat.
Detergents for dishwashers are very rough and harsh. They are made to get rid of grease and marks that have been put on. These soaps are great for most foods, but they will take away the taste from carbon steel and cast iron, leaving the pan open to rust. Also, washing the pan over and over can dull it.
Dishwashers often have a hot mode that is over 135°C, which can warp or crack cast iron and carbon steel pans. The pans are made to handle high heat on the stove, but the extreme heat that lasts for a long time in the dishwasher can damage them. Sometimes the handles come loose or come off completely. You shouldn’t put these pans in the machine at all.
Once you’re done cooking, wash your cast iron or carbon steel pots and pans by hand with hot water, a stiff brush, and light dish soap. Quickly dry them and rub oil on them before putting them away. Over time, these pans can stop sticking on their own if you take good care of them. Put your everyday pots and pans in the dishwasher, but don’t put these standards in there.
Non-Stick Coatings Can Be Damaged in the Dishwasher
Non-stick coatings like Teflon can be damaged in the dishwasher. The high heat and harsh detergents break down the coating over time, causing it to peel and chip. Scratches in the coating also make it easier for food to stick. It’s best to hand wash non-stick pots and pans to maximize their lifespan.
Hand Washing Non-Stick Pans
To properly hand wash non-stick cookware, follow these steps:
- After cooking, let the pan cool fully before cleaning. Transient temperature variations have the potential to harm the non-stick coating.
- Pour some warm, soapy water into the sink. The ideal dish soap is mild; stay away from anything really rough. Give the pan at least half an hour to soak.
- To remove food particles that have been lodged, use a non-abrasive scrub brush, soft sponge, or nylon scrubber. Steel wool should never be used since it might damage the coating.
- Use water to rinse the pan to get rid of all the soap. Use a towel to quickly dry it in order to avoid water stains.
- Use a sponge or scrubber to apply a paste made of baking soda and water to stubborn problems. Before washing, let it stay for a few hours or overnight. Because it is a mild abrasive, baking soda won’t harm the non-stick coating.
- Even on the top rack, avoid washing non-stick cookware in the dishwasher. Over time, the strong detergents and intense heat might still do harm.
- Reseason nonstick cookware periodically in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. This keeps things from sticking and aids in restoring the non-stick coating.
Following these maintenance instructions will increase the longevity and performance of your nonstick cookware. Hand cleansing pots and pans may require a few additional minutes of your time, but it is well worth it to maintain their functionality. Keeping them out of the dishwasher and taking care of the nonstick coating will allow you to cook with comfort for many years.
Wooden Handles and Natural Materials Require Handwashing
Wooden handles and other natural materials must be washed by hand, as the dishwasher can damage them. Dishwashers’ high temperatures and abrasive detergents are too severe for these materials, causing them to deform, fracture, discolor, and deteriorate over time.
Wooden handles, especially those made of cheaper, softer woods like pine, will not hold up well to repeated dishwasher cycles. The heat causes the wood to expand and contract, eventually causing cracks. It also fades and stains the wood, damaging any finish or sealant applied. It’s best to wash pots and pans with wooden handles by hand using hot, soapy water and a sponge or nylon scrubber. Rinse and dry completely to prevent water damage. You’ll want to re-seal or re-finish wooden handles every so often to protect the wood.
Rattan, Bamboo, and Wicker
Natural materials like rattan, bamboo, and wicker should also be hand washed. They are very prone to water damage and staining in the dishwasher. The high heat can cause these materials to warp and the harsh detergents will fade and weaken the materials over time. Gently wash baskets, trays, and other items made of natural materials by hand in warm, soapy water. Rinse and air dry completely away from direct sunlight.
Many pots and pans have non-stick coatings that can be damaged in the dishwasher. The abrasive detergents and high heat degrade the coating, causing it to peel and scratch off into your food. Non-stick cookware should always be hand-washed to maximize the life of the coating. Use a soft sponge and mild detergent, avoiding harsh abrasives. Rinse and dry over low or medium heat to prevent water spots.
While hand washing may require a little extra effort, properly caring for your pots and pans will keep them looking and functioning like new for many meals to come. Protecting natural and non-stick materials from the harsh conditions of an automatic dishwasher will have them serving you well for years. A little hand washing today saves the cost and hassle of replacement down the road.
Quality and Construction Impact Durability
The materials and construction of your pots and pans play a big role in whether or not they can handle the dishwasher. Higher-quality, commercial-grade cookware is typically more durable and dishwasher-safe, while lower-quality options may warp or become damaged.
The materials used have a huge impact on durability. Anodized aluminum, stainless steel, and enameled cast iron are very durable and dishwasher-safe. Aluminum and stainless steel can withstand high heat and the chemical detergents in dish soap without corroding or warping. Enameled cast iron is also very durable, as the enamel coating is baked on at extremely high temperatures.
In contrast, non-anodized aluminum, copper, and non-enameled cast iron are reactive to heat, water, and chemicals, so they should be hand-washed. Pots and pans with wooden or plastic handles, or non-stick coatings like Teflon can also be damaged in the dishwasher due to the high heat. The harsh environment can cause the handles to crack, and non-stick coatings to start breaking down.
How securely the handles, knobs, and other parts are attached also determines if cookware can handle the dishwasher. Riveted or welded handles that are securely fastened to the pan are best, as they won’t become loose or fall off. Screws or bolts may start to rust or come undone over time with repeated wash cycles. Flimsy or thin pots and pans are also more prone to warping in the dishwasher, compared to heavy, high-quality options.
In the end, checking the specifications from the manufacturer is the best way to determine if your particular cookware is dishwasher safe. When in doubt, hand washing and drying your pots and pans after each use is the gentlest approach and will help keep them in the best condition for the longest time possible. Protect your investment, and your cookware will reward you with many home-cooked meals to come!
Handwashing Recommended for Valuable/Heirloom Pieces
Hand washing your valuable and heirloom pots and pans is highly recommended to keep them in prime condition. These pieces have likely been in your family for generations, so taking the extra time to care for them properly will allow you to pass them on to future generations.
- Vintage pots and pans are often made of materials like cast iron, copper, or aluminum that can corrode or become damaged in the dishwasher. The extreme heat and harsh detergents can cause the materials to warp, discolor, or scratch over time. Hand washing with a soft sponge or nylon scrubber and mild detergent is a gentle, effective way to clean while preserving the pan.
- Many heirloom pieces, like cast iron skillets, become naturally non-stick over years of use through a process called seasoning. The oils used during cooking are baked onto the surface, creating a natural patina. The high heat of a dishwasher can strip this seasoning, requiring you to re-season the entire pan. Hand washing and drying over low heat is the best way to maintain the seasoning and non-stick patina.
- Valuable pots and pans that have been passed down often have sentimental value that goes beyond their function in the kitchen. The time and care put into hand washing and maintaining these treasured pieces helps honor their history and the memories associated with them. Machine washing in a dishwasher does not provide the same level of care and respect.
For the longevity of your valuable and heirloom cookware, hand washing is undoubtedly the superior method. While it may require a few extra minutes of your time, the rewards of preserving your pans for lifetimes to come make it worth the effort. Handle with care, and your children’s children will be cooking with your cast iron skillet or copper saucepan one day.
You now know the reasons why some of your favorite pots and pans aren’t dishwasher safe. While throwing everything in the dishwasher after dinner may seem convenient, take the time to check if your cookware can handle it. If not, hand wash those delicate pieces to keep them in great shape for many homemade meals to come. Your pots and pans are investments, so treat them well and they’ll treat you well in return. Next time you’re tempted to overload the dishwasher, remember that some things are best cared for with a gentle hand and a little elbow grease. Your cookware and your wallet will thank you for it.