Using dishwasher tablets in your washing machine may seem like a quick and easy way to get your clothes clean. However, this shortcut often causes more harm than good. Here’s what you need to know about why dishwashing detergents don’t work well for laundry, along with tips for properly caring for your washing machine.
How Dishwasher and Laundry Detergents Differ
Dishwasher tablets contain strong chemicals and enzymes designed specifically to power through hard water mineral deposits, food grease, and bacteria in dishwashers which run at very high temperatures.
Laundry detergent is formulated much more gently to lift stains, brighten fabrics, and get clothes clean in a washing machine’s cooler water cycles. Using the harsher dishwasher tablets can fade clothes, make them feel rough and stiff, and even cause holes or tears over time.
Some key differences between dishwasher and laundry detergents:
- pH Levels: Dishwashing formulas have extremely alkaline pH levels, around 11-12, to break down tough grease and burnt-on food particles. Laundry detergents are closer to pH 7 or only mildly alkaline. The harsh alkalinity damages fabrics.
- Enzymes: Dishwasher tablets contain amylase and protease enzymes to attack starches and protein. Laundry detergent may have some enzymes to break down organic stains, but in much lower concentrations. Too many enzymes can weaken or “digest” delicate fabrics.
- Surfactants: The degreasing agents in dishwashing detergent are much stronger and can strip color from clothes or deplete fabric fibers.
- Fragrances and Dyes: Many dishwasher tablets contain synthetic fragrances or bright colored dyes not meant for clothes washing. These can stain garments or irritate sensitive skin.
- Water Temperature: Dishwashers use extremely hot 140°F+ water perfect for cutting grease. But clothes are washed in less intense warm or cold water cycles.
Using the wrong detergent can clearly damage your laundry. So what effects can dishwasher tablets have inside your washing machine itself?
Are Dishwasher Tablets Bad for Washing Machines?
The potent chemicals in dishwasher tablets can have several detrimental effects when used inside a washing machine:
- Causing excessive suds that lead to overflowing and leaking
- Clogging hoses and internal components with thick residue
- Damaging rubber seals and the drum lining
- Repeated use contributes to corrosion of metal parts
Not only can dishwasher tablets ruin your clothes, but they can seriously damage your appliance. Here’s a more in-depth look at common issues they cause:
- Excess Suds: The degreasers create mounds of thick suds that overflow. The bubble sensor gets confused, stopping the cycle. Suds can back up into machine components.
- Clogged Hoses: Buildup of gummy residues from the tablets can block drain hoses and prevent proper water flow. This can lead to flooding.
- Damaged Seals: The harsh chemicals degrade rubber door seals and drum gaskets over time. This allows leaks during the wash cycle.
- Corroded Metals: Repeated exposure to high pH formulas causes corrosion of drums, valves, and other metal components. This leads to premature part failures.
- Motor Problems: Residue from additives can gum up pulleys on the motor or cause drag on the drum. This strains the motor leading to burn out.
While an occasional dishwasher tablet probably won’t destroy your machine right away, prolonged use multiplies the damage. Avoid using them routinely.
When You Might Use Dishwasher Tablets for Laundry
There are a few scenarios where using a dishwasher tablet in the washing machine might make sense:
- In an emergency when completely out of laundry detergent
- For heavily soiled items like grease-stained clothes
- To give the empty washing machine a deep clean and remove odors
Even then, use caution and only put 1 tablet in on the lowest water temperature and shortest cycle. Never use them for delicates or specialty fabrics. Test first on darks and colors to check for fading.
Dishwashing detergents can potentially help tackle a few specific laundering challenges because of their strong formulas. But use them very sparingly and carefully:
- Greasy Stains: For clothes smeared with thick grease like automotive oils or bacon fat splatters that gentler detergents can’t penetrate.
- Sanitizing Wash: If clothes were exposed to bacteria, allergens, or illness, the alkaline pH and enzymes provide a sanitizing boost.
- Machine Cleaning: As a machine cleaner to dissolve built-up gunk and grime, especially in neglected front loaders susceptible to mold.
- Odor Removal: To clear out lingering funky smells left inside the washing machine tub after multiple cycles.
Again, even in these situations, use the bare minimum amount on the most heavy duty soil level. Never exceed 1 tablet per load.
Tips for Using Dishwasher Tablets in the Washing Machine
If you do opt to use dishwasher tablets in the washing machine, follow these tips to minimize damage:
- Only use 1 tablet per load
- Choose a cold water setting
- Select the shortest cycle possible
- Run a rinse cycle after to flush out chemicals
- Never use for wool, silk, or lingerie
- Test first on dark colors to check for fading or runs
- Clean the washing machine drum by hand after
To expand on these tips:
- Use Less Than Normal: Usually only 1/4 to 1/2 tablet is needed for laundry vs. a whole tablet for dishwashers. Too much can cause disaster suds.
- Cold Water Only: Hot water activates the harsh chemicals too much. Cold water reduces odds of damage but gives weaker cleaning.
- Short Cycle: Choose a delicate or gentle cycle around 20 minutes to limit exposure. Don’t use heavy duty/normal cycles.
- Rinse Twice: Be sure to run a rinse & spin to dilute and flush out the detergent residue after washing.
- No Delicates: Never use on silks, wools, spandex, lingerie or other fragile items. Test darks and colors for safety first.
- Hand Scrub After: Use a soft brush and hot water to manually scrub the washer drum and door after to remove any clinging residue.
You want to limit contact with the dishwasher tablets as much as possible. Thorough rinsing and cleaning helps avoid any lasting damage.
Signs Dishwasher Tablets Damaged Your Clothes
Watch for these warning signs that dishwasher tablets caused harm to your laundry:
- Colors look faded or bleeding
- Fabrics feel stiff, scratchy, or rough
- Permanent new stains you can’t remove
- Tiny holes or tears in garments
- Seams unraveling
Here are some more details on the types of laundry damage to look for after using dishwasher detergent:
- Fading: The optical brighteners and harsh chemicals strip away dyes from fabrics and garments, especially vivid colors like reds or blues.
- Rough Texture: The enzymes and pH levels damage cotton and other materials, making them feel brittle, rough and scratchy.
- Persistent Stains: Some foods or greases become “set” into the fibers under high alkaline conditions and won’t wash out with normal detergent later.
- Holes/Tears: Weakened fibers start splitting open, especially around seams and collars where detergents concentrate.
- Unraveling: Loose threads around hems or edges become more prone to snagging and unraveling after fiber damage.
- Shrinkage: Excess heat exposure can shrink wool and other fabrics, tightening them and making the garment too small.
- Bleeding Dyes: Brighteners and dyes from the tablets run and transfer onto other lighter clothes in the same load leaving splotches.
Don’t ignore these red flags! Stop using dishwasher tablets immediately to avoid ruining even more of your laundry. You may need to discard damaged beyond repair items.
Better Alternatives to Dishwasher Tablets
Instead of dishwasher detergent, use these safer options to get clothes clean:
- Laundry detergent pods or packs
- Powdered detergent with enzymes
- Natural soap like Castile or homemade laundry soap
- Vinegar or baking soda as chemical-free brighteners
Some more effective, fabric-safe cleaning solutions:
- Liquid Laundry Detergent: Look for types with built-in stain fighters and whiteners safe for regular use. Liquids dissolve better than powders or tablets.
- Oxygen Bleach: This gentler bleach alternative whitens and brightens clothes without harsh chemicals. It’s safe for most fabrics.
- Borax: A natural mineral salt that replaces phosphates as a water softener, stain remover, and whitener. It cuts through grime and grease.
- Washing Soda: An alkali similar to baking soda that helps emulsify oils and lift dirt without fading colors. It softens the water.
- White Vinegar: The mild acid in vinegar cuts through residue, kills mildew and bacteria, and eliminates odors naturally. Use in rinse or cleaning cycles.
- Baking Soda: Baking soda scrubs away stains, freshens laundry, and softens water without risk to fabrics. Great for pretreating shirts.
- Castile Soap: Plant-based soaps like Dr. Bronner’s contain only natural, biodegradable ingredients perfect for hand washing delicates.
Stick to gentle, eco-friendly cleaners instead of industrial dishwasher detergent for your laundry needs.
Proper Washing Machine Cleaning
To deep clean your washing machine safely:
- Run a hot cycle with vinegar or baking soda
- Use a water/vinegar solution and scrub with an old toothbrush
- Leave the door open after loads to dry out moisture
This prevents buildup of residue, mildew, and odors.
For front loaders prone to mold and mildew, do a thorough periodic deep cleaning:
- Hot Vinegar Cycle: Pour 2 cups of white vinegar into the drum and run a hot full cycle to sanitize and deodorize.
- Baking Soda Scrub: Mix a paste of 1-2 tablespoons baking soda with a little water. Use an old toothbrush to scrub stains inside the gasket and dispensers.
- Unscented Bleach: Every few months use unscented bleach instead of vinegar to disinfect and remove stains.
- Towel Dry: Wipe around gaskets and window with a dry towel after each wash to absorb all moisture.
Don’t forget to clean the exterior too! Wipe down the control panel, handle, and door with a soft cloth and mild soap and water or disinfecting wipes.
Keep your washing machine fresh and clean with these habits:
- Always prop the front-loader door open between loads
- Wipe away any visible detergent buildup
- Run a monthly empty vinegar cycle
- Clean the gasket, drum, and door with vinegar
Here are some additional front-loading washer tips:
- Leave Door Cracked: Front-loaders are airtight when closed, so prop open the door between uses to air out moisture that breeds mildew.
- Clean Dispensers: Detergent, softener, and bleach can gum up the dispensers. Wipe them regularly to avoid clogs.
- Monthly Maintenance Wash: Add vinegar or baking soda once a month to clean out soapy residue before it builds up.
- Dry Gasket: Fold back the rubber gasket around the door to dry thoroughly after each load to avoid mildew growth.
- Clean Filter: Pull out the filter monthly to remove collected lint and gunk that blocks drainage.
Routine cleaning and maintenance keeps front-loaders fresh and prevents early part failures.
When to Call a Repair Professional
Contact a washing machine repair expert if you notice:
- Persistent leaking from hoses or the door
- Appliance won’t spin or drain properly
- Burning rubber smell from the motor
- Unusual loud noises when agitating or spinning
- Error code lights appearing
Scheduling a diagnostic appointment can prevent dishwasher tablet damage from becoming catastrophic.
Warning signs your washing machine needs professional service include:
- Error Codes: If the machine displays odd letters and numbers, they indicate diagnostic trouble codes. Don’t ignore these!
- Leaking: Catch leaks right away. Small leaks tend to worsen into big floods or damage floors and walls.
- Drain Problems: If loads stay sopping wet, the drain hose or pump is clogged. Or the motor can’t agitate properly.
- Burning Smell: A burning odor usually means the motor or belt is overheating from friction. Have it inspected immediately.
- Noisy Operation: Knocking, grinding or loud whining noises point to an underlying mechanical problem.
Don’t take chances trying to fix it yourself. Call a trusted appliance repair company to properly diagnose the issue and get your washing machine running smoothly again.
While it may seem convenient, using dishwasher tablets in your clothes washing machine often causes more harm than good. Stick to laundry-specific detergents, and use vinegar, baking soda and proper care to keep your machine fresh and clean. Avoiding dishwasher tablets prevents damage to both your appliances and your clothing. Invest in safe laundry products, and conduct regular washing machine cleaning and maintenance to optimize performance and lifespan. With proper habits, your washer and wardrobe will stay spotless and fresh.