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Dishwasher FAQ: Is it OK to Pause the Dishwasher? Can you add more dishes?

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Everybody has had it happen at least once. Another dirty dish was found in the wrong place just after a half-empty dishwasher load was started. Thankfully, modern dishwashers are becoming more eco-friendly, using less water, power, and have sensors to stop the cycle automatically if the dishwasher needs to be opened in the middle of the cycle.

It is okay to temporarily pause a dishwasher mid-cycle. If the machine does not have a lock preventing the door from being opened while running, it is safe to open the door while it is running. Sensors stop the timers and the cleaning functions inside for safety and to reduce the risk of water escaping.

There can be a lot of questions surrounding a dishwasher, despite the fact that it is a common household appliance. Sometimes it’s someone’s first, or it’s such an upgrade from the old one that there are just too many questions regarding it. Then there’s also the fact that technology moves so quickly, it can be hard to have a full grasp of something even as simple as pausing a dishwasher and the effects it has. Read more to find answers to some of these common questions.

Is it Bad to Stop Mid-Cycle?

If a dishwasher can be opened at all during its cycles, it has a timer that will stop with the rest of the cleaning functions while the door is opened. Once it is shut again, it will resume cleaning. Therefore, it is perfectly safe and acceptable to temporarily stop a dishwasher mid-cycle.

If a dishwasher has to be stopped entirely while running its load, such as in a power outage or an emergency, there is no need to worry. The water will typically still drain slowly and not just sit inside of the machine unless there is another problem that needs to be addressed such as a clog in the line.

If the dishwasher is stopping on its own during a cycle, it means that there is an issue. This can be anything from a power issue to parts failing. So, if the machine is stopping on its own in the middle of a cycle, it is time to call in a professional and get the dishwasher and/or power lines serviced.

Can You Add More Dishes Mid-Cycle?

Yes, it is usually possible to add more dishes mid-cycle. However, if it is late in the cycle, it might be best to just wait for the next one so that there is time to actually clean those dishes.

Most modern dishwashers allow for the dishwasher to be opened mid-cycle to add in more dishes that were forgotten. Due to the fact that they don’t actually fill up entirely with water, the worst that will likely happen is a smelly, detergent and rinse-aid filled blast of scalding hot steam in the face. Dishwashers are becoming more and more eco-friendly and do not use nearly as much water as expected, and thus there isn’t much concern for a mess to be made if the door is opened.

Some machines have locks during certain points in the cycle to prevent the door from being opened while it performs essential functions. Others have child locks to prevent the door from being pulled down by an unsuspecting child that will hurt itself. For these sorts of features, check the owner’s manual to see if that particular machine is equipped with them.

Can You Stop Your Dishwasher Early?

You can stop your dishwasher early if you must, with few exceptions based on the model of the machine. Typically, if a load needs to be stopped entirely, there is a function to cancel the load and then drain the machine, which are usually standard functions of any dishwasher.

Some machines have additional child locks which prevent the door from being opened and triggering the load pausing. Others can only be opened at certain times during the cycle in order to prevent damage, injury, or other ill-effects. It depends entirely on the machine itself and the owner’s manual will explain the features that are part of that particular dishwasher.

Do You REALLY Need To Rinse Dishes Before Dishwasher?

Can You Run Your Dishwasher Half-Full?

Yes, a dishwasher can be run half-full. It typically is considered a waste of resources due to the fact that it will end up using twice as much water and twice as much detergent to get the same number of dishes clean. However, due to the efficiency ratings of modern dishwashers, it is more efficient to run a dishwasher with as few as eight dishes than it is to simply wash them by hand.

Overfilling a dishwasher actually causes more issues than running them underfilled, due to the fact that the sprayers can easily become blocked, nested dishes cannot be reached by the water, and the mechanical aspects of the machine can be caught. 

Can You Run the Dishwasher Every Day?

You can run your dishwasher every day. Running it every day helps keep dishes sanitary and discourages the buildup of harmful bacteria, microorganisms, grime, mold, and the attraction of various insects.

Additionally, according to Energy Star, a dishwasher is far more efficient than simply washing dishes in a sink. A modern, Energy Star certified dishwasher uses approximately four gallons of water an hour, whereas a sink uses four gallons of water in two minutes.

It also is more energy-efficient and will save more on power and water than typical myths. Due to their efficiency, they are capable of saving 75% on energy and water costs, which adds up to over $1,300 over the life of the machine.

Personally, I use this energy-efficient dishwasher (Amazon paid link). I can strongly recommend it if you don’t have a large family. Read more about saving energy with your dishwasher here.

How Often Should You Run Your Dishwasher?

A dishwasher should be run at least once a week in order to ensure the motor is working properly, the seal is still good, and that no problems have arisen in the time. Even if it is only a partial or cleaning load, running the dishwasher frequently keeps the machine in top shape.

However, running it more frequently helps keep dishes sanitary and prevents the breeding of harmful bacteria, disease-causing microorganisms, and the attraction of insects. It also prevents food debris from molding, getting so hard the machine cannot do anything about it, and keeps everything sanitary.

Due to the fact that the machines are becoming more efficient, running them daily is going to be better than letting them sit with a bunch of old dishes inside of them. It is going to be better to run the dishwasher in the long run as well, saving money, time, and hands from the harsh effects of constant soapy scrubbing.

Dishwasher cleaning tables (Amazon paid link).

How Long Can Dirty Dishes Sit in the Dishwasher?

Some people will say that a dishwasher should be run only when it is full to be as economical as possible. Some will say that they should be run at the end of each day in order to clean everything inside of it. For the most part, it boils down to preference. Regardless, a dishwasher should be run at least once a week no matter if the machine is full or not.

However, the longer dirty dishes are sitting in the washer means the more bacteria and other grime, contaminants, and bugs will appear. Leftover food will harden and become impossible for the machine to clean up on its own.

a half-full dishwasher with dirty dishes

How Long Can Clean Dishes Sit in the Dishwasher?

A common mistake is to let clean dishes sit inside of a dishwasher for longer than they should be. Once a cycle is over, the dishes inside are going to be exceptionally hot and risk burning someone’s fingers when they try to unload it, so it is reasonable to want to let them sit for some time.

However, it is not good to let dishes sit inside of a dishwasher for too long either. The moisture inside of the machine will not allow for them to properly dry, and rebuild bacteria, mold, and other microorganisms you do not want festering on your dishes.

The best time to pull dishes from the dishwasher is after they are no longer hot to the touch. At this point, it might be tempting to use a rag to finish drying them, but it is best to let them air dry instead. This is due to the fact that the handy rag is just going to transfer any bacteria or other microorganisms to the freshly cleaned plates, effectively negating the sanitation they just received.

Can You Run a Dishwasher at Night? (Does it save money?)

Should You Run Your Dishwasher with Powder or Gel?

The biggest factor on the kinds of soap that should be used within a dishwasher is looking for the fact it says the word Detergent. What matters most after that point is the overall quality of the soap and individual preference. A higher-quality soap will not have as many issues and not leave films at the end.

Gels tend to have extra chemicals in them that can cause damage to silicone and rubber, posing a risk to the seals on the dishwasher as well as some dishware. Some brands are known to leave a film on the dishes.

On the other hand, powder and packs tend to do better in dishwashers than gels and typically use less harsh chemicals. However, some have a tendency to not dissolve properly within the machine, leaving for some gritty soap being leftover at the end.

In the end, it’s more important to not use regular soaps in a dishwasher. Regular dish soap or hand soap will cause too many suds that cannot be cleaned off, cause damage to the machine, and overflow through the pipes and onto the floor. 

Here is a good option for dishwasher tablets (Amazon paid link) that I have used for a few years.

Should You Use Extra Soap for Dirtier Dishes?

Absolutely do not use extra soap if the dishes are really dirty or not coming clean. It will cause a film to be left on the dishes, buildup in the lines, and cause more harm than good. In these instances, it is best to rinse off dishes or do a light pre-wash by hand before adding them to the dishwasher.

If dishes are consistently not coming clean, check the dishwasher itself to see if it has buildup in its trap or lines. Adding in a rinse aid can assist, as well as using higher quality detergents. If that still does not help, definitely clear off even more of the residual food before putting them into the machine. If even after practically clearing off the dishes entirely doesn’t work, it is time to bring in a professional and get the dishwasher serviced.


Just because a dishwasher is one of the most common appliances found in one’s home doesn’t mean that everyone is well-informed about their use. Even more common appliances, such as refrigerators, are giant boxes of confusion for their owners. That means that there are tons of questions people might have regarding their use, including if they can be stopped in the middle of a cycle, how often they should be used, and how long things can sit within them.

For the most part, a dishwasher is an incredibly efficient machine that is going to save time, energy, and money by over-washing dishes by hand. They can usually be paused in the middle to account for the addition of more dishes unless they have locks during certain points which is determined by the individual machine.

They exist to make dishes more sanitary, so letting them do their thing and taking care of them is going to be in everyone’s best interest. They are very safe and energy-efficient, even if there are many myths that say otherwise.

Read more about dishwasher safety here, or learn the most cost/energy-efficient times to run your dishwasher next.

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