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How to Use Dishwasher Rinse Aids to Make Your Dishes Sparkle

Last Updated: May 31, 2022

POV: Your dishes are clean, but they could be cleaner. Dishwasher rinse aids are the kitchen helper you didn’t know you needed, and we’re here to tell you all about ‘em.

Dishwasher rinse aids might seem like an unnecessary extravagance, but here’s the thing — your dishes are never going to get squeaky clean without them. Is there anything more frustrating than popping open your dishwasher, only to be greeted with unsightly watermarks? We think not.

Here’s the good news: Natural dishwasher rinse aids are a gift from the dishwashing heavens that’ll banish watermarks and help your dishes dry faster. Read on to learn how dishwasher rinse aids can make your dishes sparkle brighter than a Twilight vampire.

What is a dishwasher rinse aid?

Rinse aids are surfactants – aka compounds that lower the surface tension of the liquid they’re dissolved in. Without rinse aids, water forms droplets that stick to your dishes and cause water spots. With a rinse aid, the water spreads out and essentially “rolls” off your dishes. Not only do rinse aids leave your dishes spot-free, they also help dishes dry more quickly because water in a thin layer evaporates faster than water in a thick droplet. Science!

Hate doing dishes? We don’t blame you. Peruse our dishwashing tips to get the job done faster.

Do you really need to use a rinse aid?

In a word, yes. Dish detergents also contain surfactants, but they’re the kind that are good at cleaning and not-so-great at turning water into a thin sheet. When you combine super-cleaners (dish detergents) with surface-breakers (rinse aids), you end up with a powerful cleaning duo that thoroughly washes dishes while eschewing water spots with a firm hand.

Can you run the dishwasher with just rinse aid?

You can, but your dishes won’t get very clean. Rinse aids are excellent at what they do, which is preventing watermarks and drying dishes. They aren’t the best cleaners and should always be used alongside a dishwashing detergent to banish germy food particles for good.

Dishwashers get dirty, too! Learn how to clean your dishwasher to keep it working its best.

How to use a dishwasher rinse aid

To use a rinse aid, simply fill your dishwasher’s rinse aid reservoir. Most rinse aids don’t require a pre-rinse, but it’s a good idea to check the manufacturer’s instructions first to make sure. You can place some products, like Seventh Generation’s Detergent Booster, in the bottom of the dishwasher if you don’t have a rinse aid dispenser. After you add the rinse aid, follow up with a trusty natural dish detergent and let your dishwasher do its thing.

We’re big fans of the Grove Co. Pure Power Dishwasher Detergent Packs because it’s an extra-strength detergent that’s been formulated with a rinse aid, eliminating the need for two separate products. And if one thing is true, it’s that we love a product that multitasks!

Can vinegar be used as a rinse aid?

Distilled white vinegar is a decent substitute to dishwashing rinse aids because it helps break the surface tension of water, although not as well — or as conveniently — as pre-made aids. Another downside to vinegar is that it’s acidic enough to ruin the rubber gasket in your rinse aid dispenser, so it needs to be added separately to prevent a disaster.

To use cleaning vinegar as a rinse aid without destroying your dispenser, add a cup of vinegar to a bowl and set the bowl on the top rack of your dishwasher before the rinse cycle starts. Let your dishwasher finish out the rinse cycle, and enjoy your streak-free dishes.

Check out our members’ favorite Grove Co. cleaning products for natural alternatives to your everyday staples.

Dishwasher rinse aid FAQ

How often do I need to refill the rinse aid?

The answer depends on what type of rinse aid you have. Some need to be refilled monthly, while others require a fresh refill every time you do the dishes. Read the label on your dishwasher rinse aid for specific instructions.

What is the rinse aid symbol?

On most dishwashers, the rinse aid dispenser has a circle with a halo of lines surrounding it, like a little sunburst. Rinse aid dispensers typically have a circular lid that twists off. If you’ve got a fancy dishwasher and the rinse aid light is on, that means you’re running low and need to refill the dispenser.

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