We tapped cleaning experts to find out which household items can go in your dishwasher—here's what they said.

Krissy Brady
August 10, 2020
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Now that keeping your home clean is more important than ever, you're probably looking for ways to keep your home safe without having to spend every waking moment in disinfecting mode.

Turns out, your dishwasher is the perfect partner in crime for such a mission. "While dishwashers have become a standard staple across many modern kitchens, it's safe to say they're still widely considered one of the most underrated appliances," says Paul Berry, owner of Mr. Appliance of San Antonio, a Neighborly company.

Besides being a tremendous water- and energy-saver, dishwashers can safely help with cleaning items around the house that have nothing to do with your plates and cutlery.

There are certain items that should absolutely never go into a dishwasher—anything made of wood, cast-iron or aluminum or with a nonstick coating, for instance—as the likelihood of damaging both your appliance and the item itself is higher. But plenty of others are fair game, and popping them in the dishwasher can save you the stress of having to clean them by hand.

Getty / Johner Images

How to Use Your Dishwasher to Clean Household Items

"If you're loading your dishwasher with non-kitchen items, be sure to empty out the appliance completely, and depending on the item you plan to clean, use detergent at your own discretion," says Berry. (If you're washing an item that might be at risk for discoloration, make sure you use a detergent that doesn't contain bleach, he adds.)

Also, be mindful that there are heating elements at the bottom of your machine. "A general rule of thumb is to place any item you're worried about damaging—or potentially falling into the heating element—into a mesh bag before running a cleaning cycle," says Berry. (We like this set of five mesh bags from Amazon, $10)

If the items you cleaned weren't that dirty or just needed a freshening up, you can go back to your regularly scheduled programming. But if you notice any lingering residue or smells in your dishwasher, make sure to clean it before doing your next load of dishes.

Start with cleaning the drain. "After washing items not meant for the dishwasher, it's essential to remove any gunk left behind from the drain," says Cyrus Bedwyr, a professional kitchen and oven cleaning specialist for Fantastic Services in the UK. "This will increase the dishwasher's cleaning efficiency and prevent future damage."

You can then run a cycle with a commercial cleaner, like Affresh ($6, Amazon), to get your dishwasher's innards back to pristine condition.

Ready to get started? Here are 18 items you can clean in your dishwasher posthaste.

Surprising Things You Can Put in Your Dishwasher

1. Silicone Oven Mitts

Odds are, your oven mitts work as hard as you do in the kitchen and they deserve a good cleaning. "Silicone mitts are safe in the dishwasher," says Berry. "Place them on the top rack and put them through a regular wash cycle."

2. Appliance Knobs

As long as they're plastic, it's totally fine to put them in the dishwasher, says Shirley Langridge, a kitchen appliance cleaning expert at Maggie's Oven Services in the UK. Pop them into a mesh bag and place them on the top shelf before your next cycle.

3. Kitchen Sponges and Reusable Paper Towels

Sponges and reusable "paper" towels (usually made of bamboo or cotton) are safe in the top rack, while brushes with long handles and bristles should be placed in the utensil holder. "You can easily knock out this chore during a regular cycle with your dishes," says Berry. However, scrub brushes with wooden handles still need to be disinfected by hand.

4. Microwave Turntables

"Generally, these glass turntables can go into the dishwasher on the bottom rack, but it's always best to read your microwave's manual first before tossing it into the dishwasher," suggests Berry.

5. Fridge Shelves and Drawers

These items are on the bulkier side, so it's best to run this load by itself and remove the top dishwasher rack to ensure there's enough room. "If your shelves and drawers are smaller, you can place them the way you would plates and bowls, but bigger ones may need to lay flat across the rack," says Berry.

6. Potatoes

If you're crunched for time and have a large quantity of potatoes to prep, you can buy some time by using your dishwasher to rinse them. Place your potatoes on the top rack of your dishwasher in a single layer, and set it to the rinse-only cycle (checking to make sure there's no soap or rinse agent in the dispensers before turning it on, of course).

It may not be the most traditional approach to prepping potatoes, but it's been known to get the job done in a pinch.

7. Loofahs and Bath Sponges

Since bacteria love to set up shop in the nooks and crannies of loofahs and bath sponges, these are super hard to clean by hand. Cleaning them on the top rack of your dishwasher is a convenient and efficient way to rid them of any germs that have accumulated.

"Once you load up the sponges you want cleaned, simply turn the dishwasher on the 'heated dry' setting, or the hottest cycle your particular appliance has," says Bedwyr.

8. Hairbrushes, Makeup Brushes and Toothbrushes

Remove the hair from your brush and comb to prevent it from clogging the drain (ick), then place them in the cutlery basket and wash on a regular cleaning cycle. The same goes for your makeup brushes—but if any of these items have wooden parts or natural bristles, they still have to be washed by hand, says Langridge. (Your toothbrush and toothbrush heads can also be disinfected this way, according to Molly Maid.)

9. Shower Caddies, Soap Dishes and Toothbrush Holders

"Bathroom accessories, like soap dishes and toothbrush holders, can easily rack up residue," says Berry. "To sanitize these items, place them on the top rack and run a cycle with detergent at least once a week."

10. Washing-Machine Detergent Drawers

"These can become clogged with soap, softener and sometimes mold on the back, so it's recommended that you place them in the dishwasher (top rack) for optimal cleaning," says Berry. (Make sure to check your washing machine's manual first to confirm your detergent drawers are dishwasher safe, and don't dry them in the dishwasher—otherwise, you run the risk of warping the plastic.)

11. Baseball Caps

Caps tend to get sweaty and greasy, but throwing them in the washing machine can bend them out of shape. Instead, secure your cap around the pegs of your dishwasher's top rack for an easy clean that holds its shape in place. ("There are also special devices to ensure your cap stays in shape in the dishwasher," says Berry. We like this $8 cap cleaner from Amazon.)

Set your dishwasher to a normal wash cycle using warm (not hot) water, and make sure the heated-dry option is turned off to avoid shrinkage. Instead, air-dry your caps anywhere you can find strong air circulation.

12. Flip-Flops

Flip-flops can be secured in the top rack and rinsed with your favorite dishwashing detergent to remove any lingering dirt and smells, says Berry. Use a non-heat setting to steer clear of shoe damage, and just like your baseball caps, let your flip-flops air-dry in a location with optimal air circulation.

13. Pet Collars and Leashes

"Typically, these items are made from synthetic materials like nylon, polyester and cotton, which can be placed in the top rack," says Berry. Clip them to the rack to help them stay put, then put them through a regular wash cycle. ("Never place anything made from leather in your dishwasher," adds Berry.)

14. Toys

Both kids' and pets' plastic toys (nothing that's battery-operated or soft and squishy) can be cleaned and sanitized by popping them into the top rack of your dishwasher and putting them through a light wash cycle. "Small items should be placed in a mesh bag for optimal safety," says Berry, and avoid the heated-dry option to avoid potentially melting the toys.

15. Trash cans

Smaller trash cans made from hard plastic or metal, like those in your bathroom or office, can easily fit on the bottom rack. If your trashcan has a swinging lid, you can toss it in for a wash too. "As this particular household item tends to accumulate dust and germs, it's nice to avoid cleaning this item by hand and leave the dirty work to your dishwasher," says Berry.

16. Keys

Keys are one of the dirtiest things we carry around. "Cleaning them in the dishwasher is quite easy—simply slide the keyring around one of the pegs in the top rack," says Bedwyr. "You can run the dishwasher on whatever setting you want, since most keys are made of metal." (Just make sure to take any electronic keys off the keyring first.)

17. Gardening Tools

Running your gardening tools through the dishwasher on high heat is a great way to remove any pesticides and residue hanging around from your latest gardening project. "If your tools have wooden handles, though, you'll want to avoid placing these in the dishwasher, as this can warp and potentially cause damage to your gardening tools," says Berry. To keep rust at bay, thoroughly dry your tools post-wash.

18. Golf Balls

Yes, really. Golf balls can be tricky to clean by hand due to their texture, which is why sprucing them up in the dishwasher is ideal. "Put them in a mesh bag and place them on the bottom rack," says Bedwyr. "You can then run your dishwasher on whatever setting you want."