The automatic dishwasher has been the miracle machine of the modern household since its invention in 1850. That makes this vital appliance about 20 years older than the doorknob, and it's no wonder. Necessity is the mother of invention, and dishwashers have been preventing dishpan hands (and domestic disputes) for more than a century.
They can do more than just wash glasses and plates, however. Here are 10 unexpected ways to get your dishwasher doing double duty.
The sponge you use for hand-washing and for wiping surfaces is a near-perfect incubator for germs. It has a million nooks and crannies where bacteria can thrive, especially in the warm, wet environment you've given them by soaking the sponge in hot water.
Stop germs from thriving by frequently washing your kitchen scrubbers in the dishwasher. Secure sponges in the silverware basket so they don't move around, and be sure to use the hottest setting possible.Tetiana Maksymenko/ Getty Images
The fan over your range top is surprisingly filthy. Run your finger over it, and you'll come away with a film of cooking grease that's hard to get off your skin. Fortunately, your dishwasher can help with this. Put the grille in the dishwasher to remove hard-to-reach grime. Plastic and aluminum furnace vent covers can also be cleaned this way, but be aware that enameled, plated and painted covers are handwash only.
Read more: Green Cleaning 101>Sadeugra/ Getty Images
The things you use to clean your house get pretty dirty themselves. It's odd to think that your cleaning tools might need cleaning also, but a quick look at the synthetic bristles on your broom will confirm that, at some point, you're just adding to the mess.
Plastic broom heads, dust pans, vacuum attachments and floor brushes can all go into your dishwasher. Remove excess dust and hair first to prevent a clog. Secure the smaller items, such as a brush attachment for the vacuum, or that little pipe cleaner thing for cleaning window sills, in a mesh laundry bag. Skip the dry cycle.Tatomm/ Getty Images
Everything your baby owns will go into their mouth at some point, so you should probably keep it all as clean as possible. Even older kids, who have presumably gotten over the oral phase, will still have some grungy plastic toys. Objects like blocks and action figures can be run through a full cycle, even along with your dishes. To prevent them from flying all over the place, secure them in a mesh laundry bag on the top rack.Meredith Heil/ Getty Images
If you're surprised at how dirty kids can get their playthings, you'll be shocked at what your pets can do. Rubber chew toys, pet food and water dishes and even grimy collar tags can get the spray and wash treatment in your dishwasher. Many pet toys are dishwasher-safe and say so on the package. Run them through a regular cycle. (Don't wash rope toys or hides, as they won't fare well.)alexei_tm/ Getty Images
You may have noticed the dark band forming under the brim of your favorite baseball cap. that's not normal age-related discoloration; the hat is steadily absorbing sweat, skin oil and things that don't bear thinking about while on your head. The good news is that these hats are generally okay for cleaning in the dishwasher.
Secure your family's caps to the top rack with rubber bands to keep them in place, and run a cycle with no detergent. This will blast the germs lurking under the brim while preserving the hat's shape.Marco di Bello/ Getty Images
Plastic hairbrushes, headbands and combs seem to be made to accumulate grease and loose hair. The same machine that powers through tough baked-on grease on your baking pans can also hit those plastic brushes and combs with some serious cleaning power. Before you put hair care supplies in the wash, run them under water to prep them. Remove any excess hair first so it doesn't clog your drain. (Don't try this with natural bristles or wooden handles; the water and heat can damage them.)Iryna Veklich/ Getty Images
Patent leather pumps should probably be cleaned by hand, and your Italian-made Oxfords really could use a traditional shine, but a lot of the more casual footwear you just hang around in is actually dishwasher-safe. You can use this trick on pretty much anything that's canvas, rubber or hard plastic, if you're careful.
Start by removing the shoe liners. Instead of detergent, add baking soda for extra freshness. Skip the dry cycle (let them air-dry). If the idea of washing stinky shoes and silverware in the same place makes you squeamish, run an empty cycle between loads. This effectively makes the dishwasher yet another thing you can clean in the dishwasher.N Sl / EyeEm/ Getty Images
If you're not sure about washing delicate Tiffany-style lampshades in your dishwasher, remember that time you cut corners and washed your crystal wine glasses in there. It's actually pretty gentle on glass. Sturdy glass globes can easily be placed on the top rack and run through a gentle cycle (skip the heat dry, though).
Antique or delicate glass fixtures should always be washed by hand, if only because many older glass items contain lead, and you don't want that interacting with your next load of dishes.ucpage/ getty Images
Sports gear goes to class with your kids nice and clean, only to come home stinky and stained with sweat. A dishwasher comes to the rescue here too. Knee pads and shin guards can go on the top rack. Some mouthguards can be cleaned in the silverware basket, but you should always check the package to be sure yours is dishwasher-safe.
Avoid the heat cycle for these items since the kind of plastic they're made of can easily warp when exposed to moist heat.
A version of this article appeared in our January 2014 issue with the headline “All hail the dishwasher,” p. 57.Alistair Berg/ Getty Images
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