How to Make a Dishwasher More Efficient

Washing a load of dishes by hand is a real chore, but thankfully, you rely on your dishwasher to tackle the job for you. It's frustrating, then, when your dishwasher runs for hours and still can't get plates sparkling clean. If the machine isn't running efficiently, it may take a few cycles to get perfectly clean dishes. That costs you time and money in the form of a sky-high electric bill. You can coax better performance out of your dishwasher with a bit of quick maintenance.

Step 1

Upgrade your dishwasher to an ENERGY STAR®–compliant model if you don't already own one. Even if you have an older ENERGY STAR model, today's dishwashers are more efficient than ever. Some use just four gallons of water per cycle and consume less than 265 kilowatt hours (kWH) of energy each year. Despite a lower power consumption, they're capable of washing the dirtiest dishes with no rinsing or scrubbing required.

Step 2

Scrape off large pieces of food before putting plates in the dishwasher. If you leave too much debris stuck to dishes, the machine won't clean them as efficiently. If your dishwasher has a hard-food dispenser, it will get rid of some of the debris for you. The dispenser prevents large food particles from getting stuck in the filter.

Step 3

Fill your dishwasher with a full load of dishes before running it, for maximum efficiency. Don't overcrowd, though, as that has the opposite effect. Avoid stacking bowls or plates on top of one another. None of them will get fully clean.

Step 4

Load the dishwasher properly so everything gets clean on the first wash. Angle bowls and plates so that the water spray will blast the dirty side. Put platters, pans and other flat trays in the back and on the sides of the rack. Avoid nesting spoons and forks together as they won't get completely clean.

Step 5

Set your water heater temperature between 120 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. A lower temperature won't clean dishes well.

Step 6

Run the hot water in your kitchen sink for about 10 seconds before starting the dishwasher. Once the water's hot, start the wash cycle. Your dishwasher won't need to slowly heat up the water, so you save time and energy.

Step 7

Run the dishwasher at night after you've turned off the lights. Your air conditioner won't need to work as hard to cool your home as the dishwasher runs.

Step 8

Select the correct cycle for the dishes you're washing. Most dishwashers have at least a normal and heavy cycle. Some feature a delicate cycle for fragile glassware. A few dishwashers have an automatic cycle that works in conjunction with a turbidity sensor. The sensor detects when the dishes are clean and tells the machine to stop the washing cycle, so the dishwasher doesn't run longer than necessary.

Step 9

Use the dishwasher's air-dry option instead of the heated-dry setting. Wipe dishes with a clean towel if you can't wait for them to dry.

Step 10

Clean the dishwasher's filter after every load. Check for food scraps and other debris that can build up and reduce the machine's efficiency.

Step 11

Check the spray arms on the ceiling or floor of the dishwasher. Remove detergent or food debris that's stuck in the spray arm holes. If these holes are blocked, water can't distribute evenly over the dishes. Detergent residue can also build up in the detergent dispenser. If you see this, rinse the dispenser with warm water.

Note: If your dishwasher smells bad, remove all of the dishes and pour one cup of white vinegar into the bottom of the machine. Run the empty dishwasher on a light-wash cycle. The vinegar deodorizes and sanitizes the dishwasher. Your dishwasher may also feature a sanitizing cycle that's designed to clean the machine. The cycle uses very hot water, about 150 degrees Fahrenheit, to kill bacteria and odors. Run the sanitizing cycle with a bleach-based detergent and no dishes in the machine.

Photo Credits: Angela Mayo/Demand Media

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