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As drought rages in the West, experts are imploring us to use dishwashers and nix handwashing. Here’s how to get the most out of your machine.

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As someone who’s lived in apartments without a dishwasher ever since 1996, my jaw drops when I visit people who have a dishwasher but don’t use it.

They’ll tell me “oh, it’s just a few dishes, I don’t mind,” or they’ll explain how they’re conserving energy by avoiding use of the dishwasher.

Now the folks in the know are debunking these arguments of energy conservation and they’re imploring people who own dishwashers to cut back on hand-washing as much as they can. Why?

Smarter appliances

Today’s dishwasher is optimized to run as efficiently as possible. Energy Star appliances use less water, less heat, and less energy than ever before.

Handwashing, though, is as inefficient as it’s ever been, especially if you rinse everything as thoroughly as you should.

man loading dishwasherAs one expert explained to the National Post:

“While it may be possible to use less water/energy by washing dishes by hand, it is extremely unlikely,” Jonah Schein, technical coordinator for homes and buildings in the EPA’s WaterSense program, said in a statement. Schein was referring, in particular, to Energy Star-certified dishwashers, not all dishwashers.

“In order to wash the same amount of dishes that can fit in a single load of a full size dishwasher and use less water, you would need to be able to wash eight full place settings and still limit the total amount of time that the faucet was running to less than two minutes,” he said.”

5 tips to get you washing efficiently

  1. You shouldn’t rinse your dishes before washing. If you get into the habit of scraping food off better, you’ll have fewer instances of dried-on leftovers. Instead of using your cutlery, use a good rubber spatula to get plates scraped clean. In fact, many dishwasher soaps require food enzymes to attack, and if you rinse dishes and have none left, detergents will attack the dish themselves, which can lead to unsightly cloudy glasses and damaged finishes on other dishes.
  2. Don’t overcrowd your washer. When you pack it too full, you won’t get an even clean on both racks.
  3. Use the right cycle. If your stuff’s really dirty, a light cycle’s not going to do the job right and more water/energy will be wasted anyhow.
  4. Maintenance makes a big difference. Make sure your water jets are free of food particles, the drainage trap is clean, and all those other moving bits and pieces are not being clogged up by food or waste. Even the door seals should be cleaned periodically to ensure they continue closing well.
  5. Vinegar is your best friend. Use it instead of Jetdry or other rinse aids in order to get nice streak-free dishes. Put white vinegar in the rinse compartment, use a good quality detergent (yes, they do vary), and away you go! Vinegar is also a good way to get your whole machine clean. If it’s getting a bit stinky, get rid of all food particles advised in tip 4, then put a cup of white vinegar on the bottom of the dishwasher, run a cycle, and it’ll come out smelling nice and clean again.

Dishwashers are great. Use yours!

Dishwashers will get your dishes cleaner faster while using less water and not much more energy. Saving energy is a big deal, sure, but if you’re on the West Coast and facing drought conditions, water efficiency is a big, big deal.

A clean, well-maintained dishwasher with proper scraped dishes, a quality dish detergent, and the right cycle is usually the most efficient, water-smart solution to dirty dishes. And your hands will thank you too!

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.