Choosing a Lean, Mean, Cleaning Machine

The U.S. Department of Energy and leading manufacturers have been working collaboratively on the Energy Star program — a campaign to increase awareness of energy-saving appliances.

Dishwashers with Energy Star certification house internal heaters that “boost the water temperature just where and when it’s needed. This allows consumers to lower their water heater temperature from 140° to 120° and see up to a 10% reduction in heating costs.” These models use approximately 25% less energy and can save more than $30 a year in energy costs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Wash by hand, and you may not be able to tolerate these temperatures, which are necessary to properly sanitize dishes, utensils and cookware.

To save even more energy, the EPA offers the following tips:

  • Run your dishwasher with a full load. Most of the energy used by a dishwasher goes toward heating the water. Since you can’t decrease the amount of water used per cycle, fill your dishwasher to get the most from the energy used to run it.
  • Avoid using the heat-dry, rinse-hold and pre-rinse features. Instead, use your dishwasher’s air-dry option. If your dishwasher does not have an air-dry option, prop the door open after the final rinse to dry dishes.
  • Choose the right size for your home. Standard-capacity models hold more than 8 place settings and 6 serving pieces. Compact-capacity models hold 8 place settings and six serving pieces or less. If you have to operate a compact model more frequently, you may actually use more energy than you would with a standard model over time. To locate an energy-efficient model, click here.
  • Choose a dishwasher with several wash-cycle selections. If your dishes are only slightly soiled, you can use a light or energy-saving wash cycle, which uses less water and operates for a shorter time.

Your dishwasher’s interior is self-cleaning, but it’s wise to sponge down the door gaskets (seals) to keep them in optimum condition.

If you still want to wash by hand (or have only a few dirty items), don’t let the water run as you work, or you’ll go through several gallons per minute. Use the drain stopper to keep a limited amount of water in the sink basin.

Choosing the Right Soap

Despite TV commercials that encourage you to place heavily food-encrusted dishes in your dishwasher, you should always scrape excess food from plates and run a sponge over them to degrease them. This prevents dishwasher clogs. Your best bet: Before loading, soak extra-crusty dishes in the sink basin with an eco-friendly dishwashing liquid like Seventh Generation’s Lavender Dish Liquid, which loosens caked-on food (also available in Natural Citrus). It contains no petroleum products or artificial colors — critical for nontoxic living.

Never use ordinary dish liquid in your dishwasher. Your kitchen will literally overflow with bubbles, and you may ruin the machine’s pump. Always use dishwashing powders, gels or liquids designed specifically for the dishwasher, which suppress suds. We recommend Seventh Generation’s Automatic Dishwashing Powder or Gel, which contains no chlorine bleach or harsh phosphates. Experts, however, recommend choosing a powder over a gel, as tests demonstrate it’s more effective. (Never use lumpy powders — a sign of age or moisture infiltration — as they may not dissolve.)

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DIY Dishwasher


Maintenance Recipes

Hard Water Woes?
If you live in an area with hard water, you may need to eradicate calcium buildup. Pour ½ cup of white vinegar into the machine and run it (without dishes or dishwashing powder) through a regular cycle.

Discolored Interior?
If the interior of your dishwasher becomes discolored, fill a bowl with 2 cups of white vinegar or ½ cup citric acid (available in drugstores) and place it on the rack. Run the machine, without adding powder or dishes. Repeat a second time, if necessary.