Convenient and green
Washing dishes at the sink can be a Zen-like ritual–or at least a way to get your hands warm and your fingernails clean. But automatic dishwashers have their benefits, too, and not just for the busy and the lazy. Used wisely, modern automatics consume less water and energy than washing dishes by hand.
Today’s best energy-efficient dishwashers have soil sensors that automatically adjust power and water use based on how yucky your dishes are. Most offer an internal booster heater that raises the water temperature inside the dishwasher to about 140°F. This allows you to save energy and money by reducing your home’s water heater temperature to 120°F or so. So sit back, enjoy your friends and family, and–for a few blissful minutes–let your dishwasher help you save the planet.
- Wash smart. Don’t pre-rinse your dishes. Just scrape off the biggest food scraps into your compost bucket. Modern dishwashers and detergents can take care of the rest. Pre-rinsing can waste as much as 20 gallons of water, according to Energy Star. If your dirty dishes sit overnight, use the dishwasher’s rinse feature–it uses much less water than hand rinsing. In addition, always run your dishwasher with full loads and use the water-saver setting.
- Air dry. The “air-dry” setting just uses a fan rather than the electric heating element for the “heat-dry” setting. It takes a bit longer but saves you money.
- Wash light. If your dishwasher doesn’t have soil-sensing technology, use the “light wash” or “china/light” setting unless you have a very dirty load.
- Turn down the heat. If your dishwasher has an internal booster heater, turn down your home’s main water heater temperature to 120°F.
When shopping, look for
- Energy efficiency. Dishwashers that have earned the government’s Energy Star label use energy at least 41% more efficiently than dishwashers that only meet the federal government’s minimum energy standards. But even among Energy Star dishwashers, energy consumption varies widely. When shopping, look for the yellow and black EnergyGuide label required by the federal government. It will tell you how much energy that particular model will use in kilowatt-hours per year (kWh/yr), allowing you to do an apples-to-apples comparison of different dishwashers. Or you can compare dishwashers’ Energy Factor (EF), another measurement of the dishwasher’s energy efficiency. A higher EF is better. The federal minimum EF for dishwashers is 0.46. Energy Star qualified models currently must have an EF of at least 0.65.
- Low water use. Energy Star dishwashers use about one-third less water than other dishwashers–averaging 4 gallons a cycle, compared to 6 gallons for other new dishwashers and 8 to 14 gallons for older models.
When you buy a new dishwasher, be sure to recycle your old one rather than trashing it. Dishwashers contain a lot of steel that’s recyclable. To find out where to recycle your old dishwasher, contact your city’s recycling department or go to Earth 911.
to you, your wallet, and the Earth
Assuming you don’t pre-rinse the dishes, using an Energy Star dishwasher instead of hand washing will save you 5,000 gallons of water, $40 in utility bills, and 230 hours of your time-every year! If your dishwasher was manufactured before 1994, replacing it with an Energy Star model can save you more than $30 per year in utility costs and more than 1,000 gallons of water. So, if you have an older model that requires you to do some pre-washing, shop away knowing a new model can save you $70 per year and a whole lot of time!
- Supersizing. Don’t buy a supersized dishwasher. If you don’t cook much and rarely fill up the dishwasher, consider buying a compact model (18″ instead of the standard 24″) or a dishwasher drawer–you’ll save energy and water. But if you use the dishwasher often, you’ll save energy and water with a standard-size dishwasher rather than running a compact model more frequently.
- Location. If you’re remodeling your kitchen, try not to place the dishwasher too close to the refrigerator. Dishwashers produce heat, which can make a nearby refrigerator work harder to stay cold.
- Check with your local energy and water utility companies–some offer rebates for purchasing energy- and water-efficient appliances.
- The Energy Star website also provides a list of Energy Star dishwashers and their energy