Is It Bad to Run Your Dishwasher Frequently? We Asked the Experts

published Sep 6, 2020
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As someone who spent the first half of her 20s living in apartments with no dishwashers and very small sinks, the idea of simply putting dishes into a machine after using them felt like a fantasy for a long, long time. To simply rinse off a plate or cup and be done with it felt like it would change my life. But when I finally did move to a place with a dishwasher, it took me a long time to get used to using it at all. 

I’d forget dirty dishes were in there for days or I’d end up running it entirely too often. Sometimes I’d do a whole sink of dishes by hand before realizing that I could have just used the dishwasher. Eventually, I realized that I actually had no idea of the protocol for using a dishwasher at all. I didn’t know how often to use it or if it was hurting the environment if I used it too often, or not enough. So I asked the experts. 

Is it Wasteful to Run a Dishwasher Frequently?

As P&G Home Care Senior Scientist Morgan Brashear tells me over email, the dishwasher is actually designed to be more efficient than hand-washing dishes, “contrary to popular belief.”

“Cascade found that the average person uses four gallons of water every two minutes washing dishes at the sink, whereas Energy Star certified dishwashers use less than four gallons of water per cycle,” Brashear says. “That means you could save up to 100 gallons of water a week by running your dishwasher nightly instead of washing dishes by hand.”

If at first this stat makes you skeptical, take a second to think about washing dishes by hand. How often have you left the water running for the entire 30-minute process, even if you weren’t using it the whole time? When you start to consider the alternative to a dishwasher, Cascade’s study starts to seem more logical (and like a great excuse to invest in a dishwasher for your apartment if you have room for one).

The question still remains: Is there such a thing as too much, even if it is better for the environment?

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Is it Bad for the Dishwasher to Run it Frequently?

According to Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, the number of dishwasher cycles per week in an average household is about five. Want your machine to last longer? Cut this number down, if you can. 

“In the average home the dishwasher is cycled five times per week. Based on this average, those who use their appliance less than five times are likely to have fewer repairs and replace their dishwasher less frequently than those who run it six or more times,” Shimek shares.

A typical dishwasher has a useful life of around 10 years, but if you run more than five cycles a week, you may need to replace yours in seven years or so. If you can cut your cycles down to fewer than five per week (and stay on top of dishwasher cleaning and maintenance), your dishwasher could last 12 years or more.

So here’e the bottom line: While running a dishwasher once a day, every day of the week may not be the best thing for the dishwasher’s longevity, this would probably save more water than doing dishes every single day the traditional way. It’s up to you which concern takes priority.

How to Do the Dishes More Efficiently

If you’re still looking to streamline your dishwasher use and minimize how many times you run it, there are ways to make it more efficient. 

1. Use good detergent.

Consider what type of detergent you’re using. If you run the dishwasher only to be left with stuck-on food on plates and bowls, you’re only making your life more difficult (and ultimately, will end up washing more water than you would otherwise, too). “Dishwashers, when paired with a superior detergent like Cascade, allow you to skip the pre-rinse and save even more water per dishwasher load,” Brashear says.

2. Don’t overload the dishwasher

Though it may be tempting to pack every nook and cranny of the dishwasher to avoid doing more than one wash, Shimek says this isn’t a great idea in the long-run. “Adequate space is needed in between dishes to ensure each item is clean and to avoid unnecessary strain on your dishwasher,” Shimek shares. “If you are unsure how to load it correctly, refer to the owner’s manual to help maximize the cleaning power of each cycle.”

Yes, believe it or not, there is a correct way to load each and every dishwasher. And really, who among us hasn’t bickered over the “right” way to load the dishwasher at least once or twice? So hey, who knows? Maybe the manual’s instructions will even settle your household’s most common argument.