Choosing the Right Dishwasher Cycle for a Faster Clean

Clean your dishes faster by selecting the right dishwasher cycle.

Ah, dishwashers. That magical appliance pined after by everyone from college students to empty nesters and everyone in between. If you’ve got one, you’re infatuated with it and if you don’t — well — we feel for you.

play speed icon

But no matter how much you appreciate your dishwasher, it remains elusive and mysterious. What’s actually going on in there for the hour and a half anyway? As all of that swishing, churning and gurgling fades to kitchen white noise, you probably don’t even give it a second thought.

But you should. Like, which cycle should you be using for which dishes? Have you even bothered to scan the button options, of which there are many? Which is the best detergent, and should you be using different types of detergent for different cycles? Are you even loading the dishwasher properly? These are the hard hitting questions we’re here to clear up for you.

Read on to demystify the ongoings of your most valued kitchen appliance. The more intimately you know your dishwasher, the healthier (and potentially more efficient and eco friendly!) your relationship with it will be. Educate yourself so that your dishes will get the best possible clean in the least amount of time.

Dishwasher loading 101

  • Don’t overload! You want to leave some wiggle room between your dishes, so that the detergent and water can evenly coat and clean all the crevices. Even dishes appreciate a little personal space.
  • Careful not to block the water streams. Peer inside the dishwasher and take note of its innards. Note the placement of jets where the water streams shoot from, both on the top and bottom of the dishwasher. Be sure not to put any large dishes in the way of those streams or spray devices. Also be mindful not to block the spinning arms and rotating bits with any long utensils.
  • No spooning. Be sure to separate the utensils from one another, face your plates in toward the middle of the dishwasher, bowls go upside down and glassware on top. You can find more detailed dishwasher loading advice here.

Some day, my pre-rinse will come?

If dishwashers are your knight in shining armor, do you owe it to them to pre-rinse those dishes before loading them up, or nah? This is an age old debate, and we’re here for it. Yes, definitely scrape off substantial food bits — especially bones, fat, skin or especially fibrous scraps.

But …

Most detergents actually utilize those bits of food clinging to dishes in order to activate their ingredients. Detergents break down that leftover stuck on residue, which will ultimately be flushed down the dishwasher’s drain. Not only will skipping the thorough pre-rinse save you time, but it’s more eco-friendly to not waste all that pre-rinse water.

So, it’s official: We’re giving you a permission slip to skip the pre-rinse.

And it’s actually super important for a little bit of food to stay stuck to the dish for detergents like new Cascade Platinum ActionPacs to unleash its cleaning power. The detergent in Cascade Platinum ActionPacs latches on to those leftover crumbs and sauces, tackling that baked on cheese with 50% more cleaning power, leaving your dishes clean and spotless.

Buttons and settings and timers, oh my!

Generally speaking, your dishwasher should have a normal or standard setting that typically runs anywhere between an hour and a half to three hours or so (which, admittedly, seems like a very long time). Think about it: You could handwash all of those dishes in under twenty minutes. So what could the dishwasher be doing for up to three hours?!

Your regular dishwasher cycle is built to optimize cleaning conditions by regulating the proper heat to water to detergent ratio. Yes, it runs longer — but it actually uses less water than the quick wash setting. It seems like running the machine longer is less efficient because it uses more energy to operate. But because of the way dishwashers are built to recycle their water during a standard cycle, they actually use significantly less water compared to handwashing (literally thousands of gallons per person, per year!).

Then there’s your quick setting, which often runs for about an hour (or sometimes even less!). When to use this? For lightly soiled items or not-so-full dishwashers. Of course, it’s best to wait to run the dishwasher when it’s completely full but, hey. Sometimes you’ve just gotta get the dishes clean ASAP. No judgement here.

The quick wash setting works best for everyday items like plates, mugs and glasses. Because these are the most used dishes, does it make sense to run the quick wash setting regularly for said items? Maybe. But consider that the quick wash setting actually uses more water than the regular setting. So if you’re looking to be more eco-friendly, the regular wash setting should be the most regularly used setting.

Most dishwashers also feature a sensor wash, where you’re entrusting your dishwasher to be smarter than you are. The sensor ought to automatically scan the dishwasher contents and decide on the appropriate temperature, amount of water and energy needed for that specific load size and level of grime.

The heavy cycle can be used for pots and pans, which tends to use hotter temperatures and more water for mac-n-cheese’d pots, chicken potpie’d casserole dishes or greasy, crusty sheet pan meals. You might also play around with the “high temp” setting for these items.

What’s up with the pre-wash or rinse dishwasher settings, anyway? If you’ve got seriously filthy dishes, you can use one of these settings if you weren’t going to run the dishwasher immediately, so that the dishes aren’t left to sit with cakes on food for too long (as to avoid manually chiseling off bits later). The “pre-wash” setting will allow you to skip hand pre-washing (per our earlier recommendation), and actually uses less water than you might’ve done by hand.

If you’re washing fragile items, like glassware or crystal, you might try the “delicate” cycle, which will use cooler temperatures and more gentle water pressure.

Is a sanitizing cycle necessary? Aren’t the dishes getting clean enough on the regular cycle? Great question. Sani cycles often run at a minimum temperature of 150°F, which is so extra. If you’re going for an occasional deep clean or have some seriously (and we mean seriously) dirty dishes, go for it. But consider how much extra energy you’re using, heating the dishwasher water to that extremely hot temperature. We don’t recommend regularly using this setting. If you’re concerned your dishes aren’t getting clean enough with the more basic dishwasher settings, instead try switching your detergent to something like new Cascade Platinum ActionPacs for optimal cleanliness.

Last but not least is your dishwasher’s heat dry or extended dryer option, which usually adds at least thirty more minutes to the cycle. A heat dry is nice if you’re concerned about water spots on your glassware, making your dishes appear fresh and streak free. (Your company undoubtedly will be impressed!) Again, the heat dry option will certainly use more energy. And if you’re only washing plastic (ie: Tupperware), the heat dry often doesn’t really take. Another option for drying is to just crack the dishwasher door once the cycle is complete to allow for air drying, or removing items to place in a drying rack.

TL;DR: You’ve got lots of options!

But whichever cycle you choose, be sure you’re using the most high quality and efficient detergent available to you. Your choice of detergent may matter even more than your choice of which dishwasher cycle to run. If you opt for Cascade Platinum, you can confidently go with a shorter dishwasher cycle, knowing that the cleanliness of your dishes won’t suffer at all. Nearly ¾ of dishwashers feature shorter cycle options, so if you’re in a hurry or looking to save some energy, try it out! With Cascade Platinum’s special formula, you can have cleaner dishes in half the time.

Related Articles

The Essential Cleaning Supply List

Your home will only be as clean as the tools and supplies you choose. Our essential cleaning supply list will put you on the fast-track to a sparkling home without breaking the bank (or filling your space up with things you don’t need).

A Realistic House Cleaning Schedule

A realistic house cleaning schedule, built specifically around your household and needs, can be the key to a cleaner home, more equal distribution of chores, and more time relaxing on the couch.

How To Clean A Smelly Dishwasher In 5 Easy Steps

A step-by-step guide to ridding your dishwasher of weird smells (and preventing them from coming back) with a video tutorial, product recommendations, and helpful tips.

How To Clean Your Dishwasher Filter In 5 Easy Steps

Wondering how to clean your dishwasher filter? Follow these three steps to keep your dishes sparkling clean and funky smells at bay.

How to Properly Load Your Dishwasher For Best Results

There is a correct way to load a dishwasher, and we can show you how. Follow these easy steps to get the cleanest dishes.

How to Wash the Dishes by Hand or With a Dishwasher

A simple guide to doing the dishes, whether you’re washing by hand or using a dishwasher—plus a video tutorial, tips, and product recommendations.

Dish Soap In The Dishwasher: Is It Okay?

Why you should never put liquid dish soap in your dishwasher–plus an easy-to-follow, step-by-step cleanup guide if you already did!

How To Clean A Cutting Board (Wood, Plastic, Composite, Bamboo)

Learn how to clean a cutting board the right way — whether it’s wood, plastic, composite, bamboo, or glass — plus, watch our video tutorial.