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ENERGY SERIES: What about Dishwashers?


2908-9018 (BSE-305NP)

Authors as Published

Robert "Bobby" Grisso, Extension Engineer, Biological Systems Engineering; Martha A. Walker, Ph.D, Community Viability Specialist, Central District; and John Ignosh, Extension Specialist, Biological Systems Engineering.

Quick Facts

  • Washing dishes with a dishwasher is more efficient than washing them by hand, and an ENERGY STAR qualified dishwasher is even more efficient.

  • Compared with washing dishes by hand, you can save 5,000 gallons of water, $40 in utility costs, and 230 hours of your time annually by using an ENERGYSTAR qualified dishwasher.

  • An ENERGYSTAR qualified dishwasher uses one-third less water and at least 41 percent less energy than a non-qualified model.

Saving Water and Energy with an ENERGYSTAR Qualified Dishwasher

It may come as a surprise that washing a load of dishes in the dishwasher uses less water than doing the same number of dishes by hand.

Dishwashers also do a better job of killing germs, because they use hotter water than you would normally use if washing by hand. For each cycle, an ENERGYSTAR qualified dishwasher model uses about 4 gallons of water; a non-qualified model uses about 6 gallons.

According to the Iowa Energy Center, some features that contribute to the energy and water efficiency of an ENERGYSTAR qualified dishwasher include:

  • Innovative dish rack designs maximizing cleaning efficiency by strategically positioning dishes
  • More efficient water jets using less energy during the cleaning and rinse cycles
  • A soil sensor adjusting cycles for optimal cleaning and the most favorable energy and water use by judging how dirty dishes are

You can save even more on utility costs by choosing a dishwasher with its own heating element. Almost all new dishwashers have such built-in booster heaters, which can raise the temperature of the water used in the machine to 140º F—or higher—for effective cleaning. This means you can lower your household water heater thermostat to an energy-saving 120º F—a temperature adequate for the needs of most families.

A dishwasher may not be equipped with a soil sensor. Most models, however, have several kinds of wash cycles, which vary the length of the wash cycle and the amount of water used, depending on whether you’re washing a load of lightly-soiled china or a load of heavily-soiled pots and pans. The less water that is used, the more energy- efficient!

Tips for Purchasing a New Dishwasher

  1. Choose the right size for your home. The standard model has a 24-inch-widecapacity and holds more than eight placesettings and six serving pieces. Compactmodels are about 18-inch-wide and holdfewer dishes. There are also drawer-styleunits that let you run a small load in onedrawer or a full load in both. Keep in mind that operating a smaller-capacity dishwashermore frequently may use more energy thanrunning a larger-capacity unit less frequently.
  1. Choose a model with a blue ENERGY STAR label. As indicated earlier, an ENERGYSTAR qualified dishwasher uses at least 41 percent less energy.
  1. Compare the yellow EnergyGuide label, Energy per Year Gallons Per Cycle across models. A yellow EnergyGuide label includes information on the energy usage of the product, compares energy use with similar models, and estimates annual operating costs. The ENERGY- STAR criteriafor a standard-sized dishwasher is ≤ 270 kWh/year and ≤ 3.5 gallons per cycle, more information is available at:
  1. Choose a model with energy and water saving features. Choose a model with features that save more energy and water, including several wash cycle selections, a soil sensor, and a built-in booster heater. Also, see if the dishwasher allows you to choose between heat-drying and air-drying. Heat-drying elements use a considerable amount of energy; circulation fans for air-drying use very little.

Energy-efficient Operation Tips

Below are some tips on operating your dishwasher to maximize energy and water savings, as suggested by ENERGYSTAR and the Iowa Energy Center.

  • Avoid unnecessary pre-rinsing. Pre-rinsing dishes before loading the dishwasher can use up to 20 gallons of water. ENERGYSTAR qualified dishwashers and detergents are designed to clean without pre-rinsing. Scrape plates with a rubber spatula rather than pre- rinsing, so as not to waste water. Soaking or pre-washing is usually recommended only if food is burned-on or dried-on. You may use your dishwasher's rinse feature instead of soaking or pre-washing since it uses a fraction of the water needed to hand rinse.
  • Try to run the dishwasher only when it has a full load, rather than doing several loads with only a few dishes, because the machine uses the same amount of water in each cycle regardless of the number of dishes.
  • Do not overload your dishwasher and match the cycle to the load. For most loads, the normal setting will work best, but choose the cycle depending on the load and level of soil. Although it is best to run a dishwasher with a full load, make sure not to overload, so that all items are exposed to the water spray and nothing interferes with the spray arms or water jets.
  • Clean the dishwasher following the manufacturer’s instructions. By cleaning your dishwasher regularly according to manufacturer’s directions, you can expect optimal cleaning. If your dishwasher doesn’t have a self-cleaning filter, regularly remove the filter and clean out trapped food particles following the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, clean the spray arm nozzle and water jet in order to maximize the power of the water flow necessary to clean dishes.
  • Air-dry dishes. Do not use the heat-dry option; instead, use the no-heat option, or open the dishwasher door after the final rinse to let dishes air-dry. When opening the door right after the rinse, watch out for escaping steam. Also, if high humidity is a problem in your home, do not open the dishwasher door to air-dry your dishes.
  • Do not use the “rinse-and-hold” feature unless it is necessary. Depending on the age of your dishwasher, just rinsing the dishes could use several gallons of water.


Portions of this document are modified with permission from Home Series-4: Major Home Appliances, originally developed by the Iowa Energy Center,

ENERGY STAR (n.d.). Dishwashers Key Product Criteria? Retrieved from:

Lee, H., Ruppert, K. C., Porter, W. A., & Prescott, T. 2008. Energy Efficient Homes: Appliances in General. Retrieved from:

Porter, W. A., Lee, H., & Ruppert, K. C. 2008. Energy Efficient Homes: Water Heaters. Retrieved from:

Developed as part of the NASULGC/DOE Building Science Community of Practice. The factsheet editors are: Robert "Bobby" Grisso, Extension Engineer, Biological Systems Engineering; Martha A. Walker, Ph.D, Community Viability Specialist, Central District; and John Ignosh, Extension Specialist, Biological Systems Engineering. 

DISCLAIMER – This document is intended to give the reader only general factual information current at the time of publication. It is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be used for guidance or decisions related to a specific design or construction project. This document is not intended to reflect the opinion of any of the entities, agencies or organizations identified in the materials and, if any opinions appear, are those of the individual author and should not be relied upon in any event. 

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg. 

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is a partnership of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments. Its programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, sex (including pregnancy), gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, or any other basis protected by law

Publication Date

February 24, 2020