Turn off that tap: Why your dishwasher cleans better when the plates aren’t pre-rinsed

November 26, 2018

Back away from the sink. Experts are telling us to stop rinsing our plates before putting them in the dishwasher—among them, Carolyn Forte, director of the Cleaning Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

You always should scrape off food scraps before you stack your plates, bowls, and utensils in the machine, but that’s the only step your dishwasher can’t handle—and in fact it washes less efficiently if you rinse, Prevention magazine discovered when Senior Web Editor Lauren Piro interviewed Forte just before Thanksgiving.

Here’s why you need to take a more hands-off approach:

  • Your dishes need to be dirty in order for the dishwasher detergent to do its job. The makers of the dish detergent Cascade discourage customers from pre-washing or rinsing dishes—because it actually inhibits the cleaner from working. Why? Because the enzymes in the detergent need something to latch onto—and that’s the food remnants on the plate. In other words, Prevention warns, your precious detergent just might rinse away before it has time to do anything if your dishes are gunk-free.
  • You won’t get your dishes any cleaner if you rinse or hand-wash them before you put them in the machine. Modern dishwashers are more efficient than ever before. They have advanced sprayer technology and sensors that detect just how dirty your dishes are, Forte told the magazine. What’s more, dishes get any cleaner than your hard-working dishwasher, alone.
  • Pre-rinsing at the sink wastes water and energy. You waste 6,000 gallons per year if you insist on pre-rinsing, Consumer Reports advises. The average modern dishwasher uses just 3 to 5 gallons of water per load, but even the most productive power washers will use at least 8 gallons when they do it by hand. “Regular” hand-washers (those of us who are more relaxed) typically use around 27 gallons of water—and twice the amount of electricity per load.

So when might you consider a pre-rinse—if ever? When you are not going to run the dishwasher right away. But even then, you should let your dishwasher do the heavy-lifting, so you don’t waste water and energy.”Simply load them in the dishwasher and run a ‘rinse only’ cycle,” advise Forte and Prevention.

And if you argue with your spouse about pre-rinsing, you are not alone. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, more than 40% of Americans fight about loading the dishwasher—with 61% of them arguing over whether to pre-rinse dishes. Some 39% of those who argue say they disagree on whether knives should point up or down (the answer is down, for safety reasons, and 30% differ on whether plastic containers must go on the top rack (in many dishwashers, it just doesn’t matter).

Research contact: @hellolaurenpiro

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