It's time to skip the pre-rinse.
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In the United States, about 80 million households, or 62.5% of the country, have a dishwasher, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. However, many people aren't using them correctly. If you wash your plates, bowls, or silverware before placing them in the dishwasher, you're not taking advantage of the device designed to make our lives easier. By pre-washing, not only are you wasting water (and money), but you're also not allowing the appliance to clean the dishes properly.

Close up of woman opening a dishwasher
Credit: fired1991/Getty Images

You might think you're helping your machine run smoother by washing off bits of your dinner, but you're actually using up far more water than necessary. "Most faucets operate at a 1.5 gallon per minute flow rate," Adam Hoffman, director of engineering for dishwashers at GE Appliances, says. "Which means that if it is on for 2 minutes and 18 seconds, then the amount of water used to rinse just a few dishes is already the same as the 3.5 gallons that a normal cycle in an automatic dishwasher uses to wash an entire load." He adds that "many studies have been done to compare hand rinsing and washing to the water usage of a current automatic dishwasher, and the dishwashers are significantly more efficient in all of them." As if that's not enough to convince you to stop rinsing your dishes, Consumer Reports estimates that the average American wastes about 6,000 gallons of water per year, just by rinsing off dishes.

In addition, pre-rinsing prevents your appliance from doing its job. Any dishwasher that's Energy Star-approved (including this one from Whirpool for $521 and this another from GE for $917, both from The Home Depot) comes with a sensor that measures how dirty the dishes are and adjusts its cycle accordingly. Hoffman explains that the test procedures used to develop dishwasher cycles include different levels of food soil "to simulate low, average, high, and overload consumer usage conditions." However, if you're washing off your plates in the sink first, your dishwasher could misread the soil level, and not clean them well enough. If you do have bigger chunks of food, Hoffman says you can get rid of those, if you'd like. "If large items are left on dishes, then it is ok to scrape them into the garbage before loading into the dishwasher," he says.

If the mere thought of loading your dishwasher sans a quick rinse seems unfathomable, consider this: Skipping it will save you money. Energy Star explains that in 12 years, the average lifetime of a dishwasher, hand washing costs $1,795 compared to the appliance that costs $463, which is a $1,332 difference. That amounts to a savings of $111 on your utilities per year. As difficult as it might be to change your routine, it's worth it to save water and money. So next time you're on dish duty, let your dishwasher take care of the cleaning.

Comments (1)

Better Homes & Gardens Member
March 24, 2020
I learned this many years ago when the energy efficient dishwashers first came out. It is so true. The cleaner the dishes are when you put them in, the higher the chance they are not as clean when they came out compared to if you put them in dirty. I have a 3 year old Bosch and other than scraping off chunks of food, they go in with no rinsing whatsoever. I am constantly amazed how clean pots and casserole dishes with cooked on food come out.