Tips on Selecting the Best Dishwasher Cycle

By Terry Mehilos | Aug. 01, 2023 12:00 pm PST

Do you know which dishwasher cycle is best for cleaning your pots and pans or your fancy china? Discover what those different dishwasher settings are and how to get those dirty dishes clean.

What is the best cycle to run your dishwasher on?

If you’ve ever stared at your dishwasher and wondered what cycle to use before just proceeding with the normal wash, you’re definitely not alone. There seem to be an endless number of options when it comes to washing your dishes, and it’s not always easy to figure what they’re all for. SaniWash? Express Wash? What about that Rinse Cycle button?

While choosing the standard wash setting is sufficient most of the time, there are instances when you’ll want to break out the big guns and go for the Pots and Pans cycle or opt for the China setting when you’re not about to hand-wash all the wine glasses from your book club.

Dishwasher Cycles Explained

The dishwasher you use in your home may have one or several of the various cycle options described, but understanding the different cycles your model offers will help you get the most out of every dishwasher load and avoid dishwasher mistakes.

The Normal Wash cycle on your dishwasher is for everyday dish washing. It’s a standard cycle that’s generally good for cleaning the food particles from moderately soiled dishes without using extra water, extended time. Many dishwashers allow you to select either an air dry or heat dry option with the Normal cycle.

The Light Wash cycle in your dishwasher works for those dishes that are lightly soiled and/or have been pre-rinsed to remove all food particles. A light wash omits a pre-rinse cycle to save both water and cycle time.

The Heavy Wash cycle tackles hard-to-clean or heavily soiled items using blasts of heated water. This cycle is great for heavily soiled dishes or dishes that haven’t been pre-rinsed.

The Auto Wash uses a sensor to detect the soil level and load size to determine the wash and dry time for the dishes. This is especially useful if loading mixed items and dishes with differing amounts of soil.

The China cycle, sometimes called a Delicate or Stem-Ware cycle, uses lower temperatures and a gentler water spray to prevent damage to fragile china, crystal or other delicate items.

The Delay Wash option lets you decide when to start the dishwasher. You simply select the cycle you want, set the timer, and walk away. This is great option if there are other household demands on your hot water and to take advantage of off-peak utility rates.

The Quick Wash or Express Wash cycle uses extra heat and water to clean your dishes quickly, in about an hour. While the Quick Wash cycle uses more energy, it’s a good option for cleaning dishes you’ll need to use soon.

The Rinse cycle sprays your dishes with water without soap to avoid food particles from sticking to your dishes. It’s important to remember not to add detergent when selecting this cycle. The rinse cycle a good option if you’re waiting on a full load before running a wash cycle.

The SaniWash or Anti-Bacterial Wash cycle, sometimes called the Sanitize cycle uses the heating element to create a higher wash and rinse water temperature to clean your dishes. The high temperature water kills 99.9% of bacteria that may be present on your dishware. This cycle is perfect for cleaning knives, cutting boards or other items that have come in contact with raw meat. It’s also good for cleaning baby bottles.

The Pots and Pans option is a heavy duty cycle uses extra blasts of water from the spray arms to wash away tough, baked-on food and grime. As the cycle name indicates, it’s great for pots and pans, along with a super-dirty load of dishes.

The Top Rack cycle focus the water spray to the top dish rack. This is a good option if you have a small load or are only washing glassware.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dishwasher Cycles

Now that you know more about the different cycles and what they mean, you may be asking a few questions. Here are a few our techs have heard, and their answers.

How many cycles does a dishwasher run?

The number of cycles a dishwasher runs varies from model to model, but most have at least 3 cycles; pre-wash, main wash and final wash/rinse. During the pre-wash, food particles are loosened by water from the spray arm. During the main wash, the dishwasher uses hot water and detergent to clean away the soil from your dishes. The final wash or rinse removes any leftover food particles and soap residue from the dishes, leaving them clean.

How much water and electricity does a dishwasher use?

Most dishwashers today use approximately 6 gallons of water and average about 1800 watts of electricity per load. Energy Star-rated dishwashers use even less water - 4 gallons or less. These numbers vary by model and wash and dry cycle selection.

Why are new dishwasher cycles so long?

Dishwashers today are more energy efficient than earlier models without skimping on washing and drying performance. While they use less water and energy per cycle, this higher efficiency increases normal cycle times.

Dishwasher Troubles? Reach Out to Sears Home Services for Help

If you’re experiencing dishwasher problems, Sears Home Services is here to help. Schedule an appointment with a dishwasher repair expert. Whether the pump’s not removing water, or the spray arms won’t spin, our technicians go through extensive training to quickly find and fix your dishwasher issue.

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