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  Dishwasher Buying Advice

We try to save you from wasting money on dishwasher features you don't need and will probably never use

A fancy dishwasher control panel on an Electrolux dishwasherWhen you look at a new dishwasher we’d advise people not to get too worried about how many programs a dishwasher has and, certainly don’t pay more for extra programs unless you have a particular need.

Normally you will find an intensive wash, that is usually a high temperature wash cycle. A slightly less hot wash, a cool wash and what’s called a “rinse and hold” wash program.

Anything else for most people, most of the time is not required.

Delayed start, for most people is not required and certainly not a feature worth paying for in our view and we strongly discourage its use, as we explained in a separate article on the topic.

Digital displays, not needed.

For many, other than being a bit of bling or glitz, they are really largely a waste of time on a dishwasher and, money. The look cool though, maybe if that’s your thing of course, if you can even see it when the dishwasher is on!


Sadly there are no standardised symbols for dishwashers so, you need to work out what the control panel is telling you or rely on a list of the programs available from the sales literature.

It’s normally not that hard to figure out.

Just make sure the dishwasher you choose has the four we recommend and you should be good with those.

  Eco Programs

Don’t bother.

Sorry but that’s our take on these as there’s too many issues with them.

You can’t use tablets with most as, they won’t dissolve correctly on these cycles. The cycle takes longer and, in our experience, rarely washes well as it runs cooler and for a shorter time to save energy.

You will often see this being billed as being the nirvana of saving the planet when it comes to washing dishes. It isn't. All the more so if stuff doesn't wash correctly and you have to do it again, not so "eco" then is it?

But then, a dishwasher is more eco-friendly than washing by hand and more hygenic so, if you own a dishwasher or are about to buy one, you're ahead there before you even begin.

For dishes that are lightly soiled, maybe it’s useful but for most people in real world use it’s normally not a lot of use and often one of the unused dishwasher programs after one or two tries with it.

Hence, we’d advise not to pay more for this as a feature and, to pay little to no heed to it as a part of the buying decision.

  Auto Programs

If the dishwasher you are looking to buy or own has one, these are fine to use.

Our experience is that it merely uses the normal wash program but will often employ some electronic trickery to “automate” the program or, in some instances, use sensors such as turbidity sensors to detect dirt levels and alter the program to suit and get your stuff clean.

That said, it’s not worth paying money to get in our estimation and it will often add a degree of complexity that if most people are honest with themselves, isn’t needed. It’s more to go wrong if the extra sensors are fitted and, can make the dishwasher more sensitive to any minor errors.

  Rapid Cycles

Quick wash or rapid cycles are not worth bothering with.

Like Eco cycles they will wash at a much lower temperature and normally skip the drying phase totally so as to get the cycle time down making them, for the most part, often next to useless.

The use for them is limited also due to this. For example, you may want soup or starter dishes washed while you serve a main course at a large meal or party but, you’ll still have to dry the dishes before putting them away or using them for another course so, largely not a lot of use.

Our advice is, avoid them and certainly don’t pay for them.

  Dishwasher Programs You Need

Intensive Wash

Okay you need the hot or intensive wash program as this is the one that you use for heavily soiled items and it will clean most anything that is dishwasher safe. If your pots, pans and casserole dishes are going to get clean in the dishwasher, this is the program that’ll do the trick. If this doesn’t work a scrubber, washing up liquid and elbow grease are your only hope.

The program will run hot, normally 70˚C or thereabouts and take at least two hours to complete.

You can use tablets of any flavour or powder on this cycle with no worries at all.

The only caveat here is that delicate items, some glass and chinas are unsuitable for such an intensive wash cycle so, if you have delicate stuff or good glasses and chinaware, don’t put them in this cycle or you risk damaging them.

You can find this program branded in different ways such as the intensive wash, heavy duty, heavy wash and so forth.

Normal Wash

The everyday grunt of dishwasher programs, the best fit for most things most of the time and the default program of choice for almost everyone. Lots of people could live with just this one cycle choice for wash and a rinse/hold cycle.

It’s that good and versatile.

In reality this program will clean 95% or more of the stuff most people will put in a dishwasher.

This program will wash normally at about 55-65˚C and take the best part of two hours, maybe more, for most dishwashers.

We recommend using rinse aid with this program as with all bar rinse/hold as it will improve the results you get. All in one tablets, not so good on this score.

Light Wash

This cycle runs cooler, normally about 40-45˚C and is used for more delicate items such as glassware or more delicate china items.

It saves a bit of time although not a lot and uses a bit less power to run but again, not a lot.

If you don’t have delicate items, you will probably not need or ever use this program.

Rinse Hold

A more basic dishwasher control panel on a Zanussi dishwasherYou need this!

We’ve not seen a dishwasher yet that hasn’t had this but, make sure it’s there as you really need this and you really need to use it.

What this program does is fill the dishwasher and blast cold water at the stuff in it, the idea being to keep the residues on plates etc wet so that it washes off better when you put a wash on.

The way it has been traditionally explained is that, in family use, you’d put breakfast dishes in the dishwasher then run a rinse hold. Then put in lunch dishes and run it again. Then later put in the main meal dishes and run the wash program.

This helps the results massively on the final wash program and you really should try to do this as you’ll get hugely better wash results form your dishwasher doing this.

Where it’s not a family, single or a couple etc just use this after every meal or whatever and you can run a wash cycle every couple of days or so with little to no impact on results.

Another good tip is that when you go on holiday, most people will empty the dishwasher before that happens, runs a rinse hold to clear the sump etc and put fresh water in the dishwasher. The, when you come back run it again to flush the machine through once more.

This will freshen up the dishwasher and normally prevent nasty smells and odours from being an issue.

  Pay For What You Need

Other program feature and stuff that they come up with are probably not required, most will be gimmicks to try to part more of your cash from you.

The benefits will be marginal most probably. If you even use the features beyond a couple of times to try it.

Most people will flip between a normal wash mostly, the occasional intensive wash and rinse hold. That’s it, it’s pretty much all that most dishwasher owners will ever require.

That is of course other than a rota for who fills and empties the dishwasher, puts away the plates or cutlery and so on as that’s a perennial family drama. That, we can’t help you with.

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