Rinse or no rinse? It’s time to settle the great dishwasher debate

·5-min read
Is everyone in your house on the same page about dishwasher etiquette? - E+/ skynesher
Is everyone in your house on the same page about dishwasher etiquette? - E+/ skynesher

If you want to start a fight among your nearest and dearest, pop a question about dishwasher etiquette on your WhatsApp groups. Then sit back and watch as they bicker for hours on end over the merits of a pre-rinse, whether wooden spoons are an acceptable addition to the rapid cycle and if the eco setting can ever truly cut through the remains of last night’s lasagne. It’s been a long 16 months, but the subject has always been riddled with controversy.

Allegra Stratton, a government spokesperson at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), put the cat among pigeons this week when she wrote in The Daily Telegraph that rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher could be totally unnecessary. Urging the public to consider the small changes they can make at home for the planet, she mused: “Did you know, according to COP26 principal partner Reckitt, who make Finish, you don’t really need to rinse your dishes before they go into the dishwasher?”

Stratton’s piece had Telegraph readers responding in their droves.

Many made the case for pre-rinsing, pointing out it’s “a dishwasher not a waste disposal”.

“I have no doubt that this is why it’s been working perfectly since 1986,” says Pamela Goldsack, from Surrey. “Maintaining an appliance and using it efficiently for over 35 years qualifies as being environmentally friendly.”

Richard Morris of Leicestershire argues that it saves water and energy in the long run. “I use about 10 litres to rinse everything then use a rapid 27-minute wash program in my SMEG dishwasher and everything comes out sparkling,” he says.

Many of you seem, rather incredibly, to favour handwashing, feeling dishwashers pale in comparison to “a spot of Fairy Liquid and just a bit of elbow grease”.

“How big a carbon footprint is left by the manufacture and operation of these devices?” writes Tim Bradbury from Cheshire. “Try a bowl of hot water, Allegra, less of a micro-step, but quite a stride.”

Allegra Stratton is not a fan of pre-rinsing plates before using the dishwasher - Shutterstock
Allegra Stratton is not a fan of pre-rinsing plates before using the dishwasher - Shutterstock

Finish say modern dishwashers all start with a rinse cycle, and by not pre-washing your dishes you could save 1000 litres of water per year.

Dishwashing as opposed to handwashing will already save you 6800 litres.

Eddie Pelan, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Birmingham, says: “You’ve got a purpose built insulated box which is only warming up a small amount of water as you need it compared to getting water from your boiler in an uninsulated sink and the water cooling down quickly.”

An eco setting on a new dishwasher should, he says, be more than capable of washing a relatively under-soiled load with no need for a pre-rinse – though “if you have an oven dish which is heavily soiled, you’re not going to clean it in the eco cycle.”

A dishwasher should last at least 10 years – so treat it well, he adds.

In Aggie MacKenzie’s house, skipping the pre-rinse is a fate worse than death. “I get what she’s saying about saving water but personally, I always shout at people who put stuff in the dishwasher that’s coated with bits of rice, bits of herbs, all that stuff that gets clogged up in the filter,” she says.

MacKenzie is a fan of the eco setting, but only when she has time. “It seems to take longer so if I’m in a rush I put it on the normal setting which I think is a higher temperature so it’s presumably using more electricity, but it’s definitely faster.”

Does the no-rinse approach mean your dishes will really be as clean as you’d like them? Some studies show dishwashers that contained heavily soiled utensils are more likely to fail hygiene tests, and increasing the rinsing temperature could mitigate the risk. Others have found the trend towards using eco washes with lower temperatures “may result in decreased hygiene”.

But cleaning expert Joyce French says the soiling system technology in modern washers means they “assess how dirty the dishes are, and how much water pressure is needed to get rid of the gunk”.

“A good dishwasher detergent will also have useful enzymes to further break down the food,” she says.

She therefore uses a spatula or kitchen towel to scrape excess food into the bin, claiming this could save “up to 20 gallons of water per dishwasher load”.

French also says correct loading is essential for consistently clean dishes – weighing into what is undoubtedly the most controversial debate surrounding dishwashers. Should you include colanders or sieves? What’s the most efficient way to stack a cheese grater? One friend is currently locked in an ongoing dispute with his wife over cutlery placement. He favours a strict separation of church and state, keeping forks, knives, teaspoons and dessert spoons apart for more efficient cleaning and “speedy emptying”. His wife thinks he should get a hobby and freestyle it with the cutlery.

If all else fails, as one Telegraph reader points out, there’s always the dog pre-wash approach. First step: acquire a Labrador (Terry Holloway from Suffolk says a small pug is just as effective). Second: present the obliging hound with your smeared plates and have him do most of the hard work before you’ve even turned on your Bosch Serie 2. As energy saving options go, it isn’t a bad one.

Do you rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher? Do you fill your machine in a particular way? Tell us in the comments section below
Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting