How do Dishwashers Work?


You love your dishwasher–but how do dishwashers work? Let’s find out!

Depending on how many of your meals you eat at home, the average household could create over 22 dirty dishes a day – enough for a full load (not including silverware or glasses.) If you own a dishwasher, however, you’ll have some considerable help managing this tedious, daily task. Because using an automatic dishwasher uses no more than 10 gallons of water (vs. up to 20 gallons for hand washing), you may also be doing much more for the planet than you realize by making the switch.

But how do dishwashers work? Let’s take a look at how this important appliance runs and what you can do to keep its life cycle long and productive.

How Do Dishwashers Work?

It may seem silly to ask what this appliance does. It washes dishes. Yes, many people believe myths surrounding the dishwasher – in part, because they don’t know how it does the job. How does a dishwasher work step-by-step? Most standard dishwashers, regardless of size, do the following timed tasks in a typical wash cycle:

  • Adds water from your sink (if portable) or a dedicated water line
  • Heats the water to the proper temperature (usually 130 to 140 degrees) to dissolve dirt and grease
  • Opens the detergent door when the time is right
  • Uses spray jets to rinse away food and debris
  • Drains the dirty water out of the machine using a pump
  • Does another spray jet cycle for rinsing and drains that water
  • Depending on the model, the dishes then air-dry or dry by heated air. Some dishwashers allow you to choose, while some only do heated air.

A series of electronic sensors communicate with the dishwasher’s “brain” or computer to adjust the wash cycle for temperature, water volume, and – in some of the fancier washers – soil level. These sensors keep your washer from overheating or filling up with too much water. It also ensures all of the water is drained out before you open the door!

Does it Matter What Detergent You Use?

In theory, many detergents are made of similar ingredients. While you can dabble with various products that include scent or color, it’s really a matter of preference to choose between gel, powder, pods, or tabs. Your dishwasher manufacturer may recommend one type over the other but it may eventually come down to your personal preference.

Dropps Detergent pods are smaller than most, so they’re better for smaller, European machines. That also means no *crunch* noise when the dishwasher is closing or icky dried gel dripping down from the detergent dispenser between loads. With Dropps Dish Detergent, you can get food gunk, stains, and spots from even your most delicate glassware and silverware. The fully dissolvable pod casing rinses away and leaves no residue or powdery crystals behind (unlike tabs and powder).

Do You Need to Pre-Rinse?

Some people spend too much time preparing their dishes to be washed. This is along the same lines as cleaning your home before your housekeeper gets there! It’s understandable to want to lightly rinse dishes in the sink before placing them in the dishwasher – but you only need if you don’t have enough dishes for a full load, and those dishes will sit for a day or longer.

Prewashing your dishes can actually make them look dirtier after a cycle in the dishwasher. Dishwashing detergent attacks food particles, so when there isn’t enough in those “dirty” dishes, the detergent ends up scrubbing away at your clean glasses, making them cloudy. It’s okay to rinse big chunks of food off your dishes before loading up the dishwasher—but for your dishes to really shine, leave a little behind. By skipping the pre-rinse, you save time, money, and precious water resources, too.

How Do I Maintain My Dishwasher?

The best way to keep your dishwasher in good condition is by cleaning it regularly. We recommend cleaning your dishwasher once a month. Check out our ultimate guide to How To Clean A Dishwasher for step by step instructions!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have more questions about how dishwashers work? We have answers!

Do Dishwashers Really Clean Well?

We’ve answered “How Do Dishwashers Work”--but can they actually clean well? Not only do they clean well, but they actually clean better than hand washing! Dishwashers use very hot water to clean your dishes, which kills bacteria. Dishes washed in a dishwasher will have less bacteria than those washed by hand, and with the right dish detergent, there should be no food or residue left over.

Is it Cheaper to Use a Dishwasher or By Hand?

Using a dishwasher can save time, water, and energy. According to the EPA, washing dishes in an Energy Star dishwasher saves an average of $465 a year in water and energy bills compared to washing dishes by hand.

Do Dishwashers Heat Their Own Water?

Most modern dishwashers heat their own water. This allows them to achieve the correct water temperature for the various cycles and options.