If you aren't sure which of the multiple settings on your dishwasher to use, remember that cycles vary in speed, water temperature and pressure, and in the number of washes and rinses produced before switching to the dry cycle. Standard dishwashers will have light, normal and heavy wash cycles. Newer models come equipped with additional specialty cycles for customized cleaning. The following will explain how and when to use specialty and standard cycles.
This is a specialty cycle and is referred to most commonly as an automatic cycle. It is trademarked by certain manufacturers, like Kenmore's SmartWash™ and Whirlpool's Sensor cycle. The automatic cycle uses electronic sensors to detect the soil level of dishes and then adjusts water temperature and pressure accordingly. You can take the guesswork out of deciphering dishwasher cycles completely if you utilize the automatic wash option.
Choose the quick wash cycle if you pre-wash your dishes before loading them. If you've cultivated the habit of rinsing your dishes immediately after use, it's wasteful to put those dishes through a cycle that spends so much time cleaning. The quick wash cycle is a short cycle, so you'll get the hot water and high pressure needed to sanitize dishes, but energy won't be wasted with multiple washes when you've already done that work manually.
A light wash cycle is for finer dishware and delicate dishes. As with the quick wash, you'll want to be sure to pre-wash or rinse your dishes before loading them in the dishwasher. This cycle uses low pressure and low heat or cold water to prevent cracking and breaking.
Use the heavy wash cycle if you have a lot of tough baked-on food particles on your dishware that require more than just a long soak. This cycle uses the highest pressure and hottest water, and typically runs the longest as well.
In a special sanitize cycle, the water temperature reaches 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit, which is much hotter than the usual 120 degree temperature used in a regular cycle. Hotter temperatures sanitize as well as clean, so this cycle is particularly useful for baby bottles and plastics.