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How to Determine Which Dishwasher Cycle to Use

How to Determine Which Dishwasher Cycle to Use

Determine the correct dishwasher cycle to use

From built-in dishwashers with sleek stainless steel to portable dishwashers that offer more portability, dishwashers can be huge time savers in the kitchen. If you're stumped when it comes to all of the dishwasher features listed on the control panel, you're not alone. While each cycle will dispense your dishwasher detergent or rinse aid, the cycles vary in speed, water temperature, water pressure, and in the number of washes and rinses before switching to the dry cycle. Standard residential 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 dishwashing cycles to get your dishes clean.

Auto Clean

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™. The automatic cycle uses electronic sensors to detect how soiled your dirty dishes are, and then it adjusts water temperature and pressure accordingly. You can take the guess work out of deciphering dishwasher cycles completely if you utilize the automatic wash option.

Automatic clean

Quick wash

Quick Wash

The quick wash cycle is a good option if you wash and rinse your dishes before loading them, and you care about being energy efficient. If you've cultivated the habit of hand washing 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 and water won't be wasted with multiple washes when you've already done that work manually. This can save gallons of water in each cycle.

Light Wash

A light wash cycle is for finer glassware and delicate plates. 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. Although it's safest to wash delicate items by hand, this would be the setting to use if you're willing to risk putting crystal or china in the dishwasher.

Light wash

Heavy wash

Heavy Wash

Use the heavy wash cycle if you have a lot of soiled dishware with tough baked-on food particles that require more than just a long soak in the kitchen sink. This cycle uses the highest pressure and hottest water, and typically runs the longest, so be sure whatever dishes you're loading on this setting can handle a couple extra cleaning cycles before drying.


In a special sanitize cycle, the water reaches high temperatures of 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit, which is much hotter than the usual 120°F water temperature used in a regular cycle. Hotter temperatures help to sanitize as well as clean, so this cycle is highly useful for baby bottles and plastics that may be particularly germy and soiled.