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Dishwasher programs explained

By Yvette Fletcher

Some dishwashers have an array of programs while others keep it simple. Find out what different programs do and which you need.

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The program you set your dishwasher to run on will have a considerable impact on the time it takes to wash your dishes, the temperature of the water and the amount of water and energy used.

Here, we explain which program to use for each type of load, what programs aren't worth bothering with and how to be greener with your dishwasher.

Main dishwasher program

'Main' or 'normal' programs wash at about 65ºC and you'll find one on almost all dishwashers.

This program is fine for most normal loads, but if you use the energy-save or eco program you will be able to save some water and energy.

When we test dishwashers we measure how much energy and water they use so that we can tell you how much each model will cost to run a year. 

Bad ones cost as much as £72 to run, while great ones can cost as little as £32.

Take a look at our dishwasher reviews to find an efficient model.

Energy-save or eco dishwasher program

This is the most environmentally-friendly way of washing your dishes.

Energy-save or eco programs use less water and energy than the main program, and wash at lower temperatures. They take longer than the standard wash program, but the results are usually similar.

Intensive dishwasher program

Intensive dishwasher programs are great for very dirty pots, pans and dishes that would normally need soaking.

To deal with baked-on stains, intensive programs use more energy and water than either the main or the energy-save programs. Not every dishwasher comes with an intensive program - if you don't plan on using your dishwasher for really dirty items, you can probably do without it.

When we test dishwashers we use tough, dried-on food such as mince, spinach and milk to see how well a dishwasher can clean. 

The best dishwashers will be able to remove grime, even on a normal program.

Others will leave you needing to run the dishwasher again.

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Delicate dishwasher program

Delicate dishwasher programs are for china or glassware. To help avoid chipping, make sure china and glass items don't touch anything else in the dishwasher. This is another program that some people may be able to live without.

Take a look at our guide to loading your dishwasher to help you make the most of its cleaning power and to help it work more efficiently. 

Half-load dishwasher program

If you don't have too much to wash, you might consider using the half-load program, but this will only save 10%-25% on water and energy. It's much less efficient than waiting until you've got a full load and then using the energy-save program. However, if you find you occasionally struggle to fill up your dishwasher, it can be a handy option.

A half-load wash may seem like a handy feature but these can use up to 90% of the water and energy used by a full load.

Automatic dishwasher program or 'sensor wash'

If your dishwasher doesn't have an obvious main program, it's likely to use a sensor to detect how dirty the water in the machine is, and then automatically set the water temperature and wash duration.

Automatic programs like this vary the temperature they wash at – for very dirty pots this is likely to be about 70°C, and for a standard mixed load this is more likely to be about 60°C to 65°C.

Some dishwashers have 'sensor wash' as an extra option – this works in the same way.

Visit our best dishwashers page to see which models have excelled in our tough lab tests, and avoid ones that won't live up to expectations.


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