A. Dishwasher cycle times vary considerably depending on the settings you choose. And because cycle times aren’t a priority for either the U.S. Department of Energy nor the federal government’s Energy Star program, they’ve been inching up as manufacturers’ strive to ratchet down energy and water use. Some cycle times in our latest dishwasher tests, in fact, have exceeded three hours.
But cycles times can go longer still. To assess dishwasher performance, we load up dishwashers with a full load of very dirty dishes—including a bowl with baked-on brownie mix—plus glasses and flatware. We time the results for a Normal cycle.
Most dishwashers that go through our labs come with soil sensors that assess the turbidity of the water (how clear or dirty it is) and adjust settings accordingly. A Normal cycle is intended for items that fall in the middle of the scale of food soil, from practically clean to heavily soiled. But as we’ve seen from product manuals that list sample wash times, what starts as a Normal cycle can take hours longer once you start adding options for, say, higher-temperature washing or tougher scouring. (In some models, adding options seems to bypass the sensor.) Your only respite is with models that offer a one-hour or similar quick wash, although over time you’ll likely pay more in energy and water.
Our advice: Give the manual a good look to see all the functionality your dishwasher offers—you’re paying for all those features, after all. And before you start adding options that keep your dishwasher running way past bedtime, try a few lean, option-free cycles to see what your dishwasher can do with its sensor alone.