Spoiler: You’re probably doing more work than you need to.
Advertisement

Growing up, I was taught to give my family's dishes a good scrub before putting them in the dishwasher. No matter the stain or stuck-on food bits, it was my job to make sure the plates were clean before loading them in the dishwasher. While that chore may have helped earn my weekly allowance, it turns out the scrubbing I was (and still am) doing was actually counterproductive. And according to a survey from Procter & Gamble, 86% of people are making the same mistake.

To help understand why this step is unnecessary, EatingWell reached out to Morgan Eberhard, senior scientific communications manager at P&G, to learn why.

"You're doing yourself a disservice when you pre-rinse and can actually inhibit the detergent and dishwasher from working effectively," says Eberhard. "During the prewash cycle in most modern dishwashers, water circulates to knock anything loose off of your dishes, and the cloudiness of the water is measured by a sensor. If the sensor recognizes that there's food on your dishes (i.e., the water is cloudy), your dishwasher will run a more effective cycle, giving you a better clean." (FYI: A modern dishwasher is one that was manufactured on or after May 30, 2013, that must meet the Department of Energy's standards for water efficiency.)

By pre-rinsing dishes, you're inadvertently telling your dishwasher it doesn't have to work as hard. Since some dishes may be pre-rinsed better than others, your dishwasher may not tackle all of the stains if the sensor thinks the water isn't as cloudy. As a result, dishes may need to be rewashed after the cycle is over. 

Plus, pre-rinsing can lead to excessive water usage. Ebherhard explains that you could save up to 140 gallons of water per week, as "most Americans spend 11 minutes a day washing dishes under a running tap, wasting up to 24 gallons of water! By comparison, Energy Star-certified dishwashers use less than 4 gallons of water per cycle."

a woman loading up a dishwasher with dishes when a kitchen sink beside her
Credit: Getty Images

Instead of spending your time scrubbing dishes, there's a simpler, two-step process: just scrape the food off of your dishes, then load them into the dishwasher—that's it! Your dishwasher and detergent are designed to handle the hard work. According to Eberhard, detergents like Cascade Platinum Plus are formulated to rehydrate any dried food and clean it away while the cycle is running.

So the next time you go to pre-rinse your dishes—don't. Save yourself time, energy and water and let your dishwasher do what it's meant to do. For more on dishwashers, find out eight kitchen items that should never go in your dishwasher.