Our dishwasher has an abundance of cycles and options. With just a few buttons, we can choose a light cycle, a normal cycle, a heavy cycle, a steam cycle, and a few other options that, frankly, I’ve never even tried out. Our washing machine is much the same way.
Honestly, though, I just use the light cycle for virtually everything that I wash, from pots and pans to plates and cups, from underwear and shirts to pants and socks.
Why just use the lightest cycle? For starters, most of the things we wash really aren’t all that soiled. Our plates usually look clean or have maybe a bit of sauce or dressing on them. Our bowls maybe have a bit of milk residue from cereal or a bit of juice left behind from chili. Many of our shirts and pants look quite clean and are washed mostly out of knowledge of the skin cells and other detritus hidden within that even a basic cleansing will largely remove.
Yes, sometimes we have items that are more soiled than that. Those items are usually treated individually. Exceptionally dirty dishes are usually washed by hand or left to soak in hot, soapy water.
Stained items of clothing are pre-treated to make the stain easy to remove. Soiled clothes are often washed outside with the hose over the garden (so that the extra water just waters the garden) before they ever come inside.
The big reason that we do the shorter cycles, though, is that light cycles use less energy and less water than heavier cycles. They generally have a significantly shorter running cycle, which means that less energy and less water is used during those cycles.
Exact numbers depend heavily on the model, of course, but the lightest cycle on our dishwasher runs in about 40% of the time of the longest cycle, for example.
How much money does that really add up to? It depends heavily on the actual model you’re using, the water temperature choices you make when running a load (the colder, the better), and your actual rates for water and electricity.
Based on my own estimations from the models we use, running a short load compared to a long load in the washing machine saves us about $0.12 and about twenty minutes, and we save about $0.25 and almost an hour running the short load in the dishwasher. If you assume a load a day, that adds up to $43.80 a year for the washing machine and $91.25 a year on the dishwasher – and that doesn’t even include the time savings!
Do the items still get clean? As far as I can determine, they get just as clean as longer cycles when looking at ordinary laundry and dishes. They smell fine, look clean, and pass muster when touching them as well.
This saves us both time and money, as any good frugality tip should. If our loads run in less time, use less water, and use less energy, our bills go down and our time invested in washing dishes and clothes goes down as well. That’s a double win, because it means more money in the pocket and less time in the laundry room or at the sink.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.