Updated on 01.24.12

Use the Short Cycle (23/365)

Trent Hamm

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.

Use the Short Cycle (23/365)

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.

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  1. josh says:

    23 out of 365, and this already seems like a bit of a stretch. I hope these posts improve.

    Also, that picture is disgusting.

  2. Johanna says:

    The pictures of the filthy dishwasher, combined with the references to dirty dishes as “soiled,” give me a mental image of some not-so-nice things going on in your kitchen.

  3. Fred says:

    It’s not at all certain that a shorter cycle uses less water and electricity, neither energy nor water usage is linear to the number of minutes the program runs for.

    In fact, many modern dishwashers and washing machines have longer cycles in order to save energy and water. With a longer program the temperature can be lower to achieve the same cleaning effect AND less water need to be used. Thus the “eco” program usually takes longer time to complete than “normal”.

    Even the “normal” program on a modern machine often takes longer compared to an old machine, and this is in order to save energy and water. At least this is true for machines sold in europe. Modern machines are vastly more efficient than say a 20 year old machine.

  4. Vanessa says:

    Did I read that correctly, you rinse clothes off with a hose? I don’t think that saves much water or gets the clothes any cleaner.

  5. Jon says:

    @Fred #3.

    I agree with that. My dishwasher states that the ‘energy efficiency mode’ can run as long as 4 hours.

    Also, many dishwashers may run longer on the “pots and pans” cycle, but that doesn’t mean more water is used. Many times it just means that each cycle runs much longer. Hot water in a properly insulated dishwasher stays hot for a LONG time. This is the proper way to clean dried/greasy stuff anyway…long periods in a hot, moist environment.

    I rarely rinse anything off before putting it in the dishwasher. It is FAR more efficient than I would ever be trying to wash greasy pot in the sink.

  6. Jan says:

    Frugal does not have to mean filthy!

  7. Josh says:

    This has been a very odd series. First, the first two posts are missing (starting at 3/365 I believe).

    Second, this is a leap year with 366 days.

    But MOST IMPORTANTLY: Every single picture in this series has been just disgusting. From the dishwasher pics here, to the garbage bin pics in another, even the counters/tables/floors look bad.

  8. Valleycat1 says:

    The germs you son’t see can make you much sicker than milk stains or dried on food.

    I have recently found that operating the dryer on lower temps works well for anything but the heaviest items.

  9. Tracy says:

    This series really is mind-numblingly awful :(

  10. Bill says:

    I just shower in my clothes and clean myself with laundry detergent.

  11. Tracy says:

    Watch, tomorrow’s post is probably going to be ‘use air dry instead of heat dry on your dishwasher.’

  12. marta says:

    Bill, it doesn’t count if it isn’t HOMEMADE laundry detergent.

  13. Nick says:

    I’m not sure I can stick this series out until the end, Trent.

    I’m also confused… are these the actual tips from the published book? If so, i’m pretty okay with not ever buying that book. I think by just not spending $20 on the book, I make up for all the pennies in savings that these posts add up to…

  14. Tracy says:


    Huh, I just checked on Amazon’s search inside and yeah, it’s the same tip, just … expanded out by 4-5 times (his book doesn’t talk about things like ‘skin cells and other detritus,’ it just says ‘use the short cycle’)

    So tomorrow we get the exciting world of making your own dishwasher detergent.

  15. lurker carl says:

    “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.”

    I certainly hope the dishes and clothes aren’t washed together or using the same machine.

    You save time because of the machine, not from choosing the light cycle. You are able to do something else while the machine does the work, multi-tasking for real. My washing machine doesn’t have a “light cycle” that reduces wash time, it only washes the clothes with less vigor. Using the light cycle for food caked dishes is probably why Cascade didn’t work out, you’re not using the dishwasher properly.

  16. Evita says:

    Yukky picture today too !
    This series is slowly turning me off from frugality!!

  17. David says:

    The idea may be to rinse the clothes off with a very cold and very powerful hose while they are still being worn. That way, the wearer will know not to get them filthy again, thus saving money on having to wash them separately.

  18. Tracy says:


    Ok, that made me laugh and laugh.

  19. Andrew says:

    Whatever happened to washing dishes by hand, in the sink? It really isn’t all that hard.

  20. Izabelle says:

    You made my day.

  21. Mister E says:

    Does “Brittany Lynne Photography” specialize in capturing filth on appliances?

    I mean, it’s good to find a niche I guess.

  22. Adam P says:

    You guys are cracking me up!!

    This series feels like a parody of frugality.

  23. kc says:

    The images illustrating posts should enhance, not detract from the message. Several of the images in this series definitely hurt the posts. I’d make a couple of suggestions:

    1. Brittany – and Trent – ought to look at these images with a more discriminating eye. Funk, gunk, and stains aren’t appealing. A little pre-shoot prep would help, as would a bit of cropping.

    2. Perhaps more importantly, the images have by and large been unimaginative. Need to illustrate “short cycle?” Why, take a picture of a control knob bearing those (or similar) words. Boring.

    Is there some other way to illustrate this concept which would be clever, or whimsical? I’d encourage Brittany to try to be a bit more creative as she approaches each subject. The copy is mundane; the images needn’t be as well.

  24. Gretchen says:

    The second I saw the photo I thought ” huh. Guess Trent doesn’t read his commments.”

    Too bad, it’s totally the best part. :)

    Comment 4 cannot be true.

  25. moom says:

    Even set on “pots and pans” we have to put a lot of things back for a second cleaning given how bad this dishwasher our landlord installed is. So it totally depends on how well the machine can clean.

  26. valleycat1 says:

    Someone needs to check how the keywords are pulling up related articles. An NPR story on subprime lending? Breaking a splurge & purge cycle?

  27. Johanna says:

    @valleycat1: Well, it is interesting to be reminded from time to time that Trent used to write about things other than the contents of his navel. (Hey, maybe Brittany can take a picture of that!)

  28. Angie says:

    This could be my favorite comments thread ever.

  29. Julie says:

    I run my dishwasher when it is full (just like you have said to do). I live alone, and it takes me a long time to go through a full load of dishes (usually a week). I typically will run the cycle with the hotstart prewash option if things have been sitting in there for a week.

  30. valleycat1 says:

    #10 Bill – LOL. My former FIL actually used to shower in his underwear to wash it when his wife was out of town & he ran out of clean.

    Johanna – hopefully Trent & Brittany won’t see #27 & get inspired to be more creative as someone else suggested earlier.

  31. Katie says:

    Heh, constructive criticism of posts and photos is always good, but I have to admit, I’m not recoiling in shock that a college student has a dirty dishwasher!

  32. Vanessa says:

    @ Katie: Would you recoil if you knew she had a baby? She does.

    No matter who the dishwasher belongs to, the photos are gross and distracting. Brittany and Trent would do well to heed kc’s (#23) advice which was blunt but respectful. I would suggest some color correcting as well.

  33. Katie says:

    No, not really, actually.

  34. David says:

    Some of this criticism seems a little harsh. If I wanted to take a photograph to illustrate a short cycle on a washing machine, should I instead take a photograph of a cut-down bicycle ridden by a circus clown? Of a caesium atom puffing and gasping as it manages only 9,192,631,769 radiation cycles per second (how would Brittany take such a photograph, anyway)? Of a woman wondering why it’s been only three weeks since her last period, and here is her next?

    No, the photographs are fine. Be honest – if the photo had featured a brand-spanking-new washing machine set to “light wash”, you’d all have ganged up on Trent for being able to afford a brand-spanking-new washing machine in the first place. Or even for being able to afford someone able to photograph a brand-spanking-new washing machine in the first place. Hypocrites lecteurs, mes semblables, mes frères! (et soeurs, to avoid accusations of sexism while conscious of running into a more deadly bullet than the one I was trying to dodge in the first place).

  35. Brittany says:

    (…Brittany the regular commenter, not Brittany of the dirty appliance pictures.)

    This series is properly titled “Ways to live CHEAP” as opposed to “Ways to live frugally.” This is the epitome of cheap–doing absolutely whatever costs the least in the moment, regardless of whether it’s the best decision (as opposed to frugality, which is making the wisest use of resources).

    I can either rinse all my dishes, wasting tons of water… or I can not rinse a single one and run my dishwasher on heavy load. Similar amount of water as the lighter cycle, a bit more electricity, no extra sink rinse water… cleaner dishes. Better choice. (More frugal choice.)

  36. Jules says:

    @ David (34): There’s a way to make things look nice without making them pristine. It takes a little more time and a lot more thought (see the stills in my blog) but it can be done. There’s a difference between wear-and-tear and dirty.

    I have to say, though, what bothers me about the photos is how off-balance they are. It’s not something you’d notice if an el-cheapo P&S is what you’ve been using for your entire life, and there are times when the look is appropriate. But seriously, if Brittany is as eager to “go pro” as Trent says she is, she needs to learn lighting and learn it FAST. My personal favorite tip/trick? Indirect sunlight makes everything look good. Even my DSLR yellows pictures in low lighting, so sometimes I end up dragging all the lights that can be dragged to a certain place, just to get the look right.

  37. Raya says:

    What’s the big deal? It’s an old washer with some water drops on. I like the picture – for one thing, it doesn’t look straight out of a commercial ad.

  38. Jill says:

    For the ‘hose down clothing’ option, someone really needs to do the math to see if it’s cost effective. I suspect it’s going to use more water than running the washing machine. And with our external water supply, you’re either paying for metered potable water (which comes from external spigot #1) or paying for the electricity to run the irrigation well pump (put out by spigots #2 and #3).

  39. Adam P says:

    @David #34, there’s a happy medium between ‘Brand New So Expensive It Evokes Negative Commentary Out Of Jealousy’ type washer photo and a photo that looks like it was taken in a dump (like this one).

    Also I don’t think people who complain about photos of new things, we’re bombarded with that on tv and the internet as it is and are mostly numb to it. So I don’t think that is true at all.

  40. Andrew says:

    David #34–I am absolutely suing to see the short
    cycle photo of “a woman wondering why it’s been only three weeks since her last period, and here is her next? ”

    I shouldn’t have been drinking coffee when I saw that!

  41. Andrew says:

    There should be an edit function here–my last post came out as gibberish.

    I meant to say that I was “dying” to see that “short cycle” photo, not “suing.”

    And what would a similar “light cycle” photo be like?

  42. kc says:

    Andrew, here are a few ideas:

    -A close up of a scissors cutting (or about to cut) a dollar bill. (You’re cutting cycle time and spending less money.)

    -A timer and some coins. (Time/savings)

    -Side view close up of someone holding a pocket watch above a piggy bank, as though it’s a coin to be deposited. (Ditto)

    -A wall clock with dollar signs instead of numerals.

    Anyone else have some ideas?

  43. Vanessa says:

    A grown man riding a tricycle? Ok, so I’m not very good at this.

    But it doesn’t even have to be literal. Heck, JD uses cat photos for the really boring investment posts. I find them amusing and I don’t even like cats.

  44. Jackowick says:

    LOLing all thread long. I mean, I get the concept of what he’s shooting for here, but the shot of the dishwasher really repaints this as a “close enough!” kind of article to be followed with:

    1)never throw out food by expanding 5 second rule to 5 days
    2)underpants: why going commando is the thrifty choice
    3) 10 reasons why hands are better than forks, spoons, and Brillo pads.

  45. Johanna says:

    Well, that’s one direction it could go. On the whole, I’m thinking it’s more like “Save on medical expenses by not tripping over your own shoelaces.”

  46. Mister E says:

    “3) 10 reasons why hands are better than forks, spoons, and Brillo pads.”

    Ell Oh Ell.

  47. kc says:

    Moderation. Ugh.

  48. kc says:

    Hint: you cannot post a comment with the word which means “An alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or several spirits mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice, lemonade, or cream.” —-tail.

  49. Izabelle says:

    ..and moderation also prevented my awful pun on kc (no.48)’s comment. Ugh.

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