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FAQ About the Dishwasher Sanitize Cycle

by Albert Lee Appliance

All dishwasher models do an adequate job cleaning your dishes, but some select models include a sanitize cycle for an added boost of clean and confidence. If you’re tired of scraping off leftover food from your plate or wiping away a buildup of grime inside the dishwasher itself, a high-pressure, high-temperature wash on the sanitize setting will certainly do the trick. 

The main difference between a regular wash cycle and a dishwasher sanitize cycle has to do with the temperature of your dishwasher’s internal compartment. During a common wash cycle, the water reaches temperatures between 140° and 145° Fahrenheit, and a sanitize wash must use an extended hot-water rinse and reach at least 150° Fahrenheit to kill germs and eat away at bacteria found on your cookware.

Some models can reach upwards of 170° Fahrenheit but it isn’t only cranking up the heat that matters. To properly sanitize the interior of the dishwasher as well as your plates, glassware, and utensils, the circulation of water and prolonged exposure to high temperature are what begin the process of breaking down food particles and killing germs.

dishes being cleaned in the dishwasher

Capable of powerful stain-removing performance, a sanitize cycle is more effective than hand-washing dishes because your skin can’t withstand the increasingly high temperatures or buildup of hot water required to break down stuck-on remnants. That, and it won’t leave your fingertips ever so wrinkly.

Antibacterial wipes or a spritz of bleach do a good job sanitizing kitchen surfaces and prevent germs from spreading; however, the strong fragrances and harsh chemicals in those products aren’t always conducive to cleaning everyday dishware and stainless-steel dishwashers.

If you want to reduce germs and take proper care of your dishwasher, pressing the sanitize button is the safest way to ensure your dishes come out sparkly clean.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dishwasher Sanitize Cycles

If you’ve wondered what a sanitize setting is or how it works, odds are, you aren’t alone. For a brief introduction, check out our most frequently asked questions about dishwasher sanitize cycles.

Do Dishwashers Sanitize?

Your dirty utensils and cookware can spread harmful bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria the longer they are left sitting in your sink. Because leftover food particles, burnt-on stains, and pits of grease make it difficult to properly clean your dishes, the sanitize cycle provides the reinforcement your dishes need.

The cleaning process takes place when you select the sanitize setting before starting the cycle. A high-temperature rinse combines with multiple spray arms inside of the appliance to make sure plenty of hot water is reaching every surface of your dishwasher.

holding up clean glass

But not all cleaning features are interchangeable. To go along with the sanitize cycle, there are also sterilizing and disinfecting settings on some built-in dishwasher models. While they all work to accomplish the same goal, they clean in different ways.

A sterilize setting will commonly use steam as its cleaning method, and while steam-heat builds up quickly inside your dishwasher, it can eat away at your dishes and cause the internal compartment of your dishwasher to corrode over time.

A disinfect cycle will somewhat combine both sanitize and sterilize settings but with even greater temperature and a much longer run time.

Is the Antibacterial Cycle Different than the Sanitize Cycle?

You may even find dishwasher models that offer an antibacterial cycle. This cycle, along with the other specialized cleaning settings, meet NSF International’s (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) standards to kill 99.99% of bacteria and reach temperatures of at least 150° Fahrenheit (This standard is referred to as NSF/ANSI Standard 184.)

The timing of the wash cycle is based on how long it takes for your dishwasher to reach higher temperatures. Once up to the ideal temperature, the dishwasher will circulate the hot water throughout the appliance for an extended cycle time just like the sanitize feature. You can expect the antibacterial cycle to run for at least one hour. 

Does Dishwasher Detergent Kill Germs?

When you use dishwashing soap or detergent, its main function is to remove stuck-on grease and food residue from your cookware. However, dishwashing detergent can also be effective for washing away germs. It won’t physically kill any viruses, but like hand soap, it lifts germs and bacteria off your cooking and baking surfaces so they can be easily washed away by water.

Some dishwashing soaps are labeled as antibacterial, but one isn’t more effective at removing germs than the other. Again, this is because of the physical action of washing taking place inside your dishwasher.

The high-pressure spray, combined with soap, creates friction inside the appliance that lifts away microbes and grease. The enzymes within dishwashing detergents are what scrub away at the particles leftover on your dishes. 

placing detergent pod into the dishwasher

And if you use your dishwasher often, you can rest assured that germs are being washed away. Regardless of the kind of soap you use, what destroys germs and viruses is the incredibly hot water. The higher temperature used on the dishwasher sanitize cycle will get the job done every time. 

What Can You Use the Sanitizing Option on?

Of course, a sanitize dishwashing cycle can kill germs on any drinkware, serving tray, or skillet, but what else can you use this setting on?

If your house is full of playful children who love to leave their toys behind on the kitchen floor, the sanitize cycle is safe enough to use on rattles, Legos, bath toys, and plastic trucks or dolls. That way, when playtime and mealtime become the same thing, your child can carry his or her favorite toy to the dinner table without bringing along any harmful bacteria.

If you’re a new parent, it’s great to use on baby bottles. They can be placed inside the machine like any other drinkware and can withstand the high temperatures to be properly cleaned.

How Do You Use the Sanitize Cycle on a Dishwasher?

When you select the sanitize cycle at the beginning of your wash, the appliance takes in hot water and heats it even further. When you press the button to start the wash, an electrical heating element does most of the heavy lifting, making it possible for the internal compartment of the dishwasher to rapidly increase the temperature and withstand the concentration of heat.

And to help you discover how specific sanitize features work, we’ve narrowed down a few select dishwasher models from Bosch, KitchenAid, and Whirlpool.

Most Bosch stainless-steel dishwashers come equipped with an NSF/ANSI Standard 184-certified sanitize option that eliminates up to 99.9% of bacteria. This cleaning cycle features PureDry™  technology, which concludes each wash with an extra hot rinse, heating the water to 162˚F to thoroughly clean, sanitize, and dry dishes.

And if you’re worried about all that water and moisture building up inside your dishwasher, Bosch’s AutoAir™ feature releases the door at the end of each wash to let any pooled moisture escape and allow plenty of fresh air in to keep your sanitized dishes clean as can be.

Related Article: Bosch vs KitchenAid Dishwashers | Reviews & Top Picks

mother and daughter loading the dishwasher

KitchenAid dishwashers offer what is called a Sani-Rinse option that heats the main wash temperature to 140° Fahrenheit and the final rinse water to 155° Fahrenheit, ensuring all bacteria and food soils are washed away in accordance with NSF/ANSI Standard 184. To increase the sanitizing power even more, Heat Dry and Extended Heat Dry increases the cycle time, so your dishes are exposed to greater heat for a longer period and every item comes out fully dry and fully sanitized.

Related Article: KitchenAid Dishwashers Reviewed | Features & Top Picks

Whirlpool stainless-steel dishwashers tackle stuck-on messes with a TotalCoverage Spray Arm. High-pressure jets and advanced spray sequence fully cover your dishwasher’s contents and multiple nozzles blast away stains with added water pressure. Whirlpool’s sanitize option (also dubbed Sani Rinse) eliminates food-soil bacteria with a high-temperature rinse that meets NSF/ANSI Standard 184, and the Fan Dry option uses a fan to help pull in clean, dry air and push out damp air from the wash cycle.

Measuring your space

When purchasing a new dishwasher, don’t forget to measure the space of your appliance opening as well as the dimensions of your old appliance. It’s important to carefully and correctly measure multiple times to ensure your dimensions are correct and you have the necessary space available for your new dishwashing appliance.

Related Article: Shopping for Home Dishwashers [Buying Guide 2020]

dishwasher full of clean dishes

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