The Dishwashing Water Smack-down

My husband and I have a recurring “discussion” (I wouldn’t classify it as an argument or even disagreement, really) about proper dishwasher use. When we first had a dishwasher installed over two years ago now, I did a lot of research. These wonder appliances clean better and more efficiently than even the most frugal hand washer, my sources told me.

So I wrote all about greening your dishwasher. It turns out that using a dishwasher is only more efficient than hand washing if you avoid extra rinse cycles and the heat dry options. Further, if you rinse dishes in the sink before placing them in the dishwasher, you probably won’t see any water savings. That’s right: Don’t rinse your dishes! (Sadly, I did not see any water savings after one year of dishwasher use. Read all about it in this startling post: Do dishwashers save water? Hmmmm.)

But let’s get back to our debate. My husband sets certain items aside for hand washing, such as bowls, pots, and some cups. He would rather hand wash the same cup five times than to fill the dishwasher with five different cups. Some bowls and pots are large, so he’ll hand wash them to make room for a greater number of smaller items in the dishwasher.

Rebuttal: My way is thinking is that if using the dishwasher is more efficient than hand washing, and if rinsing dishes partly contributes to water-waste in the kitchen, then it’s always better to use the dishwasher. I maintain that it’s more efficient to fill the dishwasher with more cups and big bowls and run it more often than to run fewer loads in addition to hand washing select dishes. Also, please note that my way is also the least amount of work.

I would run some sort of test to settle this once and for all, but I’m not sure how. If anyone has any brilliant insight into this dilemma, let me know! In the meantime, I’ll continue to stick bowls in the dishwasher, and Andy can keep on hand washing whatever he wants.

Twist 100% Biodegradable Sponges

This is a quick drive-by post to recommend Twist biodegradable sponges. I picked up the Twist loofah scrubby on a whim at Whole Foods and used it until it fell apart after about eight months. (I realize this may sound extremely gross to some people . . . but it dried out completely between dish-washings and never seemed to smell or look bad.) When I was done, I put it into my compost bin. I recommend it!

I see Twist makes other biodegradable sponges and rags, too. Check them out!

Twist European Sponge Cloths

Twist Naked Sponge

Twist dish dumpling scrub pad

Twist natural kit

Twist naked kit

Don’t Rinse Your Dishes!

We hear this tip again and again: don’t rinse your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. Still, from my observations, most people do rinse dishes, potentially wasting hundreds of gallons of water each year.

Today’s dishwashers and detergents are designed to whisk away food bits and leave your dishes sparkling clean. I have tested this with my own new dishwasher and Biokleen Dishwashing Powder. I’ve put in yogurt containers with ½ cup of expired yogurt still in there. (I know I should be better about not wasting food, so I did feel bad about this!) Pans with cheese and bits of pasta still baked on. A dish full of old whipped cream. Spoons coated in dried-up rice. Jars with the peanut butter scraped out.

My dishes always come out clean. I never need to re-wash dishes after they’ve been in the dishwasher—unless I have accidentally blocked the sprayer with a long knife or something. Now I make sure it can spin freely before I press the “on” button.

So if you are a dish-rinser—stop! Try sticking everything straight in the dishwasher. If each item doesn’t come out sparkling clean, you may not be using a good detergent for your water type. (As I mentioned, just one tablespoon of the Biokleen dishwashing powder works perfectly with my soft water here in Portland. I use plain vinegar as a rinse agent instead of Jet Clean or something similar. Check out our dishwashing detergent post to find one that works for you.)

It’s also possible your dishwasher has passed its prime if you need to rinse beforehand—older models aren’t as efficient as new ones.

If you’re a rinser, try quitting for just one load, and let us know how it turns out! Your life could get easier!

Eco-friendly Dishwasher Detergents

There are a lot of eco-friendly dishwashing detergents out there—but how do they work? It can be frustrating experimenting with so-called green products, only to spend extra money on products that don’t function nearly as well as their toxic counterparts. Believe me—I struggled through all of this during my liquid dish soap search.

Luckily I hit the jackpot with the first dishwashing detergent I tried: Biokleen automatic dish powder. I wrote all about it here: Best eco-friendly dishwasher detergent: Biokleen! So should everyone rush out and buy my recommendation? Not so fast. What works for me here in Portland may not work somewhere else with different water. We have very soft water here.

Here are some other eco-friendly products on the market:

Have you had good luck—or horrible luck—with any of these? Please post your findings. If you want to specify where you live or what type of water you’re dealing with, that will help us refine the results. Thanks for your input!

Do Dishwashers Save Water? Hmmm.

As 2010 drew to a close and everyone around the world celebrated with fireworks and noisemakers, I had just one thing on my mind: Did my dishwasher fulfill its green promise? As I reported last January, we welcomed our trusty Energy Star appliance to the family after an entire adulthood of hand washing dishes.

Oh how wonderful these last twelve months have been! No more hours hunched over a sink full of dirty dishes. Just stacks of sparkling clean plates, forks, pots, and pans. And the best part is–the dishwasher saves water and energy over even the thriftiest hand washer!

Or so I’d heard. After a year-long study (sample size: 1), we ran the numbers. Did we save water in our Year of the Dishwasher compared to the previous year? The answer: no. We used almost the exact same amount of water both years. How could this be? Were we thriftier than the thriftiest hand washer after all? Maybe the dishwasher couldn’t compete with that.

I am trying to stay positive for 2011. It could have been worse. Our water bills could have somehow proven that the dishwasher was a huge water guzzler. Then what would I have done? I’m much too attached now.

Green Baby Guide’s Most Popular Posts of All Time

Happy birthday to us! We’re celebrating three years of blogging (as of last Friday) by reviewing our top ten posts of all time here on the Green Baby Guide. Now, according to our stats, A Fan of Fans has the most views of any post, but we chalk that up to a Googling fluke. So how to do we measure the success of a post? By the reception it gets from you, our dedicated readers! Here are the top ten most-commented-upon posts of all time!*

Four of our most popular posts were about . . . you guessed it: diapers

#10, tied with 23 comments each:

Did you have a natural childbirth?

Do you have “issues” buying used clothing and gear for your baby?

Cheapest, most concentrated eco-friendly dishwashing liquid

#9, with 25 comments:

Cheapest eco-friendly laundry detergent

#8, with 26 comments:

Eco-confession: I bought regular diapers!

#7, with 31 comments:

Green breakthrough: save energy by washing diapers in cold water

#6, with 32 comments:

Nighttime diaper dilemma: part three

#5, tied with 33 comments each:

Was breastfeeding worth it?

#4, with 34 comments

How do you hand wash dishes to conserve water and dish soap?

#3, tied with 37 comments each

It’s easy eating green on Meatless Mondays

How do you get rid of your children’s outgrown clothing?

#2, with 46 action-packed comments, is this recent post:

Too Much Pressure to Breastfeed?

#1, the most popular post of all time, with 54 comments, is. . .


What do you make of these most commented-upon posts? Any trends you see? Four of the thirteen posts mentioned here are about diapers. Four are about washing dishes or doing laundry. Other than that, the topics that elicit the most comments are all over the map.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading our posts and commenting on them!  We’ll aspire to more comment-inspiring posts for 2011!

*Not including giveaway posts, which can receive up to 300 comments.

Green Dishwasher Detergent and Rinse Agents

We have a magical contraption at my house.  You put dirty plates and cups onto its gleaming white racks, push some buttons, and they come out clean!  Well actually, they’re often a bit filmy with bits of goo here and there.

Having a dishwasher is a huge life change after eight years of hand washing, but we were sad to see that our dishes don’t come clean when using Biokleen Dishwasher Detergent.  Rebecca is also the proud owner of a new dishwasher, and she wrote a great post about the merits of Biokleen powder over even traditional detergent, but we were only able to find the liquid locally.  And shockingly, it didn’t work as well for us as other cleaners.  Should we chuck the rest of the bottle and give up on our dreams of gleaming dishes, or invest in mainstream rinse agents that may or may not work?

In desperation, we tried Seventh Generation’s rinse agent, which handles 75 loads in comparison to Jet Dry’s 40, for a similar price.  We filled our soap dispenser to the brim to compensate for hard water, loaded up the rinse agent compartment, and confidently awaited the results–which were spotty and once again covered with bits of oatmeal.  Ugh!

I tried again with half the detergent and the results were better, but not all that great.  Prior to our Biokleen purchase, a friend had given us the Method Smarty Dish tabs, which are wildly expensive by comparison, but they worked like a charm.  I shall keep you posted on our dishwasher issues, but please feel free to recommend your favorite eco-friendly dishwasher detergent options!

Green Your Dishwasher!

As a proud dishwasher owner for the last four months, I obviously qualify as an expert. I’ve even learned a few more tricks since my initial dishwasher post. According to the Energy Star website, an Energy Star dishwasher uses 5.8 gallons of water or less per load. Most studies indicate that using the dishwasher will save money and water compared to hand washing. However, remember that  this is not the case if you pre-rinse dishes (wasting up to 20 gallons of water per load!) or use the heat dry option! The estimated energy usage that you see on that Energy Star tag are based on running loads on the normal cycle and letting the dishes air dry.

What else can you do to save water and energy?

I’ll say it again: scrape, but don’t rinse! Today’s dishwashers and detergents are made to do that for you. The Energy Star website says to use the “rinse” cycle (rather than rinsing in the sink) if you let the dishes sit overnight, but I have never done that, and my dishes have always come out sparkling clean—even after two or three days.

Use the lightest cycle option. I was using the “normal” cycle until I read this tip. I tried the light (or “fine china” cycle). Guess what? The light cycle was forty minutes faster than the “normal” cycle and cleaned everything just fine—including a jar coated in peanut butter.

Use an eco-friendly detergent. Regular detergents use ingredients that damage our water supply and harm aquatic life. And Biokleen doesn’t cost any more than Cascade, wash per wash.

Skip the rinse agent. Who knows what’s in Jet Dry? They won’t tell you. Skip it—or use white vinegar instead. I crack open the dishwasher when it’s done washing, shake off any excess water, and let the dishes dry naturally. Even in the drizzly Pacific Northwest, they dry just fine on their own. I haven’t had any problems with spotting.

Run full loads. It may be worth it to buy more plates (make them secondhand to be totally carbon neutral!) if you find yourself unable to stuff the dishwasher to capacity. Otherwise, there’s no reason to run the dishwasher before it’s full.

Any more tips for saving water and energy with a dishwasher? Let us know!

Earth Day Sins Confessed

It’s official. Lately I’ve become an environmental slacker. Yes, I still compost, recycle, cloth diaper, and shop secondhand. Yes, I get a certain thrill out of using cloth grocery bags and buying in bulk. But lately I’ve committed some eco-transgressions that I feel I must acknowledge as Earth Day looms.  It isn’t quite like I’ve taken a match to the planet, (as the dramatic photo would suggest) but it doesn’t feel great to share my shortcomings.  Here goes…

My sin:
We remodeled our kitchen. In a way this seems like a good thing–but it also means that we ate lukewarm microwaved dinners off of paper plates for a few weeks. (Chinet, of course, because they’re 100% recycled!) We tried to salvage what we could of our old kitchen, but most of our built-in cabinets had to go to wood recycling. There are some heaps of stuff in the landfill that we recently added. (Ugh!)

My justification:
Our house is a thousand square feet, which is plenty of room most of the time, but we felt cramped in our old kitchen.  It hadn’t been remodeled since the house was built 51 years ago and it lacked counter space and a dishwasher. Our new kitchen is very neutral and we hope that it will last just as long. (Can you believe the average kitchen remodel happens every seven years?!) Now we have an energy star dishwasher and fridge, lots more functional space, and many more years of being able to leave a smaller carbon footprint because of the size of our home. Also, I LOVE cooking now!

My sin:
Our daughter has eaten lots of jarred baby food. We chose Earth’s Best Organic, but I really wanted to blend up homemade batches.

My justification:
My husband, who’s a stay-at-home Dad, is not overly excited about boiling and pureeing yams.  Also, during the kitchen remodel it was all we could do to get food in her mouth while washing our dishes in the tub. The good news is that now she’s eating table food and we’re done with purees!

My sin:
My children are both wearing disposable diapers at night. This is probably the most atrocious thing on my list, and it makes me feel sick that we haven’t figured out how to use cloth at night for both of them. We had some luck with Jovi in cloth, but then found she woke up more frequently.  We were too desperate for sleep to continue. Roscoe struggled with horrid yeast infections that kept recurring, so we gave up with him too.  In this picture he despairs that his mother hasn’t found an eco-friendly method of diapering him…

My justification:
My only hope is to night-train my son soon! He has been potty trained for over a year, but we have been so tired that we haven’t made a concerted effort to get him out of diapers at night. Please send me any and all advice! Maybe I’ll try cloth again with Jovi and see if she’ll sleep through the night in them. It would make me so happy to be free of disposables altogether!

Do you have transgressions to share?  Do tell!  It relieves all of us to know that we’re focused on progress instead of perfection.

The Best Eco-friendly Dishwasher Detergent: Biokleen!

Okay, to be honest I haven’t tried that many dishwasher detergents. The reality is, I didn’t have a chance: the very first detergent I tried after getting a dishwasher two months ago worked miracles! My mom recommended Biokleen dish powder to me after  trying a few different brands with little success. She actually thought she had a subpar dishwasher because her dishes came out caked in food particles. Once she started using Biokleen, however, her dishes emerged shiny and clean.
biokleen automatic dish powder

With that promising testimony, I bought the canister of Biokleen. It seems expensive at $11.99 for 32 oz., but you use just one tablespoon per load, and one canister promises 64 loads. (So that’s $.187/load.) I wish it came in a cardboard box instead of a plastic canister, but I’m guessing that one canister will last over half a year. I’ve been using it for over two months now, and my dishes are spotless.

But let’s compare the cost of Biokleen to other brands. You can get a 12-pack of Seventh Generation Auto Dish packs for $51.21 on Amazon, and each pack will wash 15 loads. That comes to $.28 per load—and you have to buy in bulk! And how does the Biokleen compare to something like Cascade dishwasher detergent? It looks like even the bulk options on Amazon will run at least $.21 a load. So, while the small canister of Biokleen dish powder may seem really expensive at first, it’s actually more cost-effective than even conventional detergent! (We found the same thing when we reviewed laundry detergents.)

If you try this detergent and it doesn’t produce satisfactory results, this may be because your water reacts differently to it than mine. (I have soft water in Portland, by the way.) I’ve read that what works wonders for one person hardly works at all for others. Have you found an eco-friendly detergent that leaves your dishes sparkling? Let us know!

More information: