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Washington Post: What does a dishwasher's sanitizing cycle really do?

REPOST: Original Article Featured in the Washington Post. See full article here.


The focus on disinfecting during the coronavirus pandemic is easily demonstrated by the empty shelves of cleaning products in grocery stores. Some machines you may already have in your house say they are built for sanitizing, but what does your dishwasher or washing machine’s sanitizing cycle mean?

At this point, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t have enough data to know what temperature is required to kill the novel coronavirus. To combat the coronavirus, follow the CDC’s guidance for cleaning and disinfection.

We asked Jessica Petrino, an appliance specialist with AJ Madison, an appliance retail store, to explain the difference between standard and sanitizing appliances. Petrino responded via email. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How do regular appliances work vs. sanitizing appliances?

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Petrino: Some appliances have a sanitize cycle. The best sanitation cycles meet the standards set by the National Sanitation Foundation. NSF-certified appliances (clothes washers, dryers and dishwashers) undergo testing to ensure that the appliances eliminate potentially harmful allergens, [some] microorganisms and bacteria. For washers, the wash water must reach 131 degrees and for dishwashers, the rinse temperature must reach 150 degrees. [Dishwashers have internal heaters to increase the water temperature and so do some washing machines.] Depending on the machine and its available cycles, dust mite allergens, feline dander, canine dander and birch pollen, a common cause of hay fever, may be reduced.



Q: Why choose a sanitizing appliance?

A: Before the [novel] coronavirus outbreak, most appliance experts talked about sanitizing appliances as a necessity for allergy sufferers. … According to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus is extremely contagious and can live on [plastic and metal] surfaces for up to several days. [The CDC said that the virus does not spread easily from a contaminated surface.]


Q: Are they more expensive than other appliances?

A: Fortunately, you can find sanitizing appliances in prices ranging from $350 to $2,130. Well-known brands like GE, Whirlpool, Maytag, Bosch, Samsung, Electrolux and LG have NSF-certified appliances.


Q: Do you have to use special detergents with these appliances?

A: Sanitizing dishwashers take regular detergent or tablets. If your sanitizing washing machine is high-efficiency, make sure to use high-efficiency (HE) detergent.


Q: Which appliances work the best?

A: Since all NSF-certified appliances are held to the same high standards, I can’t say that a particular product is best. In addition, there are many new appliances that have tremendous health benefits. Air purifiers, HEPA vacuum cleaners [and] steam convection ovens … are all designed to eliminate bacteria and sanitize hard-to-clean items.


Q: Are there any lower-cost options that provide the same sanitizing benefits?

A: If you don’t have a sanitize cycle, hot water cycles are better for eliminating germs and bacteria. Make sure to clean your appliances regularly and pay close attention to sanitizing door handles, knobs and buttons.

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