Having a dishwasher in your kitchen is one of the greatest luxuries in life. Knowing that you don't have to scrub and hand-dry all of the dishes, glasses, cutlery, pots, and pans after cooking a big meal makes it even easier to enjoy.

But, have you ever wondered how clean your dishes actually get when you run them through the dishwasher? Does it really sanitize your dishes? Some dishwashers even have a "sanitize" setting, but does that really result in a deeper clean?

We trust that our dishwashers will do a good cleaning job, considering the use of detergent and uber-hot water. But, does your dishwasher actually sanitize your dishes?

How Do You Sanitize Dishes?

clean dishes in a dishwasher

Sanitizing is the process that reduces the number of living organisms to a level safe for public health. The only reliable way to sanitize your dishes is to use high heat. The standard for killing bacteria is to use water that reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Once water reaches that temperature, it can easily and quickly kill bacteria.

Of course, this means that sanitizing by hand is virtually impossible since most people can't handle water temperatures over 104 degrees. So, the dishwasher is our only option for proper sanitation. And, the good news is that dishwashers range between 130 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sanitizing Vs. Standard Dishwashers

woman taking clean dishes out of a dishwasher

If you have a dishwasher with a sanitizing feature, it uses an extended hot water rinse to kill germs and bacteria. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) has a standard named NSF/ANSI Standard 184, which means that if a dishwasher has that certification, it will kill 99.99 percent of bacteria when you use the "sanitize" setting. That certification also means that dishwasher will hit 150 degrees during the final rinse.

If a dishwasher does not have that certification, chances are it doesn't reach temperatures high enough to completely sterilize your dishes. A standard dishwasher without the NSF/ANSI Standard 184 will most likely not kill as many bacteria and organisms as a sanitizing dishwasher. But, that doesn't necessarily mean your water won't get hot enough to sanitize in a standard dishwasher.

If you don't think your dishwasher is getting hot enough, or if you have to wash items by hand, you can take an extra step to make sure your dishes are properly sanitized. After scrubbing your items with soap and water, soak them for five to ten minutes in a gallon of hot water and one tablespoon of chlorine bleach. This ratio works for a sinkful of dishes, and the bleach will kill any organisms that your hand-scrubbing or dishwasher missed.

And, once the dishes are dry, the bleach will evaporate, making them safe to eat off of.

How Dirty Are Your Dishes?

dirty dishes

No matter who you are or what you eat, chances are your dishes are disgusting.

"Any time you're dealing with food, or even just utensils touching a person's mouth, there's the potential for harmful bacteria and even parasites to transfer from food to food, or food to person," says Dr. Keith R. Schneider, associate professor of food science at the University of Florida's Food Science and Human Nutrition department.

Schneider told The Atlantic that there is "biofilm" that forms on plates and builds up over time. Once they get established, they are harder to remove. So, you want to be sure to wash your dishes properly and remove as much bacteria as you can every time they get dirty. That goes for human dishes as well as the dishes used for pet food.

The Verdict

clean dishes in a dishwasher

So, does your dishwasher actually sanitize your dishes? The answer is yes. The hotter the water gets, the more bacteria it will kill. And, using a heated dry option also helps because it keeps your dishwasher at a hot temperature for even longer.

If your water is not hot enough, you might need to adjust your water heater. Or, try running the water in the sink closest to the dishwasher until it gets hot before starting your dishwasher. This will make sure that the dishwasher starts out with the hot water it needs for a sanitizing wash.

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