Here’s What All Those Buttons on Your Dishwasher Mean

published Jul 31, 2021
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Considering how much we all rely on our dishwashers, we don’t pay much attention to them. Unless something goes wrong, we just load them, run them, and unload them. On repeat. Day in and day out. Most of us have our button-pushing routine on autopilot and that’s that. We don’t even look at the other buttons. You’re probably so used to seeing all those little buttons on your unit that you barely even notice them anymore.

Well, we’re here to change your relationship with these buttons! (Say, hello to the buttons!) Here’s a quick little rundown of some of the most common dishwasher buttons — including what they really mean and when to use them. Ready? Let’s get started!

Air Dry

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Choosing air dry on your dishwasher means your unit will cycle room-temperature air into the unit to dry your dishes. This saves up to 15 percent on energy costs, but your dishes will take longer to dry. Aside from saving energy, another reason you might want to air dry a load is if it has delicate items (like plastic) that can be damaged in a heated drying cycle. Note: If you live in a humid climate, the air dry cycle might not leave your dishes as dry as you’d like. To help it along, simply open your unit’s door after the final rinse cycle. 

Rinse and Hold

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If you don’t know about this option, we promise it’ll be your new best friend. Rinse and hold, aka prewash, rinses dishes in the unit, but doesn’t run a full wash and dry cycle. Use it when you’re worried about food hardening on dishes while you’re waiting for your dishwasher to get full enough to run.


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The delay button, which usually includes options for how long you want to wait, allows you to set your dishwasher to run at a later time. This is useful if, say, you want to watch your favorite TV show after you’re done cleaning up the kitchen, but don’t want to strain to hear dialogue over the sound of the machine. 

Quick Clean

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A quick clean cycle might seem like it means a weaker version of a full wash, but it actually uses more water and heat to get your load cleaned super quickly. Use it when you need clean dishes or an empty dishwasher ASAP. Quick clean cycles usually take about an hour from start to finish. 


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Think of the heavy cycle as a major power wash! It uses extra water and higher temperatures to tackle items that are harder to clean, such as a dirty casserole dish or extra-saucy serving pieces.


Heated Dry

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The heated dry cycle uses heating elements to dry your dishes. It works faster than air drying, but uses more energy. If you want to conserve energy but want dry dishes, consider skipping this setting and adding a rinse aid to your routine. Rinse aid reduces the surface tension of the water and helps dishes dry — without leaving water spots behind.


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The sanitize cycle raises the temperature of the water to 150º Fahrenheit in order to kill bacteria and other pathogens. Use it especially for baby bottles or when family members are sick. 

Control Lock

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Forgot to add a dish? Press control lock when you need to open the dishwasher in the middle of a cycle. It’ll drain the water from the unit before unlocking the door. 

Rinse Only

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A rinse only cycle is the same concept as a rinse and hold option. It simply rinses dishes so food doesn’t dry and become smelly or difficult to wash away. This cycle is also an excellent choice when you only need to rinse something, like newly purchased glassware. Don’t use detergent on a rinse cycle.


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This cycle uses a gentler spray to avoid breaking fragile dishes, or your Grandma’s special glassware.

Pots and Pans

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Similar to a heavy cycle, this one uses extra water to blast off stuck-on grime from your pots and pans. It typically dispenses the most water of any cycle, so use it only when you really need to. 

Now are you ready to try out some of the lesser-used buttons on your dishwasher? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.