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Should you use the eco mode on your kitchen and laundry appliances?

It will save water and electricity (and therefore, money!), but will the eco function on your washer give good results?

using the eco button on dishwasher
Last updated: 20 February 2024

Are you the type of person who just hits the default program on your dishwasher or washing machine, turning a blind eye to all those other mystery buttons and settings? 

Or perhaps you've contemplated using the eco mode, but you just don't think you'll get good enough results?

A recent CHOICE survey found that only one in five people use the eco option on their dishwasher. If you're not in this 20%, you could be missing out on savings. 

In this article we explore what the eco mode is, and our experts weigh in on the question of performance.

What is 'eco mode'?

Eco mode is essentially a program that uses lower wash and rinse temperatures, so less energy is required for heating. It also minimises the amount of water required to do a decent job on your dishes. 

The various modes of your dishwasher are generally just different combinations of settings that vary the temperature of water and the length of the wash. The same can be said of washing machines, though with more variables, such as spin and agitation.

"Generally, you'll get better performance from your dishwasher on a hotter setting," says CHOICE whitegoods expert Ashley Iredale. "But the trade-off is that it'll use more energy and water, which costs you more."

For washing machines, we've found that washing in hot water is not that much better than cold water. 

Are all eco modes the same?

'Eco' can mean different things, depending on the make, model and appliance.

In Australia, there's no standard definition of exactly what eco mode is or the savings it should deliver, says Petr Valouch, another CHOICE whitegoods expert. And there's no data on the efficiency of eco modes in Australia.

Will eco mode get your clothes and dishes clean?

An eco wash may deliver less intensive cleaning, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be left with dirty plates (or clothes).

Our experts say that if your clothes or dishes aren't especially soiled to start with, you can probably expect a decent result from using your washing machine or dishwasher on eco mode – the worst that can happen is that you might need to wash them again. 

For your dishwasher, the biggest difference you'll probably notice is poorer drying. But features such as auto-opening doors and internal fans can compensate to some degree – or you can just leave your dishes to air dry.

Will eco mode save you money?

CHOICE experts say that using the eco mode is likely to translate into some savings on your household bills. 


When our counterpart in Germany tested dishwashers, it confirmed that the eco mode delivers the lowest energy consumption across different brands and models. 

It also found that the default and quick programs on a dishwasher consume 20–30% more energy than eco modes.

Default and quick programs on a dishwasher consume 20–30% more energy than eco modes

A subsequent literature review into the German study confirmed those findings, and also found that:

  • fast clothes washing programs, or those with temperatures over 30°C, increased energy use by 30–100%
  • tumble dryers used without the auto-off sensor increased energy use by an average of 25%.

We've found that households can make energy savings of around 30% by using their dishwashers in eco mode. (For now, we still test dishwashers on the default cycle rather than eco mode, because our members have told us they tend to use this setting.)

Washing machines

Most of the energy your washing machine uses (90%) goes to heating the water. So it stands to reason that eco modes that use cooler water will cost you less to run in terms of electricity. This is especially true if you have a top-loader washing machine, as these use much more water than front loaders do.

Eco mode aside for a moment, Ashley advises you to always wash with cold water anyway. Our testing has found the difference in results between washing in hot or cold water is so minimal, that paying more for the extra energy to heat the water just isn't worth it.

CHOICE tip: Dishwasher and laundry detergent can make up a third of the running cost of the appliance – so you want to make sure it's effective. Check out our dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent reviews to see the best value performers.

Eco mode and energy star ratings

When looking at the energy star rating of a washing machine or dishwasher you're interested in buying, it's worth knowing what cycle is used to determine its energy rating.

For dishwashers, most manufacturers use the 'eco' mode when their products are assessed for their energy star rating. Washing machine manufacturers generally use the 'cotton' program. The mode or program that was used must be stated on the star rating sticker.

It's also good to know that the cycle tested for the energy star rating must meet certain performance requirements, including adequately removing food waste from dishes or dirt from clothes.

If you see that the appliance used the eco mode for the energy star rating test, it's an endorsement that the eco mode met the required performance standards

So if you see that the appliance used the eco mode for the energy star rating test, it's an endorsement that the eco mode met the required performance standards under the prescribed conditions of that test.

A spokesperson for Energy Rating told CHOICE, "When a clothes washer is tested, it is required to meet the standards as per AS/NZS 2040, which requires a minimum water temperature of 35°C and is deemed a warm wash cycle."

Is a quick cycle more energy-efficient than a very long cycle?

You might think that a quick cycle will save you money on your power bill, compared with a very long cycle. But that's not the case. 

This is because, as we said earlier, 90% of the energy used in a washing machine cycle is for heating the water. All that agitation and soaking during a longer washing cycle doesn't chew up much electricity. 

How to save money using your dishwasher

To save money, energy and water, choose a dishwasher with:

  • high (over 3.5) water and energy star ratings
  • 'eco' options (these can save 30% on running costs)
  • delay-start feature to make use of off-peak tariffs or solar generation.

When operating your dishwasher:

  • select eco mode
  • wash only full loads
  • scrape plates clean, don't rinse
  • make sure you use rinse aid (or buy detergent with rinse aid included) to help with drying.

How to save money using your washing machine

To save money, energy and water, choose a washing machine with:

  • high (over 3.5) water and energy star ratings
  • 'eco' options
  • delay-start feature to make use of off-peak tariffs or solar generation.

And if you're not already in the front loader fan club, just remember: front loading washing machines generally use about 50% less energy and water than top loaders.

When operating your washing machine:

  • select eco mode with cold water, or a cold water cycle, unless dealing with oily stains
  • use an enzyme-based detergent because it's just as effective at lower temperatures
  • wash full loads or adjust the water level to suit the load size
  • pre-soak or pre-treat heavily soiled items – this way you won't have to wash them twice.
We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.