Should I use eco mode?


It may save water and electricity, but will it give good results?

Is it easy being green?


How much do you trust the eco mode on your dishwasher to clean your dishes properly? Based on our survey results, probably not much: we found that only 21% of people use the eco option on their dishwasher.

So should you use the eco mode? It depends. If you're not washing heavily-soiled clothes or dishes, 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. But it's worth a shot for the water and energy savings you could make.

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What is 'eco mode'?

"Generally, the hotter the setting the better the washing and drying performance in your dishwasher, but the higher the energy and water consumption," says CHOICE whitegoods expert Ashley Iredale.

"So the various modes of your dishwasher are just different permutations of these three elements: heat, water and time."

Eco mode is essentially just a program that uses lower wash and rinse temperatures so less energy is required for heating, and it minimises the amount of water required while still achieving a satisfactory threshold for dirt removal.

A more efficient wash does mean some trade-off in terms of cleaning intensity, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be left with dirty plates or clothes.

Lower-temperature water in a dishwasher can mean poorer drying performance, but features like auto-opening doors and internal fans can compensate to some degree – or you can just leave your dishes to air dry.

Generally, the hotter the setting the better the washing and drying performance in your dishwasher, but the higher the energy and water consumption.

Are all eco modes the same?

Eco mode settings act differently in different appliances and across different models. In Australia, there's no standard definition of exactly what eco mode is or the savings it should deliver, says Petr Valouch, another of CHOICE's whitegoods experts. And there's no data on the efficiency of eco modes in Australia.

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

Do eco modes help save money?

When CHOICE's counterpart in Germany tested dishwashers, it confirmed that the eco mode delivers the lowest energy consumption across different brands and models. It found that default and quick washing programs consume 20–30% more energy than eco modes

A subsequent literature review into the German study confirmed this, and also found:

  • 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%.

90% of a washing machine's energy use goes towards heating the water, so eco modes that use cooler water will cost you less to run in terms of electricity.

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

Tip: Your Dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent can make up a third of the running cost of the appliance so it's important to make sure you use one that performs well.

Do eco modes affect a product's energy star rating?

Most manufacturers use the 'eco' mode for the energy star rating assessment.

The cycle tested for the energy star rating must meet certain performance standard requirements, including adequately removing dirt from clothes or food waste from dishes.

The cycle setting or mode tested for the energy star rating must be declared on the sticker. When the eco mode is used, 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."

Are cold washes more energy efficient?

Yes, using a cold wash in your washing machine will deliver significant energy savings.

When CHOICE tests the energy and water consumption of washing machines, we run all the machines on a 'normal' cold cotton wash.

Choosing the cold wash will save you around 25% more energy than the eco mode. That's cold power!

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

No, 90% of the energy used in a washing machine cycle is for heating the water.

All of the agitation and soaking during a longer washing cycle doesn't chew up much electricity. But the rapid hot wash, in the dishwasher or washing machine, will devour more electricity, so a cold and long wash is still more efficient.

Tips for saving money, energy and water

Dishwashers

Choose models with:

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

When operating:

  • 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.

Washing machines

Choose models 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.

When operating:

  • 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.

Tip: front loading washing machines generally use about 50% less energy than top loading washing machines.

Looking for the best washing machine?

See our expert product reviews.

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