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dishwasher sanitize cycle

How to Sanitize Items with Your Dishwasher and Washing Machine

Knowing that something is sanitized or disinfected can bring great peace of mind. And did you know that your dishwasher and washing machine can be useful tools in eliminating germs and bacteria? We’ll discuss how to sanitize items with your dishwasher and washer using the proper settings to eradicate germs.

Germ Destruction 101: How to Sanitize Items with Your Dishwasher and Washer

While dishwashers and washers can clean effectively, there’s a difference between sanitizing and disinfecting. Before we discuss how to sanitize items with your dishwasher and washer, we’ll review what these terms actually mean.

Sanitize vs Disinfect

Though we often use these words interchangeably, they mean two different things. Sanitizing refers to cleaning something of dirt and lessening the number of germs and bacteria to a safer level. Disinfecting goes a step beyond by actually killing almost 100% of germs on a surface. While sanitizing also cleans a surface, disinfecting simply kills germs.

Generally speaking, the disinfecting process uses harsher chemicals than those we use for sanitizing. This is why sanitizing is recommended for items like clothing and toys and disinfecting is reserved for toilets and sinks. When germs like influenza and rotavirus are present, disinfecting high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and countertops are also recommended.

How to Sanitize with a Dishwasher

Do dishwashers sanitize dishes every time they’re washed? The answer is no. Not all dishwashers have a sanitize setting. For those that do, you must select the sanitize option before a wash cycle begins to activate the function.

A dishwasher sanitize cycle reduces the number of germs on surfaces with hotter water temperatures than a regular wash cycle. This setting must provide a dishwasher sanitize temperature of at least 150°F for items to be considered sanitized.

how to sanitize items with your dishwasher
Image from CNET

What Can Be Sanitized in the Dishwasher?

So how to sanitize items in the dishwasher without damaging them? The following items can all benefit from regular sanitizing to reduce germs and bacteria:

  • Kitchen tools: Sponges, scrubbing brushes, metal or ceramic cabinet hardware, and silicone utensils should be placed in the top rack for safer washing. Refrigerator shelves and microwave turntables can be placed in the bottom rack
  • Bathroom fixtures: soap dishes, toothbrush holders, rubber bathmats and shower scrubs or exfoliators can all benefit from a weekly clean in the dishwasher
  • Kids Toys: bath toys and plastic blocks, figures, and cars can all be washed on the top rack. Pacifiers and teething toys can be safely washed in the utensil basket
  • Pet Accessories: Hard rubber and plastic toys, as well as non-leather leashes and collars, can all be washed on the top rack while food bowls can be placed in the lower rack

How to Sanitize Clothes in the Washer

While not every machine has a washer sanitize setting, those that do can reduce the number of germs and bacteria on clothes and linens. When this cycle is selected, the washer will use steam or hotter water temperatures to lessen germs and kill bacteria. The washer sanitize cycle temperature must reach at least 165°F to effectively kill enough germs to be considered sanitized.

washer sanitize setting
Image from Whirlpool Corporation


Since a sanitize setting uses more gas or electricity to provide additional heat, it’s not necessary to use this setting for every wash load. Clothing such as hospital scrubs and cloth diapers may specifically benefit from this cycle. Similarly, a sanitize cycle is ideal for bed linens and towels that have been used in times of illness.

Knowing how to sanitize items with your dishwasher and washer when they’ve been exposed to germs can be reassuring. In addition, sanitizing cycles can also be used to reduce household germs on a regular basis. But don’t allow a washer or dishwasher malfunction to take away your peace of mind. Use Cody’s Appliance Repair as your repair service for cleaning appliances.

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