By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Dishwashers today have a lot of new features. They’re quieter, they dispose of hard food easier, and they sanitize better. The one thing they haven’t improved on is the time it takes for a cycle to complete.
Federal energy standards have doubled the time it takes a dishwasher to wash and dry dishes.
Bruce Gettman, general manager at B&B Appliance & TV in Cheyenne, said the new models of dishwashers that comply with new federal guidelines still sell, but they are definitely slower.
For many, the dishwashing regulations trigger flashbacks to 1992, when President George H.W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act, which cut down on the water use of toilets and sparked the rise of low-flow commodes.
“Manufacturers have to meet certain water consumption guidelines that the government has set forth,” Gettman said. “So, we cut back on the amount of water that we use in the cycle. To accomplish the same results, we wash longer and rinse longer.”
The Trump administration attempted to undo some of the standards so people could get dishwashers that run through a cycle in less than an hour, but the Biden administration reimposed the rules.
“You know what bothers me?” Donald Trump said on the campaign trail in October 2020. “You go into a new hotel or a new house, and you turn on these faucets. And no water comes out.”
Trump said that, while some places have plenty of water, the federal government comes up with a single rule that determines how much water appliances across the entire country can use.
“The dishwashers had a little problem. They didn’t get enough water,” Trump said. “So people would run them 10 times. So they end up using more water.”
At the time, the Trump administration’s relaxing of the rules was paving the way for faster dishwashers, and in the speech, Trump encouraged his supporters to go out and buy a dishwasher.
“Suburban women, please vote for me,” Trump said. “I’m saving your house. I’m saving your community.”
In 2018, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Libertarian think tank, petitioned the Department of Energy for a new class of dishwashers with cycles under an hour, and the rule was being finalized when Trump gave that campaign speech. Under Trump, the DOE was receptive to the petition.
That’s all changed with the Biden administration.
“They repealed the rules. And there are now a dozen states suing the Biden administration,” Devin Watkins, attorney with CEI, told Cowboy State Daily.
Trump’s style of speaking was filled with bravado, but there was some truth to the claim that the rules were actually increasing water use. It wasn’t because they were cycling their dishwashers repeatedly. It was because they were electing to wash dishes by hand.
CEI conducted a survey that found that 23% of people always hand wash their dishes because of the slowness of their dishwashers. Of those surveyed, 27% often wash by hand and 37% sometimes do.
The results of the survey were similar to those of a 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey by the Energy Information Administration. That survey didn’t ask why households forgo their appliance, but it found that out of 80 million whot have a dishwasher, 16 million did not use their dishwasher in 2015.
During the rulemaking process, the DOE got an earful from thousands of people about the faster class of dishwasher.
“It’s time to make dishwashers do the job they were meant to do … actually clean dishes … Let’s change the regulations to make them better,” read one comment submitted to the department.
One woman, who identified herself as a mother of four married children and 13 grandchildren, said her household spends hours every day trying to wash dishes after the family’s big meals.
“IT IS TIME TO WASH AWAY THIS STUPID RULE! If this type of a rule applied to the space program, we would still be trying to send chimpanzees into orbit!” the woman wrote in her comment.
Of the 2,244 individuals who submitted comments concerning the faster class of dishwasher, 98% were fully in support of the rule.
In rescinding the rule creating the faster class of dishwasher, the DOE argued that it has a statutory obligation to always improve efficiency, and if consumers don’t like it they have to take it up with Congress, according to a lawsuit filed by 13 states against the department.
The lawsuit, which includes washing machines, argues that the department’s reasoning doesn’t hold water and that the DOE is misunderstanding its own authority.
“Moreover, diminished cleaning performance often means that dishwasher and laundry cycles have to be re-run, since they often fail to clean dishes and clothes adequately the first time — lessening or outright defeating the efficiency that the standards are designed to serve,” the suit states.
Watkins said manufacturers have been very supportive of the DOE’s efficiency standards.
“They’ve been opposing change from the beginning,” Watkins said.
It took a lot of investment in research and development to meet the federal government’s standards, Watkins explained. The last thing manufacturers want is relaxed rules that open up consumers to more choices. That means more research and development into appliances that compete with other manufacturers’ offerings. Watkins said, companies tend to prefer the status quo, where the rules stay the same.
“In their view of things, they don’t really care if they’re selling the best dishwasher. As long as their competitors can’t steal the market from them. The only people really harmed are the consumers,” Watkins said.