Disinfecting, Sanitizing and Steam-Cleaning Cycles: What’s the Difference?

by Bill Welles

Using cleaning supplies like disinfecting spray and anti-bacterial wipes are good to use to keep germs from spreading throughout kitchen surfaces, but what about your everyday kitchen appliances? Sanitizing , disinfecting, and steam-clean cycles on your dishwasher are designed to eliminate and wash away all germs associated with food particles and bacteria. If your dishwasher is equipped with one of these cycles, now would be the time to use it, but what’s the difference between each setting?

You may find a sanitize cycle on your dishwasher because it’s the best setting to use on items that come in contact with food. The high-pressure spray arms within the internal compartment of your dishwasher reduce germs and food-associated pathogens so that your dishes and cookware are safe enough to use again. The main feature of a sanitize cycle is the high temperature at which the cycle runs and the prolonged exposure to heat. Your dishes will come in contact with extreme heat—reaching temperatures of at least 150° with some models hitting upwards of 170°. The physical action of your dishes being washed with a high-temperature, high-pressure cycle creates friction inside your appliance to break down any stuck-on remnants of food, which is the best way to sanitize without using harsh chemicals that can damage your cookware.

The extended hot-water rinse on a high temperature is necessary to eat away at the bacteria found on your dishes; however, there is more to a sanitizing cycle than turning up the heat. To properly sanitize the interior of your washer along with all plates, glassware, and utensils, the circulation of water combined with a longer wash time is what allows the process of breaking down food particles and killing germs to begin.

When you select the sanitize setting to run on your dishwasher, the spray arms inside of the appliance evenly distribute water so that every surface is properly coated. Greater surface area within your machine can be covered for a longer period with greater cleaning power. An electrical heating element rapidly increases the temperature and distributes the concentration of heat throughout your appliance. 

As similar as each cleaning feature is, they aren’t always interchangeable. The disinfecting and steam-clean cycles also work to accomplish the same goal, but they have their own way of cleaning.

If you find a dishwasher with a disinfecting cycle, this specialized cleaning cycle meets cleaning standards to kill 99.99 percent of bacteria when reaching temperatures of at least 150°. The amount of time it takes for your washer to finish the cycle is based on how long it takes for your dishwasher to reach higher temperatures. Once the needed temperature has been met, hot water will circulate throughout the appliance just like a sanitize setting would.

Some disinfect settings have the option to use steam as its cleaning method, as steam-heat builds up quickly inside the dishwasher and increases the temperature at which the cycle runs. A typical disinfect cycle will feature similar properties of a sanitize setting but with even greater pressure, temperature, and much longer wash time. If you burned the entire meal, a disinfect setting would be a good option to use because the extended wash time will allow your dishes proper time to soak before the leftover grime is washed away. 

A steam-wash is different in that when the water inside your appliances creates steam, it starts to loosen any soils before the powerful wash cycle begins and sprays off any stuck-on particles that remain. The entire wash won’t solely feature a steam-clean; it’s utilized as a prewash or adds time to the wash at the end of the cleaning cycle before drying begins. If you use the steam setting as a prewash, this eliminates the worry of manually prewashing your dishes before loading them in the dishwasher. Once the wash tub fills with water, a wash pump will circulate water through the spray arms and a small heater at the bottom of the tub will activate briefly. The moisture from your dishes drops onto the heater to create the buildup of steam inside your dishwasher.  

Even though steam-washing isn’t the exclusive cleaning method, the dishwashers have the ability to use steam at various times throughout the wash cycle. Some washer models use steam to clean delicate plates and glassware because steam is a less forceful method to clean dishes. Fragile items can be washed gently without the worry of chips or breaks. And if you add a steam cycle to clean more rigorous cookware, it adds an extra boost of cleaning power to the traditional cycle to help break down grease and food particles more effectively. 

Anyone of these three cleaning settings are more effective than hand-washing dishes because our skin cannot withstand the increasingly high temperatures or accumulation of hot water necessary to eliminate germs and break down stuck-on food particles without damaging your cookware. On top of handwashing leaving your fingertips to take on the form of a raisin. Nobody wants that. 

There you have it—everything you need to know about the various cleaning cycles featured on select dishwasher models. And if you need a refresher on some of our top sanitizing dishwashers, take a look here . If you need any other assistance with your current dishwasher of you’re ready to upgrade to a new one, stop by Duerden's to shop our entire line of kitchen and cleaning appliances. We’ll help you find the right product to fit your home and your lifestyle. Visit us today.