White dishes being sprayed with water in a dishwasher

Using the dishwasher sanitize cycle to kill 99.999% of food soil bacteria

You probably use the Normal Wash cycle on your dishwasher for regular loads, as well as the Heavy Duty cycle for tougher jobs. But have you ever taken a look at your dishwasher’s sanitize cycle? Learn more about the sanitize cycle on your dishwasher by reading through these common questions and answers.

Read each section to learn more about the sanitize cycle on your dishwasher.

A dishwasher third rack loaded with cups and bowls

What is the sanitize cycle on a dishwasher?

Dishwasher sanitize cycles use hotter water and longer wash times to kill 99.999% of food soil bacteria. A common question from owners is how hot does a dishwasher need to be to sanitize effectively? Per the National Sanitation Foundation, dishwashers are required to heat water to a minimum of 150°F, although some dishwashers may go above that. A sanitize cycle will typically increase the heat during the main wash and finish with an even hotter final rinse.

Sanitize settings can add up to 1.5 hours to your cycle. On the dishwasher console, they will sometimes be labeled as a “Sani-Wash” or “Sani-Rinse” add-on to existing cycles, and should be accompanied by a light that will tell you if the load has been successfully sanitized. The Sani-Rinse option on a Whirlpool® dishwasher will eliminate 99.999% of food soil bacteria and can be added to a normal, sensor/auto or heavy cycle. There’s no need to load the dishwasher differently or go through any separate steps to run a sanitize cycle.

Wine glasses being sprayed in a dishwasher

Should I use detergent with the dishwasher sanitize cycle?

Yes. During the Sani-Rinse option, the hot water does a good job cleaning, but detergent is always needed to lift stuck-on food and grease off dishes. In order to achieve the deepest possible clean during the dishwasher sanitize cycle, consult the owner's manual for your appliance for cleaning solution requirements before purchasing a detergent.

For product-specific information for your Whirlpool® dishwasher, find the owner’s manual for your appliance on the Whirlpool Manuals & Literature page.

How often should I use the sanitize setting on my dishwasher?

The sanitize cycle is great for tough loads and occasional deep cleaning, but not necessary for everyday washes due to the extra time, energy and water they use. Using a sanitize cycle as directed by your dishwasher, or at least once a month, could help kill 99.999% of lingering food soil bacteria a normal wash didn’t get.

Sparkling clean stainless steel inside a dishwasher

Should I use the sanitize setting to clean my dishwasher?

While a sanitize cycle will kill food-soil bacteria, you'll want to use a dishwasher cleaning product to get rid of any streaks or residue on the inside of your dishwasher. Products like the affresh® dishwasher cleaner* usually recommend using a normal cycle rather than a sanitize cycle. Learn how to clean a dishwasher in three easy steps.

Looking for more ways to keep your kitchen tidy? Check out our collection of trash compactors today!

Is sanitize setting the same as sterilize on a dishwasher?

No. When using an appliance to keep your dishes clean, the reaction that occurs during a dishwasher sanitize cycle is not the same as sterilization. While dishwasher sanitize cycles can kill up to 99.999% of food soil bacteria, they're not capable of achieving the temperatures required to make dishes sterile.

 Dishes loaded into a stainless steel 3 rack dishwasher

What is the difference between sanitizing and sterilizing?

While sanitization and sterilization are both antimicrobial processes, the degree to which each method kills harmful germs and bacteria varies.

Most commonly used in professional settings like hospitals and pharmacies, sterilization methods aim to eliminate all traces of bacteria. The sanitizing process aims to lower bacteria. Unlike the sterilization process, sanitization can be achieved through a variety of non-commercial technologies–like those used by your home dishwasher.

Do dishwashers get hot enough to sterilize?

No. To kill microorganisms on dishes, a minimum temperature of 250°F must be maintained for several minutes in order for sterilization to occur. Because this temperature is much higher than most home dishwashers are capable of achieving, running dishes through a sanitize dishwasher setting will not cause sterilization.

A woman and child standing beside an open dishwasher in a contemporary kitchen

Discover Whirlpool® dishwashers

When it comes to keeping your dishes clean, sanitizing dishwashers can help you reclaim the reins of your kitchen.

From top and front control models to large capacity and portable units, Whirlpool brand’s extensive collection of dishwashers gives you the power to find an appliance that meets your needs. Simplify cleanup and streamline mealtime by discovering the Whirlpool® dishwasher that’s right for your household.

Find more info on cleaning dishes and laundry

Man loading a dishwasher in a modern kitchen

How long do dishwashers run?

We’ll explain why dishwashers can sometimes take a while to complete their cycles, and how to know if your appliance is performing at its best.

Stainless steel dishwasher in a modern kitchen

How to properly load a dishwasher

A properly loaded dishwasher also ensures more efficiency and better cleaning so you can save time and energy.

A woman putting away cleaning supplies in a laundry pedestal

Laundry and kitchen spring cleaning list

It’s the best time to tackle your forgotten kitchen and laundry tasks. Learn more about how to spring clean in this spring cleaning checklist.

Gold home heartbeat logo over image of a tablet with Whirlpool blog page displayed in the background

home heartbeat

Ready for more tips, home hacks and appliance guides?

Was this article helpful? Pass it on

*Affresh® and the recommending brand products are all owned and distributed by Whirlpool Corporation.