The Government Should Let People Buy Dishwashers That Work

August 9, 2019
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A half-century ago, dishwashers gave many people a way to abandon the “most monotonous job in the world.” Consumers were attracted to this new appliance and the escape it offered from housework drudgery. A good dishwasher was able to handle unrinsed dishes without a problem, and typically took only an hour to produce a clean, dry load.

Fast forward 50 years dishwashers are . . . less helpful. Modern dishwashers are slow—the one-hour cycles of the past replaced by two- and three-hour cycles. Despite the longer cycle times, consumers still find themselves both pre-washing and post-washing dishes, and then often drying dishes by hand.

What happened? The Department of Energy (DOE) imposed “efficiency” standards.

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The DOE regulations have turned the straightforward activity of using the dishwasher into, well, a chore. As cycle times that have increased and consumer satisfaction that has decreased, the DOE has acknowledged there is a correlation: Cycle times have increased because new standards compelled manufacturers to build dishwashers that use less water and heat. Which made them not clean very well. Increasing the cycle time was the solution for the decline in performance created by the efficiency standards.

This bizarre situation led the Competitive Enterprise Institute to petition the DOE last year to begin a rulemaking process that would allow the old, one-hour machines to be marketed again. These machines would be able to clean a load of dishes in an hour by increasing the amount of water, the water temperature, and overall energy usage—items which the current DOE regulations prohibit.

On July 2, 2019, the DOE granted the petition and has formally begun a rulemaking process to determine whether this change is warranted.

That smell? It’s freedom.


CEI’s petition drew more than 2,000 comments. They ranged from tales of prewashing to stories about people keeping 30-year-old machines in order to avoid purchasing new models. But not everyone wants people to have access to more efficient dishwashers.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. called the granting of the petition “outrageous” and an attempt to “shortchange consumers.” Which seems like maybe he’s missing the point.

Oddly enough, the current DOE regulations apply only to residential dishwashers. Commercial dishwashers are still incredibly efficient. Some of them have cycle times under three minutes. (Not a typo.)

This isn’t because commercial dishwashers use advanced alien technology. They’re just allowed to be manufactured without government regulations in place that make them less useful.

It would be nice if the federal government granted citizens the same rights and privileges it grants businesses.

Lauren McCarthy

Lauren McCarthy is a third-year law student at the University of Massachusetts and a summer associate at Competitive Enterprise Institute.