Last Friday the U.S. Department of Energy issued a final rule effective November 30, 2020, that will once again permit American households to purchase dishwashers that actually clean dishes, as they had done for most of the machine’s 130 year history.

The October 30 final rule does not force anyone to change their currently installed dishwasher. And new machines will not be available for this year’s Thanksgiving meal, as future rulemaking is contemplated and manufacturers must produce the new class of machine. But the Department of Energy is giving consumers the choice to buy dishwashers that clean again while using less energy and less water.

Some might think it crazy that the federal government regulates dishwashers?

Congress enacted the first energy efficiency standard for dishwashers in 1987. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act (.. yes, the same law under which the Edison lightbulb was make illegal) has been updated three times, most recently by the Department of Energy in 2012. Arguably, dishwasher water and energy use have each declined by more than 50% over the past three decades.

The resultant effect is that modern dishwashers don’t clean dishes or cutlery well. Such is not surprising when hand dishwashing relies largely on physical scrubbing to remove food particles, the machine version relies on spraying hot water and heat, such that less water and less heat produce less cleaning over a longer period of time. Dishwashers that once took an hour from wash to dry today average two hours and 20 minutes, and even then they don’t accomplish the task. A 2016 GE Appliance survey of 11,000 dishwasher owners found that having to wait for hours for dishes to be done is a major consumer complaint.

Enter the Competitive Enterprise Institute. In 2018, the Department of Energy received a petition from the CEI to define a new product class under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, for standard residential dishwashers with a cycle time for the normal cycle of less than one hour from washing through drying. Following evaluation of the petition and receipt of more than 2,700 public comment, the Department granted CEI’s petition and proposed a dishwasher product class with a cycle time for the normal cycle of less than one hour. This final rule establishes a new product class for standard residential dishwashers with a cycle time for the normal cycle of one hour or less from washing through drying.

Some environmental zealots are not happy.

But getting the facts and science right, besides reducing the time consumers expend scrubbing and drying (.. think of improved quality of life), according to the EPA dishwashers use 3.5 to 5 times less water than it takes to do the job by hand (.. and yes, that is water that requires energy to be heated). They also sanitize dishes and even rinse away food allergens, that most hand washing cannot accomplish, making the average 1.5 kWh at a cost of 17 cents for electricity (to run a heavily soiled load) a bargain.

And curiously, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers has argued that dishwasher manufacturers have made significant investments to meet the current standards, and that relaxing (or any unexpected change in) the standards would make these stranded investments. But with more than 8 million new machines sold each year, manufacturers will get over it.

And lest you think this is not a big deal, more than 75% of households in the U.S. have a dishwasher, many of which take more than 2 hours to not actually clean the dishes.

We are already working with home and condominium builders on the renewed sense of possibility marketing the installation of the new dishwashers.

And yes, it is crazy, if not also bad environmental public policy that the federal government regulates the robot in my kitchen that cleans and dries the dishes; and keeps changing the rules to the point that the machine first invented in 1886 no longer accomplishes its purpose. This less bad new environmental regulation will allow Americans a renewed sense of purpose making dishwashers great again.