Advice | Fighting over how to load the dishwasher and save gas? We have the right answers. – The Washington Post

Definitive answers to the most common household battles over sustainability.
A house divided cannot stand. Yet making eco-friendly choices at home can be divisive. Couples squabble over whether green cleaning products really work. Is it more efficient to roll down the car windows or turn on the air conditioning? The proper way to load a dishwasher can spark endless debates.
It’s time to lay a few of these debates to rest. I set out to answer common threats to domestic tranquility with hard data. It might be the evidence you’ve been seeking to settle an argument or, be warned, the ammunition your spouse needs to say: “I told you so.”
Many dismiss eco-friendly cleaning products as ineffective, and for many years that was an accurate assessment, says Jason Marshall, who runs the laboratory of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
During the late 1990s, green cleaning products, while less toxic, often didn’t pack the cleaning power of their conventional counterparts. Since then, manufacturers have poured millions of dollars into more effective and environmentally responsible cleaning sprays and other products. Today, based on the lab’s head-to-head tests of green cleaning products against more toxic cleaners, Marshall argues there’s no compromise.
“Green products can and do perform as effectively as traditional cleaning products,” he says. Even the toughest household jobs, such as sanitizing surfaces of E. coli, can be done as effectively without toxic chemicals.
But this doesn’t mean that all products labeled as good for the environment perform equally well. To guarantee that a product is as effective as its conventional counterpart, you’ll need to look for independent certifications such as Green Seal, EPA Safer Choice and UL Ecologo. To qualify for these seals, environmentally friendly products must work as well their conventional counterparts, says Marshall. “That eliminates the guesswork,” he adds.
If you don’t want to buy cleaning supplies, TURI advises on how to make your own.
Is it worth all the trouble? The chemicals in cleaning products are riskier for your health, not just the environment. Conventional cleaners may contain toxic substances, including PFAS, also known as forever chemicals, and phthalates. Both have been linked to heart problems, low birth weight and certain cancers.
Studies show that people who are exposed to cleaning products regularly, such as janitors and housekeepers, have higher rates of asthma, breathing issues and skin rashes. Researchers found fewer cases among those exposed to more eco-friendly products.
This debate has raged since air conditioning was first added to vehicles in 1940. Air conditioning lowers your car’s fuel efficiency by as much as 25 percent — but keeping your windows down increases fuel consumption because the car is less aerodynamic.
Which is better?
Thanks to our friends at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Lab, we have hard data. Researchers measured fuel consumption while driving a 2009 Toyota Corolla at speeds up to 80 mph with the windows up and the air conditioning running. They repeated the experiment with the windows down and the AC off.
The bottom line: Rolling down the windows is usually more fuel efficient until you hit highway speeds, at least in a sedan. In the Corolla, driving with open windows used less fuel at speeds up to 60 mph. Above 60 mph, it became more efficient to run the air conditioner at half-capacity. Above 75 mph, it was more efficient to run the AC at full blast compared with having the wind blowing in your hair.
But your mileage may vary, especially if like most Americans, you drive an SUV or a crossover. When the researchers repeated the experiment with a 2009 Ford Explorer, they found air conditioning — even at half-capacity — sucked up more fuel than leaving the windows down at speeds up to 80 mph. Running the AC at full blast was always less efficient.
So what should you do this summer (besides rethinking that Cadillac Escalade)? The Energy Department recommends a few general tips:
Americans are divided by an eternal kitchen cleanup dilemma: Paper or cloth? In the United States, paper towels have long reigned supreme over spills. American households bought about $5.7 billion worth in 2017 — nearly as much as all other nations combined.
But the status quo is being upended by an abundance of cleaning rag options from microfiber to Swedish dishcloths, alongside the classic cotton cloth. What’s the better choice today?
To give you a precise answer, we would need a life-cycle analysis of all the energy and material used at every step from manufacturing to disposal for each option. From what I can tell from my research, the great scientific minds of our generation have not yet turned their attention to this. But we do have a 2018 back-of-the-napkin estimate comparing emissions generated by paper and cloth napkins. If you’re only washing cloth napkins at home, they come out as the superior choice. That probably applies to the use of paper towels, as well.
Perhaps just as important: Paper towels don’t work as well. A 2010 study of cleaning materials in hospitals found paper came in well behind microfiber cloths and cloth towels for overall efficacy.
The answer: Use reusable when possible. If you do use paper, save it for the truly gross messes.
Dishwashing inspires more strife than any other household chore. A 2018 study by the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit studying family dynamics, found women in heterosexual couples felt the most resentment when the chore was shared unequally compared with any other such task from shopping to laundry.
Loading the dishwasher is no less contentious. Family debates on the proper way to do this are legion. But you might have noticed such arguments are short on evidence. So I asked researchers and manufacturers about data-based advice on how to do it right. Here’s what they said:
First, don’t prerinse your dishes: Really. Scraping is enough in most cases. Today’s machines rely on leftover food particles to do the job properly. “Cleaning dishes beforehand hinders the effectiveness of the detergent,” Bree Lemmen of Whirlpool Kitchen told me by email.
Never overcrowd: This may sound obvious, but if spray and detergents can’t reach every surface, dishes or silverware may come out dirty — necessitating a second, wasteful wash. Worse, if a sprayer arm gets stuck, says Lemmen, concentrate sprays can damage dishware.
Dishware should face the center and angle downward: This ensures the rotating spray arm, which shoots water upward, rinses adequately. This helps with cleaning and drying by preventing pooling.
Larger items in the back and small items in between: Add mixing bowls, pans and trays in the back or sides of the bottom rack, says Bosch. You can efficiently intersperse small plates to fill any gaps. Don’t nest forks and spoons together.
Place cups and delicate items on the top rack: Those little protrusions on the upper and lower racks? They hold cups and other items in place, preventing them from shifting and possibly chipping.
Extend the life of your stuff: Plastic items should go on the upper rack to avoid the highest water temperatures that can cause cracking. Hand-wash Teflon, copper, aluminum, cast-iron pans, wooden utensils, sharp knives and insulated mugs.
Dishwashers don’t like it too hot: Turn your water heater from 140 to 120 degrees, as the Energy Department recommends. This not only avoids the risk of serious burns and saves as much as $400 annually, but Bosch says your soap won’t work as well above temperatures of 120 to 125 degrees.