Hey Mr. Green,
To conserve energy, I've asked my wife to never use the dishwasher to dry the dishes but she thinks that using the "heated dry" cycle protects us against germs and she surreptitiously overrides the air-dried settings. I argue that like millions of healthy people before us, we always "air-dried" in the dish strainer before owning a dishwasher. Can you help clarify all the benefits to this recommended climate friendly practice?
--Don in Province, New Hampshire
At the risk of echoing my fellow advice columnist Dear Abby, you've got to put a stop to this surreptitious behavior before you end up at a marriage councilor.
The heated dry cycle requires more electricity than air-drying or not drying at all. Heated drying can demand an 25 extra kilowatt hours per year or more, which will result in more than 50 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired plant, along with other pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which is why the EPA and the most respected energy conservation organizations advise us not to use the heat-dry feature. Now 50 pounds may not sound like a lot, but it is cumulative effect of small uses of power like this that contribute a lot to the 22 tons of CO2 that the average U.S. resident generates every year.
Finally, tell her to quit stressing about germs. There is no more danger in not heat-drying than if you put dishes on a rack. Just open the door of the dishwasher and let the air dry things out. We've become way too fearful of germs anyhow, thanks to an army of marketing wizards who have created an exaggerated fear of microorganisms. Moreover, some researchers suspect that a lack of exposure to germs may make kids more susceptible to allergies because insufficient experience coping with invasive substances messes up their immune systems. Even more interesting, some scientists speculate that a bacteria found in soil actually functions as an antidepressant. If the need for such a germ really explains kids' traditional propensity to make mud pies, we could stop medicating them and turn the tykes loose in the biggest, gooiest puddles we can find.