In this parched era of lawn watering crackdowns, guilt-inducing showerheads and canceled Slip 'N Slide parties, many have taken to viewing water-consuming household appliances in a different light.

If you have a dishwasher at home (author note: I envy you), perhaps you’ve even considered switching over to hand-washing dirty dishes in the sink as part of an overall effort to save precious H20 and decrease your household water footprint.

This isn’t necessarily the best idea.

Unless your dishwasher is ancient, hand-washing actually requires more water (and energy) to get the job done. Although there are exceptions that can be made, using a newer model dishwasher, particularly an Energy Star branded model, is the most efficient way to clean those forks, knives and salad plates. So unless you consider yourself a master in the technique of efficiently washing dishes by hand, please, don’t abandon that dishwasher for the sake of water conservation.

And what about other in-need-of-cleaning household items that are normally vigorously washed by hand in the sink or taken out back and given a good scrubbing and rinse-off with the aid of the leaky garden hose? Can you save water by running them through the dishwasher as well?

In some cases, yes. Many somewhat surprising items can be effectively cleaned — and sanitized — in the dishwasher, whether it’s just a quick rinse or for a full cycle. Some of these items you can totally add in with your juice glasses and plastic cutting boards while others you may want to clean individually or with similar items. General rule of thumb: the more you can pack into a single load without damaging/shrinking/ruining anything, the better. And it goes without saying, if cleaning a certain item in the dishwasher gives you pause, check with the care instructions, if available, first.

Happy non-dish dishwashing! 

Shoes

Rubber flip-flops, rain boots, galoshes and canvas sneakers all go for a deep-cleaning ride in the dishwasher. Just turn off the heat dry cycle and remove all liners or inserts beforehand.

Toys

Barf-splattered My Little Ponies, dirt-smeared G.I. Joes and other toys of the plastic and rubber variety can be cleaned — and sanitized — in the top rack of a dishwasher provided that they’re free of electrical or battery-operated components. The same goes for baby and pet toys, although proceed with caution if the toy in question has a squeaker inside. Placing the toys in a lingerie bag is recommended. If in doubt, check for cleaning instructions or a care label.

Nearly everything populating your bathroom

Soap dishes, sink and bathtub drain plugs, shower caddy, rubber bath mats, showerheads, faucet handles and toothbrush holders (although the ADA takes a "not the best idea idea" stance, some even recommend toothbrushes themselves) can be deep cleaned in the dishwasher.

Cleaning supplies

Household cleaning supplies that themselves need a good cleaning — sponges, vacuum attachments, plastic dustpans, broom ends, glass and dish brushes, et. al — should all be good to go for a sanitizing spin in the dishwasher.

Garden tools

Provided that they have plastic or metal and not wooden handles, the contents of your garden trug or toolbox should be a-okay to run through the dishwasher.

Glass light fixture covers

A no-brainer for the top rack, provided that the fixtures in question aren’t antique or painted.

Potatoes

Top shelf; rinse and hold; hold the soap. You’re welcome.

Grease-caked vent covers and grilles

Again, you’re welcome.

Outlet covers and light switch plates

Often overlooked, these things are dust-, dirt- and grime-magnets. A run through the trusty old un lave-vaisselle will render them good as new. Just make sure they’re properly dry before screwing them back in place.

Trash can lids

While you might be tempted to incorporate some items on this list into a regular load of dishes to consolidate/save energy and water, a filthy trash can lid probably isn't one of them. And if they fit, you can also clean entire plastic waste baskets or compost bins in the dishwasher, too.

Adult playthings

Like with kid’s toys, toys for consenting adults normally found stashed away somewhere in the boudoir (perhaps they’ve gotten a bit dusty?) can be run through the dishwasher, top rack, for a good de-junking depending on what type of material they’re made from (glass and silicone are generally kosher). Obviously, sex toys with batteries or plug-in cords need to be handled in a different manner. As always, check the care instructions provided by the manufacturer before proceeding.

Refrigerator shelves and drawers

If they fit, then by all means go for it.

Window screens

See above.

Hubcaps

The pots and pans cycle works like a charm. 

Oven knobs

These bad boys can get real dirty, real quick. Put ‘em in the silverware caddy and they’ll come out fresh and sparkling. Ceramic and metal (no brass!) kitchen cabinet knobs can go in, too.

Combs, hairbrushes and other beauty accoutrement

Brushes, combs, make-up applicators, nailbrushes, barrettes and other plastic items that you use to make yourself pretty can be run through the dishwasher. However, beware of wood or certain natural materials that can be warped by a dishwasher — clean those by hand. And, for the sake of your entire household, make sure you’ve removed any lingering hair from brushes beforehand.

Baseball caps

Some lifehackers swear by this top rack-only cleaning method for spiffing up dirt-encrusted, foul-smelling baseball caps, provided that the dishwasher's dry heat cycle is turned off and no bleach is involved. Although not compulsory, these gizmos, marketed for use in dishwashers and washing machines, help caps maintain their shape. Read what cleaning guru Jolie Kerr has to say on the topic.

Protective sporting gear

Shin guards, kneepads, hockey gear, mouth guards and the like — go ahead and throw these stinky and sweat-stained items in. It’s wise to hold off on the detergent, though. No dry cycle, either.

Any other dishwasher-worthy items we left out? Any dishwasher-centric household cleaning pointers you'd care to share? 

Related on MNN:

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.