The New York Times offered some great advice recently for saving on home energy and water bills while also increasing efficiency and prolonging the life of home appliances like dishwashers and washing machines.

Read the full story for a better understanding, but here are the highlights:

Too much soap = bad. Aside from being a waste, excessive use of soap can actually stiffen your clothes, shorten the life of your appliances, lead to buildup of mold and mildew, and at times will not be fully rinsed—which means wearing or eating soap. Mmm. The proper amount, reports The Times, is often "one-eighth to one-half of what is usually recommended." (Check out Michael's tips for determining how much dishwasher soap is right for your home.)

Pre-rinsing = also bad. It's a waste of water—we're talking thousands of gallons. Plus, according to one dishwasher expert, it actually makes the dishwasher less effective because there will be nothing for the soap to work against.

So... except for when dishes really have food caked on, skip the pre-rinsing. Even in those cases, consider leaving the desperately dirty dishes in the sink while you wash other things—your hands, pots that don't fit in the dishwasher, etc.—and let the wastewater from that do the soaking. Efficiency is easy! Or here's a trick my dad came up with: instead of rinsing, simply load and start the dishwasher as normal, then stop it a minute or so into the cycle. Now that the dishes are wet (with water that's already going to be used), let them soak, and then just restart a few minutes later.

Also, use eco-friendly detergents. The chemicals used in major brands are not only toxic for the environment, they're pretty harmful to human health as well. When inhaled or come into contact with skin, they are absorbed by the body—an effect that is exacerbated by dishwashers and other appliances that use and emit heat (and release smaller compounds, which can work their way more easily into small spaces like the lining of your lungs and other organs). Brands like such as Seventh Generation are great—or you can always try making your own.