Dishwasher vs Hand Washing: Which is Cheaper and Greener?

Dishwasher vs Hand Washing

This argument has been raging since dishwashers became standard kitchen equipment. The manufacturers of dishwashers claimed from the beginning that their appliances were more than just a labor-saving device. They claimed that using a dishwasher would save you money in water and energy costs.

In recent years, studies came out on the side of hand dishwashing as the best option, mainly from an environmental point of view. It was shown in several studies that you could actually save on both water and energy for heating the water, by doing the dishes the old way, by hand.

While the debate never really went away, new studies in Europe are showing that there are so many variables that it isn’t a cut and dried argument at all. Lots of complicated figures and confusing formulas are used that it can be a bit hard to decipher.

So I thought I’d put it into language that everyone can understand so you can make up your own mind as to which method, of getting the dirty dishes clean, is the greenest and most cost-effective.

Firstly, it does seem that the numerous variables make it very hard to make a fair comparison. It all depends on – the model and age of the dishwasher (the automatic one, not the human one); by what means the water is heated in the home; how the task of hand washing is performed; the frequency of the dishwashing. Each of these factors could change the result as far as environmental and cash savings.

From an environmental perspective, it is the carbon footprint of the process that is important. From a money saving perspective, it is how much water and energy are used for each method. For the sake of the exercise, it is assumed that the same amount of dishes are washed by each method, this being the eight place settings plus 6 serving/preparation dishes that the standard automatic dishwasher holds.

Water: an average dishwasher with no Energy Star Rating uses 6 gallons for each cycle while one with an Energy Star Rating uses just 4 gallons.

To equal this, the hand dishwasher would need to be able to rinse as well as wash the same number of pieces – 54 in all – in 2 minutes worth of water. This is based on the statistic that the average household faucet runs at a rate of 2 gallons a minute. To break this down even further, you would have just 9 ½ ounces of tap water for each piece (and that includes both washing and rinsing).

Energy: the amount of energy used by an automatic dishwasher varies from 1.59 kWh and 0.87 kWh per load.

With hand dishwashing, the energy consumed is in heating the tap water. Assuming you are using the hot water faucet and not boiling the water, you would use around 0.28 kWh with a gas water heater, 0.43 kWh if it is a gas storage water heater. An electric storage model uses 0.28 kWh, while a tankless water heater would use 0.35 kWh.

Going by these figures alone, it would seem that hand dishwashing is the better option as far as being greener and saving money. So much for theory though; would it really be possible to wash and rinse 54 pieces in just the amount of water that comes out of the faucet in only two minutes? Four gallons of water for both washing and rinsing so many dishes doesn’t seem much to me – it actually works out at one cup of water for every plate!

In the real world, it looks as though the dishwasher wins in both categories – it is the greener option and also is more cost-effective.

There are some conditions to declaring the machine the winner though! Aren’t there always?

It is only the most efficient and cost- effective if you run it with a full load. However, you are able to increase its advantage by using the machine’s ‘light’ cycle and not using the drying period at the end of the cycle (this uses heat to dry the dishes).

Hopefully I haven’t confused you too much with all those numbers but it’s great to have reached an informed decision about which method of getting the dishes cleaned is the best way to go. Go green and save money at the same time, that’s the way I like it!

What have you experienced? Do you hand wash or dish wash and why?


24 thoughts on “Dishwasher vs Hand Washing: Which is Cheaper and Greener?

  1. When looking at the dishwasher, from a cost (and green) perspective, you have to consider the cost and impact of the actual machine itself. Buying one will cost a lot of money and it will only last for a certain amount of time, so you have to spread that cost over the number of washes you get, and also consider the ‘green’ perspective on the impact of manufacturing and later disposing of it.

    We use our dishwasher for most plates, dishes, silverware, and cups. Pots and pans and such get washed by hand.

  2. That is a good point MB. Making the dishwasher does cost more and will eventually need to be replaced. However we do need to think about the value we put on water. Water is quickly becoming a commodity around the world. By limiting the amount we use by using dishwashers, we may find we can make water last us longer which is then worth the cost financially. If we use up too much too fast, we won’t survive as a species.

  3. Why would you be *running* the water for each dish? Four gallons of water and ALL you’re washing is the few dishes that can go in a dishwasher? Of course that’s doable.

    If you have a double sink – hot soapy water in the first sink, hot clear water in the second sink. You can do an incredible amount of dishes – including pots and pans – by washing in the soapy water, dipping quickly in the rinse water and handing to someone to dry. Of course you need to scrape all dishes very well into the garbage first. (If you’re only washing enough to fill a drying rack, then your water will sit too long between loads and get cold.) My Mom always insisted that the water be really, really hot to start.

    I wonder if it’s cultural – most of the people I’ve known, growing up and now, don’t have dishwashers.

    1. Interesting – most people I have known, growing up and now, do/did have dishwashers. In our household I was the dishwasher until I left for university at which point a machine was purchased.

  4. Good stats – we often lean towards hand washing because I would have thought that the dishwasher uses more energy. We always wait until there is a full load to run the dishwasher, so good to know we’re on the right track.

  5. I have no idea which is cheaper because we hand wash everything in this house. I’m sure a full load dishwasher would be cheaper and I guess it depends when you run it especially with time of use here in Ontario. I’m sure one day we will get a dishwasher but I’m sure it will simply be to fill a hole in the kitchen cabinetry. Cheers Mr.CBB

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  10. In my opinion, it is greener to hand wash. You only consume water during hand washing while using dish washer, you consume both water and electricity. Perhaps, someone can make study about this to get some facts or data to verify my claim.

    1. Some studies have been done and they have found the water impact is great when you hand wash compared to dish washing. However you do make a good point about the electricity. That is a factor to take into consideration. If you have green sourced electricity though, than water conservation should be your priority.

    2. Actually, you use water and electricity when hand washing. Unless, you’re washing your dishes solely with cold water, you’re water heater will be turning on the replenish the tank.

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