Dishwasher vs. Hand Washing: Which is a Better Option?

The debate continues over whether hand washing dishes is more energy and cost effective than using a dishwasher and the answer is pretty clear.

November 20, 2015
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More than 60% of American homes have a dishwasher. Items such as dishwashers have become standard amenities in homes built in the 2000’s compared to only 46% of homes having a dishwasher in the 1960’s.

The debate over whether hand washing dishes is more energy and cost efficient than using a dishwasher has been ongoing for years. The conversation changes drastically when talking about dishwashers made after 1994. The reason being, a dishwasher made before 1994 wastes more than 10 gallons of water per cycle. A new, efficient dishwasher will save about 1,600 gallons of water over its lifetime. On average, newer dishwashers account for about 1.4% of our indoor water usage, which is a relatively small percentage.

According to a German study, A European Comparison of Cleaning Dishes by Hand, it took about 27 gallons of water to clean 12 place settings of dishes. A new EnergyStar Certified dishwasher will use less than 5.5 gallons of water per load.

If a dishwasher is your dishwashing method of choice it’s time to stop rinsing your dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. Rinsing dishes prior to loading is counterproductive and ends up using much more water than needed. Newer dishwashers get the dishes just as clean, if not cleaner, than washing the dishes by hand and use significantly less water. It’s time for the rinsing to stop, but the scraping must continue. The old food does need to be scraped off, but this can be done without the water running.

Today’s dishwashers use less than half as much energy and water as those made before 1994.

New dishwashers also come equipped with a yellow EnergyGuide label produced by the U.S. Department of Energy. The label estimates the amount of energy in kilowatt-hours (kWh) that each model consumes, provides an estimate of its yearly operating cost and compares it with the energy use of similar models. This is a great tool for consumers in the market for a new dishwasher.

Investing in an energy efficient dishwasher, as well as other efficient appliances, is a simple way to do your part to combat climate change. Through human activity we are continually releasing greenhouse gasses into the environment. By improving energy efficiency through the use of a newer, efficient dishwasher, we are helping to reduce air pollution and its impact on climate change.

There’s one big caveat to loading everything in the dishwasher. Never put anything plastic in the dishwasher. Repeated wear and tear on plastic, including running plastic through the dishwasher, could cause BPA, Phthalates and other chemicals to leach out of the plastic when heated.

Hormone-disrupting chemicals leach from almost all plastics, even BPA-free plastics. Heating the plastic (stressing it) may cause more leaching of the chemicals.

Take the time to wash all plastic including lids, dishes and cups by hand. Everything else can and should go into the dishwasher. In the long run, you’ll save water, time and money.

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