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Which is more energy efficient: dishwasher vs. hand washing

October 6, 2021

There is a long running debate about the most energy efficient way to wash your dishes – either using the dishwasher or washing by hand? This debate has been ongoing for as long as dishwashers have been on the market. Arguments range from time saved to water consumption, from costs to the impact these options have on the environment. But which option is truly the best?

When it comes to energy efficiency, hand washing dishes may seem like the ideal option for cleaning up after every meal. And judging only by what our eyes can see – the size of the kitchen sink versus the size of the dishwasher's interior - it's easy to come to that conclusion. But looks can be deceiving.

Newer model dishwashers, especially those with an ENERGY STAR certification, can use as little as 15 litres of water per load, with some average full-size dishwashers holding as many as 16 place settings.

About hand washing and water consumption

Hand washing that same number of dishes uses significantly more water, especially if you are in the habit of filling a sink full of hot water for washing and either filling a second sink or letting the tap run for rinsing.

Filling the average kitchen sink can take between 15 and 20 litres of water. While a running tap uses approximately six litres of water per minute, that depends on many factors, including water pressure and the age of the pipes.

Even with a smaller number of dishes being washed multiple times daily, water consumption is likely higher than it would be if you were running the dishwasher once daily. In addition to that, other steps can be taken to make dishwasher usage even more efficient.

Extra energy-saving steps

For starters, there is no need to pre-rinse dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. With today's newer models, sensors in the machine detect and determine the length of each cycle based on the number of food particles. If no food particles are detected, a shorter cleaning cycle can be used, simply remove food scraps and grease without rinsing. This will avoid extra rinsing and increasing your household's water consumption.

You can also skip the heated drying cycle. Many new dishwashers have an air-dry option which is more energy efficient. It's a good habit to use a rinsing aid and open the dishwasher door a crack at the end of each cycle to help dry the dishes.

The following steps also help boost the dishwasher's energy efficiency:

  • Avoiding the urge to run the dishwasher when there isn't a full load
  • Positioning dishes according to the dishwasher manual's instructions for optimum cleaning

FAQs

Is it better to use a dishwasher or hand wash?

Yes. For most people, using a dishwasher can be more energy-efficient than hand washing dishes.

Is it cheaper to hand wash or use a dishwasher?

In most households, the dishwasher uses less water than hand washing and is, therefore, a cheaper alternative to washing dishes by hand.

How does a dishwasher differ from hand washing?

A dishwasher is designed to be energy efficient in its water usage and safety features for sanitizing while saving time by taking care of the dishes – a chore disliked by many. Hand washing dishes is the act of washing those dishes by hand in the kitchen sink. 

How does using a dishwasher save on energy and water?

Modern ENERGY STAR® certified dishwashers are energy-efficient by using less water which saves energy by avoiding having to heat that wasted water.