Using dishwasher, or hand-washing - which is better? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 11-03-2013, 01:18 PM - Thread Starter
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This is a discussion my husband and I have every so often. I feel like we should use the dishwasher if we have a full load of dishes but hand wash if we don't have many, but he thinks hand washing is always better for the environment. We have a fairly new dishwasher and appliances are more energy efficient than they used to be. I suppose it's more about how much water we're using. I bet someone here has looked into this more than either my husband or I have. What have you found?
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#2 of 8 Old 11-03-2013, 03:25 PM
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Well on a personal tip, I don't like using the dishwasher if it isn't stainless steel because of BPA & friends.

However it is MORE efficient in water use. (the water is recirculated) It just uses energy also, but very little if it is Energy Star.

We have a little 4 seving dishwasher now but IMO even tho it would save water, it isn't worth it b/c of PIA factor most if the time (it has to be hooked up). I got it because handwashing all the time is real burden in my mind & the dishwasher makes it feel a little lighter. Plus I never feel like things like mason jars & bottles get clean enough via handwashing . . .
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#3 of 8 Old 11-03-2013, 04:09 PM
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Yep, the new water-efficient dishwashers use less water than hand washing. You probably do lose some of that effect if it isn't a full load though. Are you able to just keep stacking it until it's full and then run it? That's what we do. Although I always seem to have one hand wash load a day as well with things which either don't fit (large pots etc) or aren't dishwasher safe.

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#4 of 8 Old 11-09-2013, 10:53 AM
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I did some research on the environmental impact of dishwashers when we got ours two years ago, and my brother who is a home energy auditor added some helpful comments.  You're right: When you run a full load, the dishwasher is more efficient than hand-washing.  Use it on the "economy" or "energy saver" cycle if that gets the dishes clean.  Don't use "heated dry" which uses extra electricity; open the dishwasher when it's done and let the steam disperse, and then put anything that's still wet in the dish drainer or dry it with a towel.


BPA and other hazardous chemicals are a problem only for plastics and nonstick cookware.  Glass and ceramic dishes, as well as metal without nonstick coating, are safe in the dishwasher.  I hand-wash most plastic things, other than nylon cooking utensils that are safe at high heat.

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#5 of 8 Old 11-13-2013, 04:55 AM
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I'm very curious for the details of the studies on energy/water efficiency of handwashing vs machine washing. I can see how a HE dishwasher could be more efficient than someone who leaves the water running the entire time. But that is a very different style of hand washing than say, filling the sink with soapy water then rinsing all at once. Also, the temperature a dishwasher heats the water to is much hotter than I use by hand, so I'm curious how that factors in energy-wise, and it seems wasteful since I see no need to sterilize my dishes. 

And I doubt the calculations take into account all of the water used to rinse and pre-wash dishes that are going into the dishwasher. After having several different dishwashers over the years, I'm happy living without one and doing all the dishes by hand and it seems much more efficient. I touch the dishes fewer times, and don't end up washing them repeatedly because the dishwasher inevitably does a crappy job. 

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#6 of 8 Old 11-13-2013, 06:38 AM
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If you have a dishwasher that requires you to rinse and pre-wash dishes before putting them in, and then it still does a crappy job so you have to hand-wash some of the things afterward, then no, that is not an efficient dishwasher.  With the one we have, it is not necessary to rinse anything except dishes that have an obviously serious stuck-on-food problem (like cheese melted onto the plate) and these can be soaked by leaving them in the sink under the faucet so that water runs into them when we wash our hands.  Even though it takes us 4-5 days to fill our dishwasher, which means the food is drying onto the dishes, >95% of them get sparkling clean; there are a few positions in the racks that seem to be harder for the water to reach into every part of the dish, and we are still learning how best to arrange them, but overall I'm very impressed by the cleanliness.


In comments on the article I linked above, my brother explained why it is more energy-efficient to run the water in your sink until it gets hot (bringing water heated by your water-heater to the kitchen) and then start the dishwasher, than to start it cold.  Because I also have to run the water until it's hot for hand dishwashing, I try to do both at the same time: run the water once, start the dishwasher, fill the sink.  Sometimes I even collect the water that runs out before it gets hot, and use it to water plants.

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#7 of 8 Old 11-13-2013, 10:00 AM
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#8 of 8 Old 11-17-2013, 06:21 PM
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It really depends on what I'm washing. If I have an overflowing sink, I will use the dishwasher to help me out. If I only have a few dishes from my children and I from breakfast or lunch, it won't fill up the dishwasher, and we'll need them again soon enough anyway - we can't wait for the dishwasher to fill up. I usually have wooden-handled knives and utensils with decorative handles that I want to hand wash anyway so the prettiness doesn't wash off in the dishwasher, so washing those takes care of bringing the hot water into the kitchen and the dishwasher does the rest. Thanks for reminding me to turn heated dry off; if I open the finished dishwasher before I go to bed and put a few dishes up in the dish drying rack on the counter, they'll be dry in the morning.

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