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Hand washing vs. Dishwasher

1 May 2008

One question I get asked fairly frequently (along with “what’s with the mercury in CFLs” and “how did you get this job”) is “what is more energy efficient – washing dishes by hand or using a dishwasher?” Heating water can account for up to 20% of a Minnesotan’s energy bill and creates a lot of carbon dioxide pollution, so using less hot water is a good goal to work towards. Dishes, however, must be washed properly to ensure high levels of sanitation – which means hot, hot water. So what is better, using a dishwasher or using your own two hands?

The unanimous answer is the right dishwasher, used the right way, uses less energy and creates less pollution than doing dishes by hand. This means, of course, that the wrong dishwasher used poorly won’t save you energy – so if you’re using a dishwasher, make sure you’re doing it right:

  • Stop pre-rinsing. If there’s food left on the plate, scrape it off instead of using water, and you can avoid using up to twenty-five gallons of water when you clean your dishes. Your dishes will get just as clean, we promise.
  • Get an EnergyStar dishwasher! These dishwashers are almost 50% more efficient that the minimum Federal energy consumption standards, which means you spend less money on water and electricity, and more money on…fun things.
  • Pack things in – run your dishwasher only when it is full.
  • And, finally, skip the heat-dry and air-dry your dishes. This can cut your dishwasher’s energy use by up to 50%.

:: Green Your

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Shen permalink
    9 May 2008 8:00 am

    Do we need to wash clothes in hot water, I feel the heat from the dryer is more capable of killing germs than hot water, Need your comment.

  2. 14 May 2008 6:50 am

    Shen: If you’re really interested in killing germs in your clothing, I would recommend hanging them outside to dry. Sunlight kills bacteria more effectively than your washer or drier would – without costing you money or creating pollution!

  3. Jacobs permalink
    14 May 2008 9:32 am

    I belong to a small group and do not have enough volunteers to do the entire community thing. Another group in a simular circumstance had you come said you didnt want to go out to speak unless enough people signed up.
    Again, being a smaller group there is no way I can guarentee that people will sign up as they dont really know what your organization is, does. However, I feel that wether they sign up or not you have sent your message to them and it will make them go home and think about things you spoke of.
    We had considered setting up a time and invite the community and have their admission be to bring a food item for the food shelf. Again , no guarentee of how many would come or sign up.

    Please advise.

  4. rob permalink
    13 March 2009 12:01 pm

    Sounds great but what about the energy consumed mining the steel, aluminum, oil, copper and all of the other raw materials required to make the dishwasher. Then add to that the energy cost to make the parts, assemble them into a dishwasher and then (no doubt) ship that dishwasher halfway around the globe. Now we’ve got to run more water pipe/drain pipe for water delivery and copper wire for electricity (more materials). Finally, our dishwasher is installed and ready to save us energy! Unfortunately, 5 to 10 years later (if we’re lucky) the dishwasher breaks down and we find out that the cost of labor and parts to repair the dishwasher is nearly the cost of a new dishwasher so we start the process all over. I’m sorry but I’m just not buying it. More is not less. More is more. And “more is not sustainable”. Just my opinion.

    • 13 March 2009 12:14 pm

      Good point, Rob! Life cycling is an important aspect to consider when looking at sustainability – what kind of resources were used to create the object we are using, what happens to it when it is no longer usable, and all the time in between. I honestly don’t know what the exact emissions are for the whole life cycle of a dishwasher…I’m going to do some research and see what I can find!

  5. Nathaniel permalink
    6 November 2009 8:05 pm

    All the websites I have looked at show that dishwashers use far less energy and water than handwahing. One website even said that materials included dishwashers are still better for the environment. Not to mention the fact that dishes get much cleaner and it saves tons of time.


  1. Don’t believe us about the dishwashing? « Challenge for Change
  2. Shower vs. Bath « Challenge for Change
  3. I’ve written 600 posts on energy efficiency? « The Minnesota Energy Challenge Blog

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