Dishwasher or hand wash?

It may be hard to believe, but an electric dishwasher is a greener choice than hand washing dishes. Washing dishes by hand can use up to 27 gallons of water per load. On the other hand, an Energy Star certified dishwasher can use as little as 3 gallons per load, saving almost 5,000 gallons of water every year.

How do dishwashers save energy? Water heaters require energy to heat the water that comes out of the faucet. Most newer dishwashers have heaters inside that warm water more efficiently than the water heater, and if it is Energy Star certified, it can use less than half the energy of washing dishes by hand. How new does your dishwasher need to be? In 2013, new standards required dishwashers to use as much as 5 gallons per load. In comparison, units built before 1994 can waste more than 10 gallons of water per cycle.

Even rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher is wasteful. According to Consumer Reports, pre-rinsing wastes more than 6,000 gallons of water per household annually. Most dishwashers can handle bits of food, so don’t worry. Simply scrape off the big food waste and your dishes will still come out clean. These numbers only apply to full loads so be sure to fill up the dishwasher before running it.

For those who worry about sanitation, keep in mind that it takes water that is around 170 degrees Fahrenheit to fully sanitize dishes. This is too hot for an average person to handle and would require the water heater to warm more water, wasting more energy.

So, hand wash what you must and put the rest in the dishwasher. Not only is this cleaner and better for the environment, but you’ll get back a few extra minutes in your day too. Here some other dish cleaning related tips you’ll want to consider as you live a more sustainable life.

  • Use silicone sponges: Unlike conventional sponges, silicone ones have a lifespan of a year because they are non-porous and do not house germs the way synthetic sponges do. To clean, simply toss it in the dishwasher.
  • Choose natural soaps: There are many natural soaps on the market that use ingredients like coconut oil and citrus.
  • Repurpose things as drying cloths: Whether it’s an old baby blanket or a cut up t-shirt, anything can work as a drying cloth as long as it does the job.


Written by Emily Su, Class of 2022

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