Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The deal with dishwashers

Photo courtesy of CapitalChicksSince the start of the Low Impact Week excitement, if I may call it that, there have been several suggestions for adding hand washing your dishes instead of using your dishwasher as one of the low impact action items. I have always been under the impression that hand washing your dishes wasted a lot more water and that the dishwasher was way more efficient at cleaning.

So, I did a little poking around to make sure I wasn't misguided and found some information here. According to a study done at the University of Bonn, they found that a dishwasher uses one-half the energy and one-sixth the water as washing by hand. Oh yeah, and less soap too. Even the most conservative hand washers couldn't beat these stats, not to mention that the dishwasher-washed dishes came out cleaner to boot. Just make sure you only run full loads to maximize your energy and water efficiency.

Along the same line, I was recently inspired to start using the air-dry setting instead of running the dishwasher on heat-dry. It's not much extra work unless you have a lot of plastic containers, but they don't get all that dry with the heat-dry option anyway. I highly recommend it!


e4 said...

One minor point brought up elsewhere - if you know you have to wash dishes by hand, you may be more mindful of how many dishes you dirty. And fewer dishes used = fewer dishes washed = less water & soap.

But then, you can be mindful and use fewer dishes with a dishwasher too. The incentive just isn't quite the same...

Ananda Devika said...

That dishwasher study was the center of a lengthy debate over at Casaubon's Book not too long ago ( The gist of it was that the dishwashers they used are much different from American models and that the hand-washers were not using very conservative methods (running the water full-blash the whole time, etc). In general, I agree, though - I trust the dishwasher to clean my caked-on pots and pans much more efficiently than I every cook by hand! But it all depends on your definition of "clean" and the number of dishes you wash, as well as the energy-rating of your appliance...

oopuy said...

Crunchy, Thanks for clearing this up! I have often wondered about dishwashers versus hand-washing. It's amazing that we've actually created a machine that is more efficient than people (it's usually the other way around!). So, here's to responsibly-used dishwashers.

Kim said...

What if you don't throw out the water used to wash and rinse the dishes?

We save it, run it through cheesecloth (to catch the nasties), and then use it for the flowers, the garden, and even the fruit trees.

QT said...

Crunchy - I currently wash dishes by hand, and let me tell you, I have no problem believing that a machine is more efficient. I have to keep hot water in the sink while I am cooking to wash as I go, and that only lasts so long. Then I have to drain and add more hot H20. Even if I only fill the sink halfway or less, I think doing a FULL load on the "water miser" setting with no heat has to beat this system.

P~ said...

My wife will be very glad to hear this, I think handwashing would have been a deal breaker for her.

Anonymous said...

A few things we do to cut down on running the dishwasher as often:
1-Use the correct size dish for the job. We realized we were often using our large dinner plates or bowls when a salad plate or smaller bowl fit fine. Same with pans and serving bowls
Just doing this has cut a couple loads a week. One thing to note- we have one of those smaller size dishwashers so we can do this. If we had a large dishwasher we would run out of all our bowls before we filled it.
2-Use a cloth napkin to eat off of instead of a plate. Nothing messy but a sandwich or a piece of breakfast toast is fine. We just shake off crumbs when done.
3-Use the same cup or water bottle all day (sometimes for several days depending on what we are drinking). We just give it a quick rinse in between refills.
Nothing revolutionary here but these little things can add up.

Sally said...

Crunchy, thanks. I find that running a full dishwasher is much more effective than hand washing (and it's easier on my hands, too!). In addition to using the air dry option, I also have been experimenting with the shortest cycles ("Quick Wash," or "Light/China", instead of "Normal"). I find that if I just wipe off the dishes first--just scrape the remains off, no rinsing with water-- the DW cleans everything up just fine even on Quick Wash. I usually don't put pots & pans (or chef knives) in the DW at all, so this method might not work for the hardcore dried-on stuff. But I've been surprised at how effective the short cycles can be with only a little bit of pre-loading help.

Liz said...

This can be a very contentious issue, with those who wash by hand feeling they're more careful than the average study participant, and those with dishwashers feeling vindicated that machines are the answer.

The answer, as my dad likes to say is "Six of one, half a dozen of the other".

We've always washed our dishes by hand, mostly because we don't have a dishwasher, but also because it *is* possible to wash by hand without being wasteful. (I've probably used much more water in my life watering my garden than washing my dishes.)

But, I've cringed as a kind houseguest washed my dishes with the water on full bore. And there *are* small, super-efficient dishwashers that are usually European in design (and much more expensive than what the average joe has).

But it still doesn't mean that one way is better... there are plenty of super-efficient handwashers like my friend Margie who lives off grid (no dishwasher for her!). She has a toggle switch on her faucet, so as soon as a glass is rinsed, the water goes off.

Rather than saying washing with a machine is better than by hand, or vice versa, perhaps Low Impact Week could call for doing less dishes in general. How's do you do that? Use that glass more than once or twice before you wash it, brush the crumbs off your lunch plate and see how many times you can use it. Don't be so afraid of "germs" and feel that the only way your dishes get clean is with the hottest water possible.

Re: the air-dry. My parents dishwasher's drying mechanism was broken, so when the load was finished, we always opened the machine a bit, stuck a plastic container in the door to keep it cracked, and let them dry that way. Especially good in the winter when the air is so dry... like a low frills humidifier!

(Whew! This was a long first comment! But it's an issue that I think is important... we shouldn't point fingers at one another, and make others feel bad for their choices. We should all find ways to make our own choices BETTER.)

Anonymous said...

I've often wondered about this. My old roommate has worked on trails in the national park system for most of his life and so knows how to live on very few resources. He washed dishes by hand in a small sink with just a couple inches of water in the bottom. Then a quick sterilizing rinse. No running water, no sinks full of water. He probably used less than two gallons of water total to clean up a load of dishes. (And, by the way, our dishes came out clean and we never got sick over many years of using this method.) I'd like to see a dishwasher that can beat that especially when you have to include the environmental cost of manufacturing and transporting the dishwashers themselves! So, really, how conservative are those handwashers that are always compared with the dishwashers?

(This is all just food for thought. Believe me, I love any chance I get to use a dishwasher!!)

vwsista said...

Recently I simplified our kitchen. There are 4 of us in our family and we all now have 1 plate, 1 bowl and 1 glass/cup a piece. Same with silverware. We don't have a dishwasher and I was just getting so tired of all the dishes. Now I get them done in a flash! Not only that but it's easier for the girls to help. They can be in charge of their own dishes. We also use cloth napkins to eat off of if we are having a sandwich, toast or fruit.

I'm a first time commenter, too. I'm soooo diggin' this blog.

Anonymous said...

I only discovered your blog two days ago and am really enjoying it. My dishwasher broke four years ago. I decided at that time to replace it with shelves for my cookbooks. I have not missed it one bit. I do not feel that I waste much water by doing dishes by hand as I am very careful about how much water I use. But, I have noticed a few things which I have not seen mentioned by anyone yet, so I thought I would mention them.

First, I save time by washing my dishes by hand. A dishwasher only requires one set of hands on two separate occasions - loading and unloading. By recruiting my kids - we wash, dry and put away our dishes in the same amount of time it used to take me to load it on my own. The bonus is we talk and I find out more about what they are thinking.

Second, we are spared the noise and smell of a running dishwasher. I know that many newer models are quite quiet, but the only sound of hand washing is running water and conversation. Also, I had not really noticed the bleachy smell of a running dishwasher until I gave it up.

Bottom line, I think I will stick with hand washing as what I have gained outweighs what I have given up and I really think that the energy usage part of this equation is a "WASH."


P~ said...

A little story...
an old man has his grandson over for for the day. They enjoy eggs for breakfast and then, after the old man brings the dishes into the kitchen, they go out for a walk. later at Lunch the young man swears he sees some egg stuck to the edge of his plate. He asks if the dishes are clean. The granpa replies "clean as cold water can get 'em!". Not wanting to be picky, the grandson puts it out of his mind.
Later they sit down to some dinner, and now when the young man sees the egg on his plate he knows it's the same plates. "Grandpa, are you sure these plates are clean?" Again grandpa says "they're as clean as cold water can get ,em!"
After dinner the old mans old dog crawls up into his lap and the old man says to him... "Hey there Cold Water, you hungry boy?"

As long as we are careful I think either method would be better than Cold Water?!

Anonymous said...

well if you live in the woods you can just serve dinner on a large leaf and skip the wash cycle altogether and go right to recycle

Unknown said...

Your study says that modern dishwashers use 10 gallons (almost 38 liters!!!) of water per cycle. No way do I use that much water hand-washing dishes in an entire week! I wipe off (and maybe quick rinse) and re-use everything during the week. When I do hand-wash dishes at the end of the week, there isn't much to wash and I put a liter of water in a pot rather than filling the entire sink.

Creative Life Studio said...

First time visiting your site. Interesting bit on the dishwashers.
I'll be nabbing your Low-Impact week to post on my blog. Currently, we do most everything on that list, but I'm always thinking of new things.

I noticed your own list - oh yeah! Diva cup - THAT's what I'll do! Anyway, I wondered if you'd considered cloth instead of even 100% recycled TP. It's really not a big deal - especially if you've ever had to deal with cloth diapers, it is NOTHING! :) Keep the recycled stuff on hand when a bout of stomach flu hits, but otherwise, you should be good to go. LOL! Sorry, didn't mean to be gross on my first visit! ;) Just wondered if you had considered the idea.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Thanks for all your comments everyone. I guess it really depends on how strict a hand-washer you are. If you're my husband, then you'll blow through the entire hot water tank washing just the pots and pans. I think it's difficult to really minimize water usage when you're cooking three times a day for four people.

As for the gmpickets out there, the dishwasher would be a huge waste of energy and water. But it isn't practical for everyone.

I think people's tolerance for what's "clean", as anandadevika pointed out, is key here too. My mom's generation seems to be of the "swish and rinse in the same water" method, whereas I think we're a little more focused on "sterile".

Isle Dance said...

It depends on which electric dishwasher one uses. Rarely will one see mainstream data on but it's out there.

Anonymous said...

The dishwasher might use less WATER than hand washing if someone uses copious amounts of water (I don't). The study which is usually cited was not peer-reviewed and assumed people used a lot of water.

Regardless, this doesn’t factor in the energy and water used in mining the metals, getting the metals to the factory, pollution caused by the factory (differs across countries), energy used in manufacturing the parts of the dishwasher, pollution and energy involved in manufacturing plastic and vinyl aspects of the dishwasher, and energy involved in shipping the dishwasher to the show room, your house, running the dishwasher, and sending the dishwasher to the dump (and the environmental cost of the parts which won’t degrade for 10s of thousands of years).

Anonymous said...

OMG...Water falls from the sky. I feel dumber for having read all of the posts on this site.