What *Really* Uses Less Water: Using the Dishwasher, or Washing Dishes by Hand?

"In the dishwasher vs hand washing battle, which is better for the planet? The most eco-friendly way to do your dishes might surprise you."

In the dishwasher vs hand washing battle, washing dishes by hand seems like it would use less water and be better for the environment. In reality, that’s surprisingly not the case.

Aside from the dishwasher being more convenient (and basically doing the work for you!), research shows it’s also much more energy- and water-efficient than traditional hand washing techniques. A lot more efficient, in fact.

Dishwasher vs Hand Washing: Which Is Better?

While John Schein, program manager for homes and buildings in the EPA’s WaterSense program, says it’s possible to use less water and energy by washing dishes by hand, it’s not very likely. “In order to wash the same amount of dishes that can fit in a single load of a full-size dishwasher and use less water, you would need to be able to wash eight full place settings and still limit the total amount of time that the faucet was running to less than two minutes,” he said in a statement.

Schein is specifically talking about Energy Star-certified dishwashers, but experts say most modern dishwashers outperform washing by hand. Washing dishes by hand sends more than two gallons per minute down the drain, while dishwashers typically use between 2 and 8 gallons of water per cycle. Quite the difference, huh?

dishwasher vs hand washing

If Using a Dishwasher Isn’t an Option

Let’s say it takes you 10 minutes to do the dishes. If you leave the water running the entire time (as many people do), those two gallons of water that go down the drain per minute add up to 20 gallons by the time you’re done. Luckily, there’s still more sustainable ways to wash your dishes by hand.

To minimize water usage when washing dishes by hand, fill half of a split sink with hot water and a small amount of eco-friendly dish soap. Then, fill the other side with clean hot water. (If you don’t have a split sink, simply use a big bowl.) Scrape any leftover food waste into the compost bin.

Scrub your dishes on the soapy side of the sink, then transfer them to the clean side for a rinse. Then quickly dry with dish towels, or let them air-dry on a rack. By using this method, you’re likely using the same amount of water as a typical Energy Star dishwasher.

Still looking for ways to help lessen the environmental impacts of your dish washing habits? Here are some other quick ways to minimize energy and water usage.

dishwasher vs hand washing

3 Ways to Minimize Energy and Water Usage

1. Don’t Pre-Rinse Your Dishes

Think about how many gallons of water it takes to rinse off leftover food. Instead, scrape it into a compost bin, and leave the cleaning to the dishwasher.

2. Aim for Full Dishwasher Loads

It’s temping to run the dishwasher every night, even when there are only a handful of dishes in it. To save energy and water, stick to full loads.

3. Install a WaterSense Aerator

If you wash dishes by hand, consider installing a WaterSense aerator on the kitchen faucet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, they can reduce a sink’s water flow by 30 percent or more without you even noticing. (Extra bonus: It’ll save you money!)

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In the dishwasher vs hand washing battle, which is better for the planet? The most eco-friendly way to do your dishes might surprise you.

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