Dish Washing Debate

Chores are no fun. Not for me, anyway. All the same, there are some chores that I don’t mind that much, and some that I really hate. The household task that I loathe above all others is washing dishes.

More dishesWhen I was young and single and still in university I did not have a dishwasher. I often resorted to tactics such as washing a single bowl because I wanted some cereal and all my bowls were dirty. It wasn’t pretty. So when I got married one of the requirements that I had for my first apartment with my new husband was that it must have a dishwasher. I didn’t want my new marriage to fall apart over my spotty washing habits.

That was 9 years ago, but not much has changed. I still hate the dishes. I live and die by my dishwasher. Loading and unloading seems a minor price to pay for not having to stick my hands in dishwater. But I wonder, what is the environmental impact of my dishwasher use? How does it compare to washing by hand?

I am very relieved to learn that several studies suggest dishwashers are the greener choice. They use less water on average, and by extension they also use less energy to heat the water. This is especially true for energy efficient dishwashers.

The dishwasher vs. hand washing debate is not a clear-cut victory for the dishwasher, though. The studies don’t take into account the environmental impact of manufacturing and shipping the dishwasher in the first place. The studies also assume that you hand wash your dishes after every meal. And finally, many of the studies are sponsored by dishwasher manufacturers.

When you get right down to it the impact of hand washing depends largely on the individual doing the washing. The average person uses more water in washing by hand than an energy efficient dishwasher. Some people use much, much more. But some people use much, much less. Whether a dishwasher is the better choice depends on you and your relative dish washing efficiency.

Given the debate, what’s an environmentally conscious person to do? I admit that I am unlikely to give up my dishwasher. But there are a few things you can do to make your dishwasher a little greener:

  • Choose an energy-efficient model.
  • Always run a full load, since the amount of water used is the same regardless of how many dishes you wash.
  • Do not use heat dry or pre-rinse cycles.
  • Skip the phosphate and chlorine filled detergents, and opt for a more environmentally friendly option.
  • Skip the rinse aids, or use vinegar instead.

If you choose to hand wash, here’s how you can make that greener:

  • Save up your dirty dishes and wash a larger load once a day.
  • Use a plug in the sink, and turn the water off between rinses.
  • Keep an eye on your water use by not overfilling the sink or lingering over rinsing.
  • Choose an environmentally-friendly dish detergent.
  • Scrape your plates well, so that lots of pre-rinsing isn’t required.

What about you? How do you wash your dishes? What do you think is the greenest choice?

You can catch up with Amber and her daily adventures inside and outside of the kitchen over at

5 Responses to Dish Washing Debate
  1. Lindsey@Kindred Spirit Mommy
    May 8, 2010 | 12:53 am

    I wash by hand now for the first time since I’ve been married (six years). Wow, I hadn’t realized how spoiled I was before with dishwashers! lol I grew up washing by hand but it’s been awhile. I actually like that I have to slow down and do the dishes sometimes, though. :) It gives me time to think.

    I miss having a dishwasher to hide dishes in though. lol

  2. how do i care for cast iron skillet?
    May 8, 2010 | 7:52 am

    […] Dish Washing Debate […]

  3. Jen
    May 11, 2010 | 12:25 pm

    We use our energy efficient dishwasher and EF soap. We only run it if it is a full load. Recently I stopped putting our pots in there and we are doing way fewer loads. I wash those by hand now. It is better for our pots and I feel like it is better for the environment.

  4. Monica
    May 25, 2010 | 7:16 pm

    Great article. I agree it could go either way. I prefer to hand wash my dishes. I use a wash tub and plug the sink to rinse. I wash every evening (one large load). I have a dishwasher that I use during family gatherings such as Christmas or Thanksgiving. During the rest of the time it is a storage compartment. I actually enjoy washing dishes. It is quiet and I have the time to reflect on the day or the list of things that I need to do the next day.

  5. Plastic in the Dishwasher
    May 27, 2010 | 8:53 am

    […] my last post for 5 Minutes for Going Green I explored the environmental impact of using the dishwasher vs. washing dishes by hand. You may recall that there was not a clear winner, but as someone who hates washing dishes, I […]