Hand-Washing vs. Dishwasher Water Usage: Which is more environmentally friendly?

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Last Updated on July 19, 2022

Picture this: It has been a long day and you are cleaning up after dinner. You have a family of five and that means a lot of dirty dishes. You load up the dishwasher and hit start. Then, nothing happens. You are stuck washing dishes the old fashioned way, handwashing.

So as you think about the costs of buying a new dishwasher you calculate a few things in your head. What is the average dishwasher water usage? What is the average kitchen faucet water usage? What else is there to calculate into the cost? Energy use? Carbon emission? What is the cost to the environment?

Residential Dishwasher Efficiency

You may think that dishwashers are simple machines but there is a lot to learn about. The efficiency of your machine depends on when it was built and if it is designated as an energy star appliance.

What is Energy Star?

  • Energy Star is a government-backed labeling program that helps people and organizations save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by identifying factories, office equipment, home appliances, and electronics that have superior energy efficiency.
  • An energy star Dishwasher uses 3 gallons of water per load.
  • Energy Star dishwashers use 0.37 kWH or 3.7 Cents per hour.
  • Dishwashers prior to 1994 use 10 additional gallons of water per load and 1.27 Kwh or 12.7 cents per hour than Energy Star ones do.
  • Kwh translates into carbon emissions and this means your choice of washing also has an impact on your carbon footprint. The higher the kilowatt-hour the more carbon, obviously.


What about the hot water?

Handwashing and Machine washing, both require water to be heated.

  • Gas storage tank water heaters clock in at 1477 BTUS or British Thermal Units, a measure of heat.
  • Electric storage tank water heaters 960 BTUS.
  • For a really in-depth look at what that translates into in terms of carbon footprint and energy use check out this website.
  • Dishwashing with an Energy Star washer is thought to use 50% less energy.

Hand-Washing vs. Dishwasher Water Usage

Save Time and Money

  • Dishwashers save from 3,780-5000 gallons of water per year and as mentioned save energy too.
  • This decreases your carbon footprint and can translate into cost savings, roughly $40 a year.
  • Would you like 10 days back of your life, that is the estimated equivalent of the time spent standing at the sink hand-washing dishes!

Dishwasher VS. Hand-Washing

  • Lifetime operating cost comparison of an Energy Star Dishwasher versus hand-washing inclusive of energy and water use is $323 to $754according to the energystar.gov website.
  • In addition, the cleanliness of dishes washed in the sink may not be the best considering the nasty old sponge you use.
  • There was one advantage to dishwashing noted on Huffpost.com that children who participated in the ritual of washing dishes had a significant decrease in allergies.

Buying a Dishwasher? Check This Guide

So what do dishwashers cost? It depends on the model. Buying a new machine is not unlike buying a car. There are different price points from as low as $299 to $2,000.

When you decide to buy the new dishwasher,

1. Consider the size that you need, the number of place settings at your table will help you determine the capacity.

2. Think about the flexibility of running different types of cycles in case you don’t need to run a lot of place settings. Not all dishwashers give you cycle options.

3. Look for a yellow sticker called the EnergyGuide.

4. If you want to know more about energy efficiency, find and compare more products:

Hand-Washing vs. Dishwasher Water Usage


Tips to Reduce Water Waste Using Dishwasher

It is not just the machine itself that can help reduce water waste. There are things you can be doing as well.

1. Loading the dishwasher completely but not overloading it will be more efficient for water usage.

2. Not rinsing before washing, just scrap off the plates physically.

3. Not using the heat setting when drying, not necessary.

4. Also, remember to retain the health of your dishwasher with regular cleaning and other maintenance.

5. Don’t run the dishwasher at high energy use times like during the day when the weather is hot.

6. Sources Energystar.gov and Direct Energy.

Here some more tips to reduce water usage at home:



While at first, it may appear that washing a dish thoughtfully at the sink could be a way to conserve water, the evidence points to the opposite. Water is considerably better used in a dishwasher and one that is relatively new with EnergyStar backing. The conservation is not only the water itself but also, heat/energy savings and reducing carbon footprint. Your time is valuable as well and using an appliance that gives you that back is hard to quantify but much appreciated. The only advantage that dishwashing has seems to come from what it gives the kids: increased immunity and as any parent would attest, work ethic.

The take away is that while having to buy a new dishwasher may be a pain at first, the benefits of saving water, saving time and ensuring the cleanliness of your dishes are priceless and so is the environment!

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