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Green Decisions: Dishwasher vs. Hand Washing March 11, 2009

Posted by Tom in energy savings, Equity Thru Energy, Green Decisions, Research, Studies, Technology, Tips and Tricks.
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I get a lot of questions about greening the things that we do every day, and I thought it would be fun to address these questions in my blog, and even have readers help out and weigh in on the issues.

Since ETE has a lot of clients in the restaurant industry, a question that I hear often from both small restaurant owners and individuals is whether it is considered greener to wash dishes by hand or in a dishwasher. Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not completely clear, since there are many different variables that must be considered, including type of dishwasher, how you hand-wash dishes and how many dishes you are washing.

The general consensus seems to be that using a dishwasher is greener than hand-washing, which may be surprising to some, seeing as the do-it-yourself approach is often the greener one since using machines use gas and electric energy. A decade ago, this probably wasn’t the case, but because of newer Energy Star models, dishwashers are now more efficient than ever, when used properly. They are designed to get dishes clean while using less water, and as a result using less energy to heat that water.

However, before stopping your hand-washing habits completely, here are a couple things to consider:

  • Make sure your dishwasher is an energy efficient Energy Star appliance.
  • Run your dishwasher only when it’s full. If you only have a few plates and forks to wash, wait until you can fill your dishwasher or just wash them by hand.
  • Use the air dry setting on your dishwasher. This will save on electricity costs.
  • Use an eco-friendly detergent. I know both Trader Joe’s and Earth Friendly Products offer green solutions.
  • Use the “light” setting when you can. Some dishes require heavy duty cleaning, but if the dishes aren’t too heavily used, a light wash should be more than enough to get them clean.

Again, this topic is still debatable, but a study by the University of Bonn in Germany has shown dishwashers to be more energy efficient. What do you think? Feel free to share tips and tricks on saving energy when washing dishes in the comments.


1. martha - March 11, 2009

i always wonder this! i always run my dishwasher without it being full. i will make sure it’s on those energy saving settings.

2. Bernadette - May 13, 2009

I still feel Hand washing is more green. I soak my dishes in soap and water first, then wash them, and air and towel dry.
I use the dishwasher when it have a FULL load.

3. Carla - August 15, 2009

If I understand correctly, the Bonn study assumed using 102 liters of water in a single hand-washing session! Plus or minus 25gallons! That’s nuts. I don’t use nearly so much since I barely fill one sink with suds and then pile up soapy, clean dishes before turning on the water to rinse them. Plus, I always have hand-washables which cannot go into the dishwasher for one reason or another. (Wooden handles, fragile surfaces, over-sized, etc.) So I STILL must run some water in the sink to wash by hand. I don’t think there is a clear answer to this but I am leaning toward hand-washing in spite of the Bonn study (financed by a dishwasher company, by the way.)

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