Dishwasher vs Washing by Hand

Should you embrace the old-school approach of washing your dirty dishes by hand, or proudly rev up your dishwasher when trying to get the cleanest dishes?

The debate over tried and true hand washing versus the modern dishwasher can get pretty heated. You may be wondering about the smartest way to wash dishes if you’re trying to settle into a good routine.

It turns out you have a number of factors to look at before determining the best option for your kitchen.

Which One Is Better From the Energy-Efficiency Angle?

We might be tempted to believe that doing things the old-fashioned way is better for the environment because we’re not using electricity. However, you might be shocked to learn that a dishwasher is almost always more energy efficient than washing dishes by hand. Let’s drill down on why.

When washing by hand, we typically allow hot water to run down our dishes into the drain. That means that the bulk of the water we use during the washing process is wasted.

By contrast, dishwashers use very targeted and contained methods for dispersing water. Today’s energy-efficient dishwashers use recirculating pumps that are great at using just a small amount of water to cover all the surfaces within a load.

That means that the amount of energy needed to heat and pump water is minimal. You will use exponentially more water and gas/electricity when standing in front of the sink washing dishes for 30 minutes than you would during a 30-minute dishwasher cycle.

However, this does not mean that dishwashers always win. You may be better off washing your dishes by hand if your kitchen has a particular setup. Next, let’s discuss when hand washing wins over the dishwasher.

The obvious benefit that a dishwasher provides is the time it saves. Simply fill your dishwasher with dishes, pop in a dishwasher tab (and specialist dishwasher salt if you need too) and you can get on with other things that need tending to, heck – go relax and read a book if you like. A dishwasher machine sets you free from the shackles of a kitchen sink.

Dishwashers leave your dishes dry and sterilized. Unlike hand washing that requires a follow up drying with an increasingly damp dishtowel. And to most peoples horror, studies have found that dishtowels are teaming with bacteria!

When Hand Washing Is Better

You may be able to justify your devotion to tried-and-true hand washing if you have the right kitchen sink. It turns out that a two-basin sink is the secret ingredient that allows hand washing to come out ahead. Here’s how to create the most efficient strategy for washing dishes:

  • Fill your main basin with hot water.
  • Fill your second basin with cool water.
  • Soak and scrub your dishes in your first basin.
  • Rinse your dishes in the second basin.
  • Allow your dishes to air dry.

The two-basin cleaning method solves the problem of allowing an endless stream of water to flow out of your sink because you’re using a set amount of water for the complete cleaning cycle.

Typically, you’ll consume about four gallons of water when you use the two-basin method. Yes, this probably is the most efficient option. However, you should keep in mind that most modern Energy Star dishwashers also use about four gallons per load.

That means that you don’t need to feel guilty if you ultimately don’t have the time or patience to wash your dishes by hand every day. Of course, you can definitely feel good about washing your dishes by hand if you simply prefer this method because you find it to be a soothing end-of-the-day ritual.

A Twist: Pre-Rinsing

It turns out that a common habit that most of us have actually puts a major wrinkle in our efforts to be energy smart. From an environmental perspective, pre-rinsing your dishes is one of the worst things you can do. In fact, pre-rinsing essentially erases any of the gains made by using an energy-efficient dishwasher.

Another Twist: Drying

The dishwasher loses its gain as a better environmental choice when you factor in the drying setting. You can still get the best of both worlds by skipping the drying cycle after letting your dishwasher go through a washing cycle.

Simply leaving the door of your dishwasher open after a washing cycle should be enough to allow your load to dry naturally without any extra energy!

The Cleanliness Angle

This is where the dishwasher is really going to provide an advantage above and beyond what washing by hand can do. The simple fact is that it’s impossible for our hands to handle the water temperature that a dishwasher is able to deliver.

Most dishwashers reach water temperatures between 140 or 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This is where most of their cleaning power comes from, not vigorous scrubbing. By contrast, our hands typically can’t endure anything above lukewarm water while cleaning dishes. That means that hand washing is really no match for the dishwasher.

What’s more, sponges are notorious for harboring bacteria and germs. This is especially concerning when it comes to cleaning pots and pans after preparing meals with raw chicken, meats or eggs.

Lukewarm water combined with a sponge that is easily contaminated means that we may be setting ourselves up for illness by washing dishes by hand.

The Bottom Line on Washing by Hand or Using the Dishwasher

The bottom line is that the dishwasher comes out ahead in almost every category. When I switched from hand washing to a top integrated slimline dishwasher over a year ago, I don’t know how I every managed without one – it’s the best appliance upgrade move I’ve ever made.

While the dual-basin method is an environmentally friendly option, the gains are essentially minuscule. Using a modern, efficient dishwasher allows you to enjoy eco-friendly settings, removes an arduous chore from your life, and gets your dishes super clean.