Handwash Or Dishwasher? What Is The Most Sustainable Way To Wash Your Dishes?

Hand washing on a white plate with faucet on a against a white background

No one likes doing the dishes. It’s a price we have to pay for making our own delicious meals. Like a tollbooth, charging an entry fee on the highway to flavor town. But as long as we want to eat, and as long as we’re unwilling to use the furniture as a plate, then it’s a chore we are all going to have to continue to do. 

Unless you have a dishwasher, of course. Then, doing dishes is as simple as scraping, loading, and kicking back while your dishes get cleaned by your favorite machine. We know not every house has a dishwasher, but whether you wash-by-hand or throw your dishes into the dishwasher, there are some numbers you may find surprising: the environmental impact of dishwashing vs. hand washing. Because washing dishes by hand is definitely way greener than using a dishwasher! Right? Or is it? And how can you even tell?

Well at times like these, it’s best to pull up some freshly scrubbed facts to wipe off the grime of misinformation and get to a truth so clean, you could eat off of it.

The Environmental Effects Of Using A Dishwasher

According to a study done by UCLA in 2013, the environmental footprint of dishwashers is exactly what you would expect. They contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing, shipping, and installation processes, they use natural gas to heat the water used and on average they use about 4 gallons of water and 1 kilowatt-hour of energy per load.

So yes, this is of course a considerable impact.

But dishwashers do have their upsides. Most models have eco-friendly settings, most companies have models designed to reduce CO2 emissions and almost all dishwashers maximize the amount of cleaning done given the amount of water used. So all in all, they don’t sound too bad, right?

But still, how could they possibly beat handwashing? Let’s take a look at:

The Environmental-Footprint Of Washing Dishes By Hand

This may be shocking, but a German study found that washing 12 dishes by hand uses an average of 27 gallons of water, and 2.5-kilowatt-hours of energy to heat that water! Which, in case you were wondering, is twice the amount of energy and six times the amount of water used by a dish-washer! 

But can this be true? Is using a dishwasher really that much more eco-friendly than washing by hand?

Well, sort of. These wild and crazy numbers are actually based on behaviors that people exhibit while washing dishes by hand. Firstly, an analysis by the Dutch Ministry of Environment found that most people run hot water continuously while hand washing, so that is obviously a key factor. Secondly, many hand washers are not effectively cleaning their dishes by hand, which leads to more time spent running the water and more water used. So yeah, these washing errors are harmful for the environment.

But if you remove these behaviors, do dishwashers and hand washing even out? Well according to the studies from UCLA, NIMECA, and Canadian chemist Martin B. Hocking,  the answer is actually…yes! 

Depending on the efficiency of the dishwasher and a hand washer’s behavior, dishwashing and handwashing have roughly the same environmental impact (on average). Dishwashing will use slightly more energy to run the program and hand washing will use more water, but both will expend roughly the same amount of energy heating the water. On top of this, all studies agreed that the most important fact in determining these two methods’ impact has nothing to do with them. It’s how you use them!

So instead of comparing which method leaves a larger footprint, perhaps it’s best to leave you with some:

Eco-Friendly Tips To Use When Washing Your Dishes!

Tips For Dishwasher Use: 

  • Run the dishwasher only when fully loaded, and don’t use settings like half loads and pots and pans (they waste 2 more gallons of water on average)
  • Scrape your plates into the compost before washing or loading into a machine (compost is better than trash since food that breaks down in landfills can release methane gas)
  • Choose an eco-setting or lower temperature, if available.
  • When it comes to buying a new dishwasher, check for energy efficiency, the running costs, CO2 emissions, and consider the longevity of a machine.
  • Try Blueland’s Dishwasher Tablets, which come naked, with no PVA (plastic)! 

Tips For Washing Dishes By Hand:

  • When Handwashing, wet the sponge and scrub all your dishes at once, save the rinsing for last, and make sure to keep the water off while you scrub!
  • Refill or reuse whenever possible such as with water bottles, coffee mugs, and food storage containers
  • Hand wash dishes right away, so you don’t waste water while scrubbing at old gunk
  • Cut out single-use plastic waste with Blueland Powder Dish Soap! Simply pour the powder onto a wet sponge, and start cleaning!  

The Clean Essentials

The perfect way to start cutting out single-use plastic from your home