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Does Washing Dishes by Hand Save Money?

Amy Finley
Woman kneeling behind dish washer

Savvy consumers know there are plenty of ways to cut costs when it comes to utilities. Washing dishes by hand, however, doesn't necessarily save you money. Most experts agree that washing dishes by hand is actually more expensive than using an energy-efficient dishwasher.

Hand Washing Costs More

There are several considerations that come into play when it comes to whether washing your dishes by hand can save you money; however, the answer is generally no. According to The Washington Post, experts from a number of groups, including the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Program, Consumer Affairs, and The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) agree today's dishwashers are so energy and water-efficient it's difficult for consumers to beat them with hand washing.

The NRDC says washing dishes by hand consumes an average of 27 gallons of water, which is far more than the three gallons or fewer used by some Energy Star-rated dishwashers. (Older Energy Star models used four to six gallons; today's versions range from about 2.4 to 3.5 gallons). Energy Star states that over a period of ten years, hand washing dishes costs about $430 more than washing dishes in an Energy Star-approved dishwasher.

A study at the University of Bonn in Germany found using a dishwasher took about half the energy and one-sixth the water of hand washing. Additionally, dishwashing was found to use less soap. A study by Reviewed.com found hand washing just four place settings (using an efficient faucet) used over 12 gallons of water.

Money-Saving Dishwasher Practices

Although experts appear to agree that in general washing dishes in a dishwasher actually costs less, you'll want to follow good practices to make sure you save. To save on your utility costs, use these smart practices:

  • Avoid rinsing before loading dishes. Most contemporary dishwashers don't require you to rinse before loading (just scrape food and debris first) and if your do rinse your dishes, you may be using up to 2.5 gallons of water per minute if you leave the water running. If you must rinse, put a small amount of water in the sink or dish pan.

  • Load the dishwasher the right way. Loading your dishwasher the correct way (this varies by manufacturer and model) will allow it to run the most efficiently.

  • Only run full loads. Avoid running partial loads to save on power and water costs.

  • Turn down the temperature. Treehugger suggests turning down the water temperature can still get your dishes clean while saving energy costs.

  • Avoid heated drying. Heated drying only adds to your power costs. Allow dishes to air dry or dry with a towel instead.

  • Use the lightest cycle you need. If your dishes are only slightly dirty, use a lighter cycle. The heavier cycle you use, the more energy and water will be used.

When Hand Washing Can Save

There are cases where using a dishwasher may not be the best choice for saving money. If you have an older dishwasher, for example, it won't have the same efficiency as newer models. Dishwashers from the 90s, for example, use about 13 gallons of water.

If you are rinsing your dishes while the water is running before you load your dishwasher, you aren't likely to save much since you're using many gallons of rinse water plus whatever the dishwasher is using for its cycle.

If you do choose to hand wash dishes, use one basin or side of the sink for washing and one side for rinsing instead of leaving the water running while you wash and rinse. If you want to ensure the dishes are sanitized, use two teaspoons of bleach per gallon of rinse water and soak for two minutes before drying or air drying.

Save Time and Money

Those who follow best practices when it comes to using a dishwasher can rest assured they are saving in energy and water costs over hand washing dishes. You can feel great about using your dishwasher to save time and money.

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Does Washing Dishes by Hand Save Money?