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Dishwashers vs. hand-washing: which is better for the planet and the pocket?

Let’s face it – nobody enjoys washing the dishes. But when it comes to dishwashers vs hand-washing, which is better for the planet and your bank balance? Let’s take a look.

Let’s face it – nobody enjoys washing the dishes. But when it comes to dishwashers vs hand-washing, which is better for the planet and your bank balance? Let’s take a look.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Utilities comparison expert
Last Updated
17 MAY 2023
6 min read
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Do dishwashers save water compared to hand-washing?

A dishwasher will generally use less water than washing dishes by hand. However, it can be a grey area as it depends how you hand-wash your dishes.

For example, some people use the tap to pre or post-rinse dishes. Some leave the tap running non-stop and others opt to fill the sink and leave the rinsing. Then there are washing-up bowls. Some fill the bowl right to the top, whereas others use a lot less water.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, hand-washing dishes accounts for 4% of the average household’s water use – whereas dishwashers make up just 1%.

Is a dishwasher more energy-efficient than hand-washing?

Used efficiently, a modern dishwasher will have less of a carbon footprint than washing by hand. This is because it takes the appliance less time to heat up water than running a tap.

Using a dishwasher could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, assuming you don’t pre-rinse and only run a fully loaded dishwasher on eco-cycle once a day.

If you’re running half-full loads a few times a day, or your dishwasher is old and less energy-efficient, then washing by hand is probably an eco-friendlier choice.

How much electricity does a dishwasher use?

Overall, the average dishwasher consumes between 1.2kWh and 1.5kWh per load. You should be able to see your dishwasher wattage to the exact kWh on its energy-rating label.

The most efficient dishwashers will have an energy rating of A or B, and the lower the kWh number, the less energy the appliance will use.

Are dishwashers expensive to run?

This again depends on your dishwashing habits. As long as you only run your dishwasher once it’s fully loaded, it should cost you less than hand-washing.

Data from the Energy Saving Trust reveals that almost 8% of our electricity bill is spent running a dishwasher – that works out at an estimated yearly cost of £50 to £100 for a standard-sized dishwasher.

How much does a dishwasher cost?

New dishwashers in the UK typically range from around £200 up to £1,600.

Many Brits worry that the initial cost of buying a dishwasher is more than their budget can handle. But if you factor in the energy-saving potential and opt for a dishwasher that’s on the lower side of that price range, this might not be the case.

Did you know?

Since 1 March 2021, energy-rating labels on domestic appliances have changed. Instead of A+++ to D, appliances are now rated from A to G – with A being the most energy-efficient. The simplified ratings now make it much easier for customers to compare energy-efficiency at a glance.

Modern, top-rating dishwashers heat up the water internally. They use less electricity and water, so are the best ones to choose for energy-efficiency.

How to choose an energy-efficient dishwasher

While price is obviously a consideration, there are other things to think about when looking for a new dishwasher. The energy-rating label on the front will give you lots of useful information about the product’s energy-efficiency and running costs, including:

  • Energy rating – from A to G, with A the most energy-efficient.
  • Energy use in kWh – based on the amount of energy the dishwasher uses in kWh over 100 cycles. The lower the number of kWh, the less energy it will use, and the more money you could save.
  • Water consumption – an estimate of how much water is used per cycle.
  • Noise level – measured in decibels with a noise rating between A and D, with A the quietest.
  • Drying efficiency – how efficient the dishwasher is at drying dishes – rated from A to G.

Just be aware that the energy-rating label is typically based on the performance of the ‘eco’ setting, so you should expect to consume more than indicated if you always use the normal setting.

You should also consider size. Dishwashers always fill to capacity, so if you live alone, or in a small household, it might make more sense to get a slim or compact dishwasher for greater energy-efficiency.

Top tips to make your dishwasher more eco-friendly and energy-efficient

  • Fill your dishwasher correctly – while you should always run a full load, overfilling and not loading correctly could mean some dishes aren’t cleaned properly. Ensure smaller, more fragile items like glasses and cups go in the top basket, while large plates and roasting tins are placed on the bottom rack.
  • Skip the pre-rinse – most modern dishwashers only need a quick scrape of any leftover bits of food before you load your dishes.
  • Use the ‘eco’ cycle – it’s the most energy-efficient setting.

Top tips to make hand-washing dishes more eco-friendly and energy-efficient

  • Use a washing-up bowl rather than running a tap. And don’t fill it right to the top – half a bowl will do the job just as well.
  • If you have a double-sink system, use one sink filled with hot water and washing up liquid, and the other with just hot water to wash off the suds.
  • Pre-soak stubborn, dried-on bits in warm water, instead of rinsing them. This will also save you having to scrub too hard and risk scratching off the non-stick coating on pots and pans.

How can I save even more money on my energy cost

When buying a dishwasher or any other new appliance, aim for a model with the highest energy rating – A is the most energy-efficient, and G the least.

If you haven’t already got a smart meter, give your energy provider a call. All UK energy suppliers must offer customers free smart meter installation by 2025. A smart meter will monitor exactly how much energy you use, so you can adapt your energy habits to help save money on your bills.

There are also plenty of other ways you can help cut the costs of your energy bills. Even the smallest changes could make a difference.

Discover our top energy hacks that could save you cash.

Frequently asked questions

Why does the ‘eco’ cycle on my dishwasher take so long?

You may think you’re consuming more water and energy on a longer-running eco cycle – but the opposite is true. Thanks to a clever redesign, the eco setting actually maximises water and electricity by having a longer run time but using much less water to clean your dishes. Using the ‘eco’ setting instead of a normal cycle, could save around 20% energy.

When is the best time of day to run a dishwasher?

If you’re on a ‘time of use’ energy tariff – Economy 7 or Economy 10 – there will be times of day when it’s cheaper to use electricity. Check your tariff to see when exactly these are.

Does a dishwasher use my hot water supply?

No, if you have a modern dishwasher, it won’t use water heated from your boiler. Cold water flows into the dishwasher, and this is then heated internally.

Hand-washing vs dishwasher – which is more hygienic?

Dishwashers can heat water to a much higher temperature, so they not only clean your dishes, but can sanitise them too. Dishwashers are capable of using incredibly hot water – much hotter than your hands could bear.

There’s also the issue of sponges. We typically use the same sponge to wash dishes by hand, over and over again. Sponges are exposed to all sorts of food, dirt and grime, and can be a magnet for germs.

Dishwashers don’t require anything but hot water and dishwasher detergent, so there’s far less risk of transferring potentially harmful bacteria and germs to you and your family.

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