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Dishwashers vs. hand-washing

Let’s face it – nobody enjoys washing the dishes. But is it more environmentally friendly to use a dishwasher or to wash-up by hand? Let’s take a look.

Let’s face it – nobody enjoys washing the dishes. But is it more environmentally friendly to use a dishwasher or to wash-up by hand? Let’s take a look.

Sofia Hutson
Utilities expert
6
minute read
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Last Updated 26 MAY 2022

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

A dishwasher is generally more energy-efficient 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’s washing-up bowls. Some fill the bowl right to the top, whereas others use a lot less water.

On average, the majority of modern dishwashers use around 9.5-14 litres of water per cycle. Hand-washing on the other hand can use far more.

Is it cheaper to use a dishwasher?

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.

Research has shown that a single dishwasher cycle costs the same in energy and water as turning the hot water tap on for six to nine minutes, or filling up four to six washing-up bowls (depending on whether the household has a metered or unmetered water supply).

Dishwasher vs. hand-washing – which is greener?

When it comes to water and energy consumption, 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 a more eco-friendly choice.

How much does a dishwasher cost? 

New dishwashers typically cost from around £200 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.

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 appliance’s exact kWh use 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.

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.

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 costs? 

Have a look at our guide to which appliances use the most energy – and how to keep costs down. When you need to replace household appliances, make sure you choose an energy-efficient model.

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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.

Dishwashing vs hand-washing - which is more hygienic?

Dishwashers can heat water to a much higher degree, 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. Typically, we 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. As a dishwasher doesn’t require anything but hot water and dishwasher detergent, there’s far less risk of transferring potentially harmful bacteria and germs to you and your family.

What should I consider when buying a new 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 being 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 being 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.