Hand Washing Dishes vs Using a Dishwasher

To Hand Wash, or Not to Hand Wash, that is the Question

Should I hand wash my dishes or use the dishwasher?

Which is more sustainable?

Are you ready to give up scrubbing and scouring? 

Then you may be pleased to learn…

There are several factors involved, but generally there are two reasons you should use the dishwasher over hand washing your dishes.


Modern Dishwashers

Most modern dishwashers use far less water than the typical person hand washing dishes. Approximately four gallons of wash water or less per wash cycle is used by modern Energy Star dishwashers.

Naturally, some older washers use more water, but in most cases, you can find online the amount of water per cycle your machine uses. For comparison purposes the average person uses between 15-20 gallons of water per one session of hand washing dishes, the comparison is not even close.

15 - 20 Gallons
per Wash Cycle!

I want to iterate again something of supreme importance:

The typical hand washer uses considerably more water to rinse the dishes, fill the sink and then rinse the soap from dishes.  

Again 15-20 gallons is the average!

Holey Bent Tridents Aquaman, that's a lot of water!


In addition, the typical hand washer uses more soap per wash cycle than is recommended for use in your dishwasher. The dishwasher introduces less soap into the waste stream thus reducing the need for treatment.  

Avoid Soaps that Have the Following on Their Labels:

  • Phosphates - High concentrations can disturb the balance of an aquatic environment, causing plants, such as algae, to grow rapidly.
  • Diethanolamine - An irritant to skin and eyes and cause systemic toxicity mainly in liver, kidney, red blood cells and the nervous system.
  • Triethanolamine -  Speculated to cause the formation of carcinogenic compounds. It is also said to be extremely toxic in concentration over 5%.
  • Butyl - Causes reproductive problems, reduced fertility, death of embryos, and birth defects and it also may cause liver and kidney damage.

Use Soaps that Have the Following on Their Labels:

  • Water: Good ole H2O
  • Baking Soda: Neutralizes both acids and bases, so it actually eliminates odors.
  • Vinegar:  It's acidic, which helps it to cut through tough grease, grime, and mineral deposits.
  • Lemon Juice: The citric acid helps to break down stains and keep whites bright.
  • Borax: Mixed with water, it converts to hydrogen peroxide, helps fight mold/mildew odors.
  • Phlathate-Free: Synthetic Fragrance
  • 1,4 Dioxane-Free: Trace contaminant found in some ingredients.
  • Dye-Free: Dyes often contain Benzedrine, a known carcinogen, and can be highly toxic.
  • Petrochemical-Free: Carcinogenic toxic to the brain, central nervous system, kidneys, and liver.
  • Phosphate-Free:  Can disturb the balance of an aquatic environment.
  • Caustic-Free: Capable of burning, corroding, or destroying living tissue

Applying It Elsewhere

A topic related to washing dishes is washing vehicles.  Washing your car or truck by hand is a ridiculously one-sided decision as well. Commercial car washes almost universally recycle most of their wash and rinse water, so the waste is low.  The soap is contained by the system and then sent to the wastewater treatment facility.

Almost all wastewater and soap from hand washing a vehicle simply drains for the most part into the nearby creek, stream, rive or lake on an uncontrolled basis harming fish and animals’ dependent on freshwater surface supplies.

Live More Sustainably by Doing Less

Whether washing dishes or your knocking the road grim off your ride, technology is on your side.  This one of those rare occasions where you can help the environment by doing nothing.  Kick back and the machines do the work.

Check out my other post on How to Use a Washing Machine to Save Water & Money and What is a Greywater System? to learn about other ways to save water.

Better Living Through Better Choices!

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