Energy Efficient Appliances: Dishwashers

Save Money With Energy Efficient Appliances

Home energy efficiency is not only good for the environment, but it helps save money on monthly utility bills. You've probably heard about tips to help homeowners in this regard, including replacing incandescent light bulbs and using a programmable thermostat.

What if you could save even more on your water, electricity and/or natural gas bill?

If you carefully consider whether and when to run home appliances like your dishwasher, you can reduce consumption of water and cut down on the energy required to heat it for domestic use. Energy efficient dishwashers will end up paying for themselves in a relatively short amount of time.

You might be surprised to learn that washing dishes by hand does not save energy or water. With Energy-Star rated appliances, you may be able to enjoy the luxury of running the dishwasher without associated guilt of the energy and expense.

What can YOU do to save money on utility bills when it comes to home appliances?

Hand washing dishes to save energy?
Hand washing dishes to save energy? | Source

Does Hand Washing Dishes Save Energy and Water?

I have managed a "green" blog since 2008, and have learned a lot about saving energy, reducing our carbon footprint and - importantly - spending less in our daily lives. We frequently publish articles on conservation, and home energy efficiency is a favorite topic.

Did you know that the cost of heating water for domestic use is one of the biggest energy drains in a household budget?

Your dishwasher and washing machine are two of the biggest hogs when it comes to residential hot water demands, and they also require a great deal of electricity to run.

If you hand wash your dishes, the only energy that is required is for heating the water you use in the sink. When you turn off the water during the task, rather than allowing it to run, you may be able to use less water for hand washing than running the dishwasher.

But, with today's energy efficient appliances, it is a close call as to whether hand washing dishes is a better choice than using a dishwasher. Factors include the wash cycle selected, and also depends in part on the type of water heating system you use: electric water heater, gas hot water heater, tank-less (on demand) water, or solar hot water.

Comparison of Energy and Water Requirements

Method Selected
Energy Required
Water Required
Energy Efficient Dishwasher
Less than 1.6 kWh (kilowatt hour)
4 gallons per cycle
Regular Dishwasher
Approximately 2 kWh
6 gallons per cycle
Hand Washing Dishes
Less than .3 kWh to heat 2 gallons of water*
Water flows from faucet at 2 gallons per minute
*Experts estimate hand washing dishes requires an average of 10-15 gallons of water

How Can You Run the Dishwasher in an Energy Efficient Manner?

If you live in a house or apartment that has a dishwasher, it can be very tempting just to clean up the kitchen by putting all dirty dishes, pots and pans and utensils into the appliance. You can, in fact, run the dishwasher in an energy efficient manner to help you save both energy and water.

Here's how:

(1) completely scrape plates off before loading to minimize the "work" to get them clean;

(2) only run the dishwasher when it is completely full;

(3) hand wash large objects that take up a lot of room in the dishwasher (pots and pans);

(4) use the shortest wash cycle possible; and

(5) turn off the automatic dryer and open the dishwasher when it is done running to allow dishes to air dry.

Avoid using the "pre-scrub" options on the dishwasher; if your dishes are that dirty, they probably will only get clean by hand washing. The same is true for the "anti-bacterial" and "added heat" settings. If you go with the "rinse hold" setting, an additional 3-7 gallons of hot water are required.

How to Save Water Washing Dishes

What do you Need to Hand Wash Dishes?

  • Sink or other large container
  • 2 gallons of hot water for soap
  • 2 gallons of cold water for rinse
  • Dish washing soap (not dishwasher soap!)
  • Rubber Gloves (optional)
  • Sponge or scrub brush
  • Dish towel for drying and/or dish drying rack
  • Approximately 5-15 minutes of time, depending on the number of dishes and amount of cleaning that is required to complete the job!

Hand Washing Dishes Can Be More Efficient

Running an energy efficient dishwasher in a smart manner, as discussed above, can save water and reduce utility bills. However, you can match or even exceed energy savings by hand washing, if you do so carefully.

If you have a 2-sided sink, or a separate container to use in addition to your sink, fill each with 2 gallons of water. Hot water and soap in one, and cold water for rinsing in the other.

Thoroughly scrape food of the plates and avoid pre-rinsing, if possible. To save the most water, turn off the faucet while hand washing dishes. Remember that for every minute the water runs, 2 gallons of water are consumed. It will only take 2 minutes to equal the amount of water used in an entire regular wash cycle in an energy efficient dishwasher!

With rubber gloves, your hands will be able to tolerate working in hot water, which will help get your dishes cleaner and cut grease more effectively. Select eco-friendly dish washing soap and only use the amount recommended to further reduce your environmental impact.

Pick the Right Kind of Dish Washing Soap

The Bottom Line: Dishwashers vs. Hand Washing

I was surprised to learn that most experts agree that running an energy efficient dishwasher is the best way to save energy, water and money. Just be sure to run the dishwasher when full, cut down on use of special wash cycles and avoid heated drying, if possible.

For those that are not 100% convinced, or simply do not own a dishwasher, minimize your use of water when hand washing dishes by avoiding running the water while working.

Fill your dishwasher before running it to save energy
Fill your dishwasher before running it to save energy | Source

Do you Hand Wash dishes or use a Dishwasher?

  • Hand Wash
  • Dishwasher
  • Both!
See results without voting

© 2012 Stephanie Hicks

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Comments 32 comments

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

I read recently that the dishwasher edged out hand-washing for water use--given the 'leaving the water running' method. I was raised without a dishwasher, and mom filled a dishpan with soapy water, piled the washed dishes in the sink, then rinsed them all at once, or as many as fit, then into the drainer. That's pretty much how I always washed, until I got a dishwasher...Now, I use it all the time, but, I only do full loads, so with only 2 of us, I do a "soap-less wash/rinse" by hand, load into the dishwasher, and run the machine just a couple of times a week.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Right with you Steph; we don't even own a dishwasher. Besides, for some reason I have always enjoyed washing dishes by hand. Call me weird! Great hub!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Yes, I agree! I have always enjoyed (in a strange way) washing dishes by hand. I still do my pots and pans that way, but with 4 kids and tons of dishes, the dishwasher is convenient. We definitely put it on speed cycle and do not use the dryer because saving energy and money is a high priority, as well. Thanks for the comment! All the best, Steph


Arlene V. Poma 4 years ago

When my dishwasher broke down last year (it was ancient and came with the house), I lasted a month, doing my own dishes. I was only kidding myself. I washed dishes as a kid, and I used to paste poems to the wall to memorize them as I washed the dishes. I love my new dishwasher, but I am aware of how much energy I use. I will only run it when it is full, and I scrape off any food on those dishes, pots and pans. I keep it on the lowest cycle possible when it comes to getting everything clean. I have better things to do than manually wash dishes because I do all the cooking and baking at my home. I would rather invest in an energy-efficent, top-of-the-line dishwasher than do the dishes "the old-fashioned way."


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

LOL - I know! Something comforting about the warm water and sense of accomplishment? Thanks Bill!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Arlene,

Yes, your point is well taken! The value of your time is worth something when you don't have to hand wash. As long as people are thinking about energy saving measures when using the dishwasher, it is a sound alternative.

Glad to hear that you have a new dishwasher that works!

Thanks much for the comment! best, Steph


Arlene V. Poma 4 years ago

Yeeech! A Senior Moment on a Sunday! Voted up and everything else.


incomeguru profile image

incomeguru 4 years ago from Lagos

Of course, this is a very interesting and informative hub i have ever read about energy and water saving tips. Most of us from West Africa, precisely Nigeria do prefer hand washing.


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Great information! This is a great resource. I pretty much follow this advice and run plates, cups, and silverware in the dishwasher on the simplest cycle possible while hand washing larger items (i.e. pots and pans) and plastics (i.e. Tupperware). I love the convenience of not washing smaller items by hand and agree that washing larger items by hand is more efficient.


allpurposeguru profile image

allpurposeguru 4 years ago from North Carolina

Another good hub! I, too, have always heard conflicting advice on whether handwashing or using the dishwasher is more energy and water efficient. Usually the dishwasher wins. Thanks for pointing out that the settings make a difference. I also keep reading that it is not necessary to scrape or prerinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. I'm not sure I believe that.


mooboomoo profile image

mooboomoo 4 years ago from London

I have a slim line dishwasher, so half the size (half the space) but half the water and energy used. It's just me and hubby at home so I run it about three times a week for glasses, cutlery, small bowls and side plates. The big stuff gets done in the sink. I like to be green and I think I have a pretty good balance between convenience and energy saving.

Great up, voted up, interesting and SHARED.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks incomeguru - It would be interesting to learn about dish washing techniques around the world. Best, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi RC - I'm with you on the convenience factor, and I've always just thought it was a waste to fill up 1/2 the dishwasher with large pots and pans that can easily and quickly washed in the sink. Thanks for the comment! Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi allpurposeguru, we've never had success in not scraping dishes off before running them through the dishwasher! In fact, I have also read that today's energy efficient dishwashers actually do not get dishes as clean as they used to because water is not heated as high a temperature. Best to you, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi mooboomoo, thank you for the votes and shares! I love those slim line dishwashers! Sounds like you do have a good balance when it comes to "green" dishwashing. Best, Steph


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

I'm feeling better and better about not having a dishwasher! I hadn't realized just how efficient hand washing could be. This is great!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Yay!! I have to admit that I have been counting the seconds that pass as the water runs to fill my sink since writing this Hub. Trying to maximize the efficiency of hand washing the pots and pans. :) Thanks Simone!


Cloverleaf profile image

Cloverleaf 4 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

I'm so glad you wrote this, Steph. I often forget how much water can be wasted by using a dishwasher or by simply letting a tap run. Since there's just two of us in our household, I mostly wash our dishes by hand, but when we're cooking for a crowd I wouldn't be without my diswasher! Still, you've made me think more about what I can do to conserve water and I appreciate that. Excellent hub!


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

So glad that you wrote this!!


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

I HATE washing dishes. haha. Seriously, I do. I use my dishwasher when it's full. I only hand wash certain pans. I like conserving, though. Another benefit of opening the dishwasher after the wash cycle is to let that heat escape and warm the house in cool weather! I love your tips, Steph. You always write good stuff, very well-written. Lots of votes!


PurvisBobbi44 profile image

PurvisBobbi44 4 years ago from Florida

Hi Stephhicks68,

I wash my clothes in cold water, and since my dishwasher has been full of antique dishes for five years now, I wash dishes by hand.

I actually enjoy washing by hand as I can look out the kitchen window and watch the birds eating their seed in my country feeder.

And I watch the doves on the ground eating, and baby Crow comes every day to eat corn in the afternoon. It is almost like a bird zoo.

And I find it relieves any stress I might feel, since it is a mindless task I can reboot my mind.

Thanks for your article it will help a lot of people by pointing this out to them.

Thanks, Bobbi


moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

Love my dishwasher, run it when it is full. Good hub.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Cloverleaf - I think its so helpful to be reminded about the small ways we use water and energy in the household. Sounds like you are doing a great job being mindful. Best, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Audrey!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Victoria - its funny... I don't mind washing dishes, but laundry is the bane of my existence! Super tip about allowing the warm air out from the dishwasher in cool weather. Appreciate the vote and friendship! Best, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Bobbi, I was just commenting about how I don't mind washing dishes, and your points are exactly how I feel! Its relaxing and soothing. Like meditation and definitely a stress release. Wishing you the best, Steph


Don Simkovich profile image

Don Simkovich 4 years ago from Pasadena, CA

I had a roommate who liked washing dishes. He said he could see the progress and he found it relaxing. Great Hub on a mundane topic! It should be studied closely!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Love to hear that, Don! I kind of have to admit that I like vacuuming, too. Mundane, yet contemplative. Cheers, Steph


Brett.Tesol profile image

Brett.Tesol 4 years ago from Somewhere in Asia

Up, useful and interesting. I'll be socially sharing this one, as it is quite a surprising result that other households trying to be green or cut bills will be interested in.


Blond Logic profile image

Blond Logic 4 years ago from Brazil

I wash everything by hand. I am in rural Brazil and we only have cold water plumbed in. No hot water in the kitchen, it makes it difficult to wash greasy dishes effectively. I boil water on the stove and then use that if I need to. Normally I just use cold water. All of the water from the sink and washing machine drains out onto the banana plants into the garden.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Brett! I do hope that people can learn what is most energy efficient and cost saving for their households. Best to you, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Blond Logic, I am sure it would be difficult to cut grease without hot water! Good that the water can be reused to water the garden. That would be a great topic for another hub - grey water uses and benefits. :) Best, Steph

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