Is Dishwashing Eco-friendly?: Dishwasher or Handwashing?

    For most Brits, the task of washing dishes isn’t the most enjoyable. Enter the trusty dishwasher. But how does it fare with our green conscience? Does it consume an exorbitant amount of electricity and water?

    Dishwasher: An Eco-friendly Option?

    Under the right conditions, a dishwasher can save time, water, and energy compared to washing by hand.

    “Using a dishwasher, on average, requires 50% less water and 28% less energy than hand washing,” according to a comparative study that involved households from several European countries, including the UK. However, it’s worth noting that while such studies can provide valuable insights, their funding sources (such as manufacturers) might introduce biases.

    Beyond energy, dishwashers also save time, provided dishes aren’t pre-rinsed and they emerge from the machine clean and dry.

    Drawbacks of Dishwashers

    Not every dish is suitable for dishwashers. Stubborn residue, especially in pots and pans, is often better removed by hand. Dishwashers sometimes fail in this task. Moreover, dishwashers require more chemicals than hand washing.

    Using the Dishwasher Efficiently

    1. Ensure the dishwasher is well-stacked. Surprisingly, many are only half full. With efficient loading, we could reduce the number of cycles we run.
    2. Pre-rinsing under running water is mostly redundant. Modern machines clean dishes without a pre-wash. Large food scraps should be discarded, not washed.
    3. For lightly soiled items, an eco or short programme at a lower temperature suffices. Overly hot cycles are often used unnecessarily, which consumes more energy. However, a hotter wash once a month helps prevent fat deposits.
    4. Clean the dishwasher filter regularly; a clogged filter prolongs the cycle and uses more energy.
    5. Dose detergents, salts, and rinsing agents precisely, being mindful of water hardness.
    6. Avoid washing an odd plate, glass, or mug by hand. This often leads to more overall water usage.
    7. Don’t leave the dishwasher in stand-by mode; turn it off when not in use.


    Washing under a continuous stream of water is wasteful.

    Individual habits play a massive role in the environmental impact of handwashing. Studies have shown that water consumption can vary widely, but consistently, a dishwasher uses less water—about 15 litres for a full load—compared to hand washing.

    Ecological Balance

    In most scenarios, the environmental footprint of a dishwasher trumps hand washing.

    Several factors influence this balance, such as household size, type and amount of soiled dishes, water temperature, detergent type and amount, dishwasher features, and user behaviour. Add to this the energy, water, and resources needed for manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of the dishwasher.

    In conclusion, although many variables play into the equation, for the majority of households in the UK, using a dishwasher is more environmentally friendly than hand washing.

    Dishwashers primarily use energy to heat water. Those with solar-heated water systems can save electricity. Many machines have hot water connections, but this should be set up efficiently to conserve energy. With the UK’s focus on renewable energy and heat pumps, such connections can be highly beneficial. Moreover, the machine washes faster as water heating takes less time.

    Regarding detergents, salts, and rinsing agents, it’s crucial to consider the local water hardness.

    washing up bowl with plug

    A Brief History of Dishwashers

    • The first domestic dishwasher designs emerged in the 1920s. They bore little resemblance to today’s machines.
    • Dishwashers gradually became more common in British households from the 1960s onwards.
    • Modern dishwashers are far more energy-efficient than older models. Over recent decades, water and energy consumption has drastically reduced. Top-tier machines, equipped with multiple eco and specialised programmes, adjust water consumption based on the load, further conserving energy and water.
    • Currently, there are stringent energy efficiency standards for dishwashers sold in the UK, ensuring better environmental performance.

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