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Dishwasher vs. Hand-washing: The Pros and Cons

Are you on the fence about getting a dishwasher? You may wonder if the investment in this appliance will pay off in the end–not only in saving time, but money where your energy and water bills are concerned. Dishwasher vs. hand-washing is a complex debate with die-hard believers on either side. We’ve gathered the data so you can understand the pros and cons of both using a dishwasher and hand-washing in order to make an informed decision.


There are loads of different dishwashers out there on the market. If you’re hoping to reduce your energy and water bills while also being environmentally conscious, look for an energy star approved model. These models use less energy and, although water isn’t included in the certification, the latest dishwashers use as little as 4-6 gallons per load. Older models are not so efficient, so if you have an old dishwasher, you can expect to use up to 15 gallons in just one load of dishes.

So, assuming we’re talking about energy star approved models, what are the pros to using a dishwasher?

  • Savings in water. Studies show that hand-washing dishes can use up to 27 gallons of water for washing 12 place settings, while dishwashers typically use 4 gallons to wash the same amount of dishes.
  • Energy savings. The same research showed that 2.5 kWh of energy were used when hand washing, but only 1.5 kWh were used when using the dishwasher. That includes the energy used when running your water heater.
  • Save time. Using the dishwasher means you don’t have to stand in front of the sink washing dishes.

However, that’s not the whole story. There are also some cons to using a dishwasher:

  • Bad habits. If you pre-rinse your dishes, you eliminate some of the water savings you can expect from using the dishwasher.
  • Another bad habit is running the dishwasher when it’s not full. This diminishes the efficiency of your dishwasher.
  • Detergents. Many dishwasher detergents include phosphates which can be harmful to the environment. However, there are phosphate-free options, so if you opt for the dishwasher, make sure you shop for these varieties.

What is there to be said for old-fashioned hand washing dishes? It does have its merits:

  • You can control the amount of water used. This means you can use less water for washing a few dishes vs. a sink load.
  • Cleaner dishes. Because you use elbow grease accordingly, you can pay extra attention to stubborn hardened on food. The dishwasher won’t notice the difference.

As you may have guessed by reading the pro section of the dishwasher method, there are also some cons:

  • Unless you’re extremely water conscious, you’re probably not as efficient in your water use as the dishwasher.
  • You’ll probably use more energy than the dishwasher too. This will largely depend on how much hot water you run. So, if you’re prudent in your water use, it’s a bit of a toss-up.

So, what’s the bottom line? Unless you’re going to be extremely vigilant about your water use, you might as well go with the dishwasher. You’ll also save yourself from the task of washing dishes by hand. As long as you seek out phosphate free detergents, avoid rinsing dishes and only run it when it’s full, it will also save you on your utility costs and help the environment. Of course, if you have just a dish or two to wash, you can always do them up by hand if you don’t want them to sit dirty in the dishwasher all day.

Need help installing your new dishwasher or help with repairs to your sink? You can always count on Orange Coast Plumbing for all of your plumbing needs. Call our friendly staff today!