Dishwasher vs. Hand-Washing: The Pros & Cons

Washing dishes by hand

Are you thinking about purchasing a dishwasher?

Or simply wondering how well a dishwasher performs vs. hand washing?

20% of American homes with a dishwasher don’t even use it. The press claims that’s a bad thing for the environment, but is it?

We often hear about a dishwasher’s energy efficiency and reduced water use. Seldom is there a peep about a dishwasher’s limited lifespan, or a question about the validity of studies “proving” the superiority of a dishwasher to hand washing

We don’t sell dishwashers at Orange Coast Coast Plumbing, nor do we repair them. But we do care about water, energy, and the environment.

So we’ll give you the good, bad, and ugly about dishwashers. And we’ll make an objective case for purchasing one — or sticking to hand washing your dishes.

Claim #1: Dishwashers Use Less Water Than Hand Washing


Maybe. A dishwasher needs 4 gallons of water for a standard wash cycle. Water flows from a wide-open tap at about 2.2 gallons per minute.

If you can complete your hand wash quickly without leaving the tap wide open, you may actually save water compared to a dishwasher.

And if your dishwasher is set to extra cycles, like pre-wash and extra rinse, all bets are off.

Also, do you pre-wash your dishes by hand before placing them in the dishwasher? You’d have to account for this water use as well.

Claim #2: Dishwashers Use Less Energy


Maybe. This claim ties to the water heater above all else. If it’s far from the sink, you’ll waste energy (and water) waiting for the hot water to arrive and again when you leave unused hot water in the pipes to cool. All that energy to heat water left in the lines goes for naught.

But if your home has a tankless water heater, it will be close to the kitchen sink. Hot water arrives almost instantly. And a tankless heater burns up to 34% less energy than a storage-tank water heater.

So the jury’s out regarding a dishwasher’s most frequently cited environmental benefits. For more information on the ecological impact of washing dishes, please read this excellent article from Tree Hugger.

Claim #3: Dishwashers Do a Better Job of Cleaning Dishes


It depends. Temperatures inside a dishwasher reach temperatures of 130-140° F. For safety reasons, the temperature in a water heater should go no higher than 120° F.

So the dishwasher wins — except it takes a temperature of 149° F or more to kill most waterborne bacteria. And dishes frequently come out of the dishwasher dirty, with encrusted food and clinging particles, and must be rewashed by hand.

Claim #4: A Dishwasher Saves Money


Maybe. If it saves significant water and energy, a dishwasher may save you money over its life.

  • But a dishwasher costs anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000, plus installation.
  • Dishwashers last only 7-10 years, on average.
  • Dishwashers tend to develop maintenance issues after 5 years. The average dishwasher repair in America runs over $200.

So the jury’s out on this claim as well. It’s linked directly to claims #1 and 2.

Other Benefits of Dishwasher (Pros)

  • Convenience: No doubt it’s convenient to have a machine do the bulk of the work for you.
  • Time savings: Again, no argument. Loading dishes in the dishwasher takes much less time than washing them by hand.
  • Sterilization: Dishwashers get hotter than tap water temperatures. Bacteria are eliminated more effectively, but not completely.

Drawbacks of a Dishwasher (Cons)

  • Price of the unit and installation costs: As mentioned, dishwashers cost several hundred dollars (or more). You’ll need to factor in installation costs as well.
  • Noise levels: The sound of a dishwasher running is usually noticeable, especially in a small home.
  • Wear and tear on dishes: Cleaning occurs via a powerful spray cycle, so delicate items may not survive multiple washes or the hot, dry cycles that follow.
  • Environment impact of detergents: Many dishwasher detergents include phosphates, which can harm the environment. Always opt for phosphate-free detergents.
  • Maintenance: Hard water creates lime deposits that clog a dishwasher. Unless you stay vigilant and descale your dishwasher often, you could be facing a $200+ repair.
  • Limited appliance life: A dishwasher may last 7-10 years. The more you use it, the faster it will wear out.
  • Limited cleaning ability: The toughest dishes still require pre-washing, scrubbing, and manual rinsing.


While a dishwasher can be a great convenience and potential water and energy saver, it may not always be the most economical or ecological choice. Much depends on your habits, preferences, and water heater.

Ultimately, if hand-washing fits well into your lifestyle and you’re conservative with your water use, there’s no need to rush to the appliance store as your green initiative for the year.



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