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Dishwashers vs dish washing by hand: comparison of energy and water consumption

Dishwashers vs dish washing by hand: comparison of energy and water consumption

how sustainable is…

While research suggests that washing dishes by hand can be as water and energy efficient as using a dishwasher, typically, a dishwasher (machine) uses less energy and water.

A study of different manual dishwashing practices of different European nationalities showed that there are significant differences in the amount and the temperature of water used as well as the amount of dishwashing liquid used for the same amount of dishes:

  • Water consumption ranged from 14 litres to 447 litres (average 103 litres)
  • Based on the amount and temperature of the water used, the energy consumed ranged from 0.2 kWh to 16.6 kWh (average 2.5 kWh)
  • The two dishwashers (machines) that were run in comparison consumed between 15 litres and 22 litres of water and 1.0 kWh to 2.0 kWh, depending on the dishwasher program chosen.

The study also found that on average, a dishwasher (machine) produces cleaner dishes than a person washing them by hand.

However, different practices also affect the energy and water use of washing dishes in a dishwasher (machine): Rinsing dishes with hot water, before placing them in the dishwasher, will result in a much higher energy and water consumption than placing them in the dishwasher as they are. Similarly, turning on the dishwasher before it is full, results in higher than necessary energy and water use, per item to be cleaned.

Links to selected original reports: Report 1: Cleaning dishes in Europe (in German), Report 2: Dishwashing under various consumer-relevant conditions (in English)

While we make every effort to be accurate, we do not claim that this summary is representative. Please refer to our Legal Disclaimer for details.

what can I do to reduce my environmental footprint?

If you want to reduce the impact on the environment from cleaning your dishes, there are some simple steps you can take that will make a big difference to your energy and water consumption:

Using a dishwasher:

  • Don’t turn your dishwasher on before it is full
  • Don’t rinse your dirty dishes with hot water before placing them in the dishwasher. If you need to rinse them, fill your hand basin with (just enough) cold water and rinse your dishes using this water, rather than under running water
  • Where possible, use the less intensive program (lower temperature, less water).

Washing dishes by hand:

  • Don’t wash your dishes under running water. Instead, fill your hand basin with (just enough) water and wash your dishes in this water.
  • Rinse your dishes under cold water (in a basin of water, not under running water)
  • If you have a large amount of dishes to clean and some are dirtier than others, start with the cleaner dishes first, to make the washing water last longer.

Report Rating: 3 out of 3 (both reports)

Reports Published: Report 1: 2004; Report 2: 2007

Country: Germany (both reports)

Author(s): Report 1: Rainer Stamminger; Report 2: Rainer Stamminger, Britta Rummler, Anja Elschenbroich, Gereon Broil

Publisher: University of Bonn (both reports)

Funder: Report 1: not known; Report 2: Financial support from European dishwasher manufacturers Bosch, Siemens Hausgeräte, Electrolux, Merloni Elettrodomestici and Arcelik

Keywords: life cycle analysis, LCA, cradle to grave analysis, environmental footprint, sustainability, energy, water, consumption, dish, washing, dishwasher, rinsing, detergent

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