Dishwasher vs. Hand Wash: Just be Smart


It took a professional organizer standing in my kitchen to make me appreciate my dishwasher.

Looking at the breakfast dishes in the sink, she asks, “Why don’t you use the dishwasher?”
     I don’t know.  We’d always used the sink.  Assumed it was greener.  We were a hand-wash family.
“Why don’t you load the dishwasher throughout the day?  Then by the evening it’ll be full enough for a more efficient load?”
     Good question.  Why don’t we do that?

Honestly, I prefer the house cleaner option…

I’m guessing we shied away from the third most expensive appliance in the kitchen because the dishwasher/hand wash debate can be a bit convoluted (water usage, energy usage, soap usage, etc.) and like most online debates, full bias and distortion.  On the hand wash side you’ll hear, “Dishwashers use 8 gallons of water!”  Or 5.  Or even 15.

Oh, but wait!

Leave the sink running and dishwasher nuts will shout, “That’s 2 gallons you’ve just wasted!”  Or 3.  Or 27.  Leaving you with about 28 seconds to get that scrambled egg off your cast iron pan.

You know what?  If you’re smart about your washing, it’s pretty close.
And the reality is, you are probably going to do both anyway.

I hand wash:  anything I don’t want to break, my nonstick sauté pan, and anything featuring egg yolks.  I collect or use the water as it turns warm (either by rinsing my coffee filter or filling the Brita).  Then I plug the sink, run the water a few seconds more and toss in some soap.  When I rinse a dish, the water goes into the sink and that’s how the sink gets filled.  I’m usually finished before the sink gets half full.

The one problem with this method is that I’m using hot water the entire time.  You could rinse in cold water, saving on energy usage.  But I’m not a fan.  I like to sear the food off my dishes.

Everything else:  in the dishwasher.  It’s six years old and probably uses 5 gallons a load on the hippy “eco” setting.  We also air dry but that’s pretty easy in the clima seco of Albuquerque.

And unless you want to face this…

…which is dishwasher full of nasty, grey water…

…I would scrape as much stuff as you can into the composter or trash.  Despite the latest and greatest in dishwasher design, chunks of food will find their way past the filters and you’ll end up with a clog.  Like I did yesterday when I started this post.  I’ll probably post on it next week.  Gross.

(UPDATE:  And, if you wait to run your dishwasher right when you go to bed, you’ll miss the peak power usage hours.  That’s good, right?)

Ultimately this is what you should do:  whatever is best for your family.  The dishwasher didn’t make sense in this family until I had four mouths to feed instead of one or even three.  If your family consists of you and a few felines, maybe smart hand washing makes more sense.

Bottom line:  be smart with the water and do what’s best for you.  Save your water-usage guilt for showers.

I like this link:

September 4, 2014

About Me

About Me

I’ve been passionate about combatting blind consumerism since 2008 and joined the Zero Waste movement by starting this blog in 2013, soon after my second child was born. I think it might have been trying to unwrap a toy or someone’s attempt to sell me a butt-wipe warmer that put me over the edge… read more



  1. Anonymous

    well said and cute little blondie there!!! I still think you should try some poached salmon in the DW too, let me know how that turns out:)

  2. zerowastemommy

    Thanks! And I think, that we wash our dishes AFTER dinner, coupled with wanting to use a plastic bag to keep out the soap water….means I won't be experimenting with dishwasher cuisine anytime soon. Intriguing though.

  3. IronMike

    Now that we're living in the land of salt-needy dishwashers and limited summer water, I've been filling the sink with water and soap, and immediately start washing, rinsing in the same sink. By the time I'm done, the sink is full of water, and I leave it there, because inevitably, the kids will have already dirtied up some dishes which they'll not rinse of their own accord.
    I leave the water in the sink so as to give the dishes a fighting chance of getting in the sink o' water. Still, with two sinks, there's still only a 33% chance of the dishes landing in the correct sink AND under the water.

  4. zerowastemommy

    Hmmm….all of this sounds familiar. The "swamp water" (as the hubs calls it) in the sink and the kiddos helping in their own way to clear the table.

    What does 'salt-needy dishwashers' mean?

  5. IronMike

    The dishwashers here (and in Moscow) require dishwasher salt. Yeah, that's a real thing. We didn't know until our dishes in Moscow started turning out streaky and spotty. The locals asked us if we added salt. Uh, no.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.