Closeup view of an open dishwasher in a kitchen

A considerable debate is raging over dishwashers vs. hand-washing in terms of environmental friendliness and sustainability

So, which method is better for the planet?

Let’s find out!

The Modern Kitchen Sustainability Dilemma: Dishwasher or Hand Wash?

When making their kitchens more eco-friendly, people often think they have done their job by choosing beeswax wrap, silicone sponges, and glass jars.  

While these items help reduce your carbon footprint, you must also integrate sustainable practices, like making dishwashing less harmful for the environment. 

People often get confused about the debate between the two. Both have pros and cons, so there are a few things to consider before picking a side.   

Let’s discuss each factor in detail. 

Water Usage

Dishwashers generally use between four to six gallons (15.14 to 22.71 liters) of water per cycle.

Hand washing dishes can use anywhere from five to twenty gallons (18.93 to 75.71 liters) of water, depending on how much you let the faucet run while you’re scrubbing away.

So, in terms of water usage, dishwashers are more efficient. But does that mean they’re always the best choice for the environment? 

Keep reading to find out.

Energy Efficiency

Most modern dishwashers use about nine hundred and fifty watts of electricity on average, outperforming hand-washing. However, if you’re using an older model dishwasher, it might use more energy.

Detergent Quality

Machine detergent often contains harsh chemicals that can harm the environment.

Hand-washing dish soap is typically made from natural ingredients and is better for the planet.

Time Efficiency 

Hand-washing the dishes takes little time, whereas a machine takes about an hour or two to finish the whole cycle.

However, don’t forget that hand-washing often requires more systematic effort. On the other hand, you have to load the dishwasher before running it.


As you may have guessed, hand washing is the less expensive option. However, apart from paying for the water, you have to cover minor costs like sponges, dish soap, towels, and a drying rack. 

Carbon Footprint

You can reduce your carbon footprint to almost zero by hand washing the dishes in cold water. However, any containers won’t come out clean this way. 

The carbon footprint of hand-washing dishes while using warm water sparingly is 540g. It may reach 770g and 990g if you use the dishwasher at 550C and 650C (131℉ and 149℉), respectively.

Lastly, your carbon footprint may go up to a whopping 8,000g when you wash the dishes by hand with extravagant use of water.

So, if you like to leave the water running while you scrub the food containers, your carbon footprint will be much higher than if you use a machine.     

A plate floats vertically atop water

Other Things to Consider

Dishwashers are generally quite efficient at cleaning the dishes; they occasionally leave behind spots.

You can directly target the areas with leftover food particles and scrub until it’s clean with hand-washing.  

Besides this, remember that some dishes are not machine safe. For example, putting some materials in the dishwasher can damage your dishes

So, what’s the final verdict? 

Dishwasher vs. Hand Wash: What’s More Sustainable?

In general, dishwashers are more environmentally-friendly and sustainable than hand washing dishes (assuming that you only run the machine when it’s full using appropriate cycles) because they help save water, are more efficient than hand washing, and save money in energy costs. 

However, there are a few things to consider before making your decision. If you have an older machine, it might use more energy than hand-washing dishes.

Hence, it would be best if you looked for an energy-efficient unit that meets the water and energy-saving standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Go for something with the Energy Star label—it may help you save up to $25 in energy every year

Guide to Choosing the Right Dishwasher 

Here are the different features you should look for when buying an eco-friendly dishwasher:


Make sure to choose a unit that is the right size for your household.

If it’s too small, it won’t be able to handle all of your dishes, and if it’s too big, it will use more energy and water than necessary.

Energy Efficiency 

Whether you want to lower your energy consumption or decrease your water usage, purchasing an energy-efficient dishwasher is the way to go. 

As mentioned earlier, you should look for the Energy Star label and choose a model that uses fewer than five gallons (18.93 liters) of water per cycle and less than 307kWh annually. 


Some eco-friendly machines come with features that can save you time and money, such as delay start timers and energy-saving modes.

Make sure to choose a model with the functions you need.

Here are some features that boost energy efficiency, user-friendliness, and convenience. 

Cycle Options

The ideal unit will let you choose from various cycle options to enhance cleaning power and efficiency. These may include:

  • Rinse and hold
  • Express
  • Sanitize 
  • Water filtration 

This feature captures the most stubborn food particles to ensure there’s no residue left on the surface, keeping the water and your dishes clean. 

Soil Sensor

Like the water filtration feature, the soil sensor automatically detects spots requiring extra cleaning and applies the right cleaning power to remove all stains.

Consequently, you get clean dishes every time without wasting water or energy.   

Special Zones

If you’re tired of your dishes coming out partially clean, you should look for a model with special zones.

You can then place the dirtiest plates, pots, and pans in these areas for targeted cleaning.

A fisheye view from inside the upper rack of a dishwasher

Dishwasher Material 

One of the most critical factors to consider when purchasing a new dishwasher is the sustainability of its materials.

Some materials are more sustainable than others, and it’s crucial to choose one that will have minimal impact on the environment. 

One of the most sustainable materials for dishwashers is stainless steel. It’s not only durable but also recyclable.

In addition, stainless steel does not release toxins into the environment, making it a safe choice for your home. 

The second most sustainable material for dishwashers is glass. It is sustainable because it comes from sand, a renewable resource. It is also recyclable, so it doesn’t have to end up in a landfill.

So, if you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly option for your dishwasher, glass is a great choice.

Another sustainable choice is plastic. Plastic is often made from recycled materials, making it an eco-friendly option.

However, not all plastics are created equal.

Some types of plastic can release toxins into the environment, so it’s critical to choose one that you can safely use in a dishwasher. 

Each of these materials has its benefits and drawbacks, so it’s essential to consider your needs before deciding.

However, if you’re looking for the most sustainable unit possible, stainless steel is the best option

But, let’s suppose you’re more concerned with price than sustainability. In that case, plastic may be a better choice for you.

Glass is also a great option, especially if you’re looking for a dishwasher that will complement your kitchen’s décor.

How to Choose an Energy-Efficient Dishwasher

While dishwasher has been found to be the most sustainable approach, you can make it even more efficient and eco-friendly. One way to do that is by choosing an energy-efficient dishwasher.

Here are the key factors to consider when looking for an energy-efficient dishwasher:

  • Energy rating: It’s usually indicated from A to G. A indicates the most energy-efficient option, while G is less efficient.
  • Energy consumption in kWh: The amount of energy a dishwasher consumes in kWh for 100 cycles will help you know its efficiency. The lesser the amount of kWh, the more efficient the dishwasher is.
  • Water consumption: Dishwashers with efficient water usage not only conserve this precious resource but also reduce the energy required to heat the water, contributing to overall energy savings. Go for an option with multiple wash cycle options and sensors that adjust water usage based on the load size and soil levels.
  • Energy Star Certification: Look for the Energy Star label when shopping for a dishwasher. Energy Star dishwashers use less water and energy compared to non-certified models.
  • Delay start feature: Choose a dishwasher with a delay start feature. This allows you to schedule the dishwasher to run during off-peak hours when electricity demand is lower.

Tips to Make the Most of Your Dishwasher 

Making your dishwasher more eco-friendly and energy-efficient is easier than you think! 

Regardless of the size, material, and functions of the unit you pick, there are things you can do to make your dishwasher more sustainable.

This section will give you some tips to help you save money and conserve resources. With these simple tricks, you’ll be able to reduce your carbon footprint while also saving on your energy bills!

Tip #1 – Only run the machine when fully loaded to ensure that you use the most energy-efficient setting possible and save money on your water bills.

Tip #2 – Recycle the water from your dishwasher to water your garden. 

Tip #3 – Make sure your dishwasher is loaded correctly. If you don’t pack in your dishes tightly, they won’t get clean, and you’ll end up wasting water and energy.

Tip #4 – Choose the shortest cycle possible. Most units have multiple settings, so choose the one that will get the job done in the shortest amount of time.

Tip #5 – Use less dishwashing detergent. You might be surprised to learn that you only need a small amount of dishwashing detergent to get your dishes clean.

Tip #6 – Pre-rinse your dishes. This step may be unnecessary if you use a dishwasher with a food grinder. However, if your dishwasher does not have a food grinder, pre-rinsing will help remove any large pieces of food that could clog the dishwasher.

A homeowner pre-rinses a mug before putting it in the dishwasher

Tip #7 – Scrape, don’t rinse. Sweep off any food scraps from your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher to save even more water.

Tip #8 – Use less water when pre-rinsing. If you choose to pre-rinse your dishes, use the cold water setting.

Tip #9 – Use a drying agent. A drying agent will help your dishes dry faster, saving energy.

Tip #10 – Clean the dishwasher filters regularly. If the filters are clogged, it will take longer for your dishes to get clean and use more energy.

Tip #11 – Check for leaks. A leaky machine can waste a lot of water and energy, so make sure to check for any leaks regularly.

Final Word

Sustainability is a hot topic right now, and for good reasons. We need to think about the future of our planet and how we can make changes now that will benefit us down the road.

It’s good to see that sustainability has become a massive concern for many people in everyday life. So, how can we make sure we live in a way that does not negatively impact the planet? 

One area where this is especially important is in the kitchen, particularly washing the dishes. 

On the one hand, dishwashing by hand is more sustainable and uses less energy. But on the other hand, dishwashers are much more efficient and can save you time.

So which is the better option? 

Both dishwashers and hand washing have their pros and cons when it comes to sustainability.

However, dishwashers use less water overall than hand washing, which is excellent for conserving this limited resource. Unfortunately, they also require electricity to run, which can be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Hand washing dishes uses more water than a dishwasher, but it does not require electricity, making it more sustainable overall. 

That’s the reason energy-efficient dishwashers are becoming popular. Not only are they better for the environment, but they can also save you money on your energy bill. 

However, there are some cases where hand washing dishes is the better option.

For example, if you have a small kitchen or limited storage space, a dishwasher may not be practical for you.

Additionally, if you have a lot of dishes that are difficult to clean in a dishwasher (like cast iron skillets), hand washing is your best bet.

In conclusion, the dishwasher versus hand wash dilemma can be confusing. In general, dishwashers are more water and energy-efficient than hand-washing dishes, but there are some cases where hand-washing is better. 

Hopefully, this blog post has helped you make an informed choice for your home!

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