What’s greener? washing the dishes by hand or using the dishwasher?

The answer is not at all straightforward! The ecological impact of doing the dishes will very much depend on what kind of washer-upper you are, how often you wash up, the height of your dirty plates pile, and the performance/age of your dishwasher. Still, I will attempt here to compare the two, taking into account the various factors that come into play. It will then be up to you to judge what’s your least impactful route to sparkly dishes!

Water

A dishwasher consumes an average of 12 litres of water per cycle: while an older machine, or specific wash cycles on your dishwasher, can easily double or triple water consumption, the latest models may use as little as 9 litres, thanks to a super efficient filtering system that reuses the same waters over and over again.
You will almost always use a lot more water when hand washing. In fact, the average use is 42 litres per washing up, a study from 2009 shows. But if you follow our good advice, you could half, or even quarter your water use!

Energy

Whilst you dishwasher almost certainly uses less water, it is heated at much higher temperatures: circa 50 degrees C with the ECO programme, compared to approximatively 35 degrees C when washing up. The energy use of your dishwasher will depend on its performance (see the energy label), capacity, frequency of use, age and lifespan
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Usage

Taking account all these variables, a dishwashing cycle uses on average 0,8 kWh. You can easily consume less when hand washing if you follow our washing up tips. The norm however is to over-use hot water, ending up in hefty water and electrics bills.

On Balance

If a dishwasher tends to be less greedy in water and electricity, we must also account for the grey energy used in manufacturing, transporting and recycling your dishwasher, estimated to be offset within three years of regular use.

Eco tips for washing up by hand

Try to run just a little hot water, do all the cleaning and then rinse in cool water. This way you are more likely to achieve the most eco dishwashing by minimising the energy usage and keeping the water consumption down.
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Choosing, using, and looking after your dishwasher

 
Performance varies hugely from one appliance to the other.
  • Where possible, opt for a second hand dishwasher, as the environmental footprint of its manufacture is a heavy one. Check here.
  • Consult consumer sites before your purchase to help you select a durable and reparable machine, without programmed obsolescence and a high energy rating.
  • Run your dishwasher on the ECO cycle, it uses cooler water for longer. Avoid prewash and drying cycles.
  • Fill up before turning on and remember that it is not necessary to rinse your dishes before dishwashing them (just empty them of any surplus food).
  • Descale regularly using citric acid.
  • Turn off after use.
Check out this really interesting comparison video to see for yourself the best way to get you eco dishwashing.

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