Will You save Water If You Wash Dishes by Hand?

Old habits die hard, and many people just can't stop giving dishes a quick wash before putting them into the dishwasher. But the fact is that the newer machines are so energy and water efficient that there's really no need. And you're being wasteful – running a load of dirty dishes uses six times less water than if you were to wash them yourself, using a sink full of hot soapy water and elbow grease.

And the dishes won't be as clean. For one thing, your hands wouldn't be able to handle the water temperature used in a dishwasher, which ranges from 140 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (60 to 63 degrees Celsius). In addition, today's machines use less soap, while high-powered water jets do the job more efficiently.

Wash less, save more:

  • To wash the number of dishes that can fit in a full size dishwasher – and use less water – you would need to be able to wash eight full place settings and limit the time that the faucet was running to less than two minutes, according to Jonah Schein of the EPA’s WaterSense program.
  • Energy Star-certified machines use less than 4.25 gallons (16 liters) of water for each cycle, according to the US Department of Energy.
  • Why do we wash dishes before they go in the dishwasher? It's just a habit many older consumers grew up with, like idling your car for long periods to get the engine warm.
More Info: University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Discussion Comments


I'm tempted to rinse the dishes, but I've never felt compelled to actually wash them.


New machines do not get off dried on, baked on residue. Statements that they do is an attempt to establish a new urban legend. My dishwasher is 1 year old, and if I put in a bowl with dried in place oatmeal residue without soaking and/or scraping it out the residue will be concentrated into a harder to remove crust when the cycle is finished. Other dried on foods such as tomato sauces are even worse to get clean.

The reason people still "wash dishes before they wash dishes" is that they want clean dishes without having to do them again.


Actually, being one of those "older consumers" you refer to, please allow me to expand on your point. When I first became acquainted with dishwashers in the mid-1960s, they weren't very efficient. One had to nearly wash the dish clean before putting it in the dishwasher, where it was then "sanitized for your protection." Any trace of food left on a dish would remain on the dish, being baked to perfection in the drying cycle, thus requiring hours of soaking and scrubbing to remove it.

It was out of embarrassment that we would wash the dishes by hand first. Should a guest find an unclean dish, the host or hostess would be mortified. It was a modern convenience and status symbol every American household "should have;" it just was not efficient enough to do the same job today's dishwashers do. Having soaked and scrubbed many "dishwashed" items after the fact, it is not "just a habit many older customers grew up with" at all. It was a question of "Wash it in advance" or "Suffer the consequences" later.

It is perfectly understandable older people are dubious. Our forefathers taught us: "What a fool does in the end, the wise do in the beginning."

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