Which uses more water a dishwasher or washing by hand?

Washing-dishesThere is a common question about how much water dishwashers use compared to washing by hand. There is confusion over which is the most economical and the most environmentally friendly method.

I’ve seen an advert claiming a Bosch dishwasher uses as little as 9 litres of water. It said it used, “a lot less water than washing up by hand saving as much as 50 litres for a similar load”. It’s a good advert for dishwashers in general. It points out that they can be more economical than washing by hand. However, as described later, it depends on how you wash dishes by hand.


The advert also describes how much more hygienic dishwashers are because they can wash in higher temperatures. Washing dishes by hand might score a lot more points though if we looked at the full environmental impact of a dishwasher.

Manufacturing, transporting and the impact of their factories and eventual disposal of the old dishwasher all impact the environment.

Is washing by hand quicker?

Another article quotes a manager at Hotpoint. He said that compared with washing the pots by hand you can save up to 75% of water, 65 % of energy, and 80% of time when using an efficient dishwasher.

The time saving factor claim is derived from comparing the time spent loading and unloading the dishwasher with physically washing them.

The time saving only comes from the fact that although the machine takes much longer to wash them you are free to use your time elsewhere. So washing by hand is quicker but uses up more of your time.

Dishwasher manufacturers are keen to get us to believe that it’s better to use a dishwasher. As ever with adverts they often tend to give a two dimensional view that favours their product.


The Advertising Standards Authority has just upheld a complaint about the Bosch dishwasher advert saying that, “the commercial did not make clear that in some cases washing up by hand could be more water-efficient than using a dishwasher”. Their water saving claims may only be true if the hand-washer has the hot tap running constantly to rinse dishes. However, if you don’t rinse the dishes individually under a running hot water tap, that probably uses less water than a dishwasher.

I think it’s at least safe to say that if used correctly, a dishwasher should be the best way to wash dishes – especially for more than 2 people. There’s a lot of research that (if trusted) shows dishwashers are cheaper to run than washing by hand. It all depends on exact circumstances though. To use a dishwasher efficiently you need to fill it up, and use the most appropriated cycle. I wonder if you are as surprised as I was to learn that 70% of British households still do not have a dishwasher?

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8 thoughts on “Which uses more water a dishwasher or washing by hand?”

  1. Washing by hand takes FAR longer! We do two wash-ups per day and on average the total time spent is nearly two hours. The washing part does not take that long, probably fifteen to twenty minutes but the rinsing takes a LONG time. This also uses one heck of a lot of water to make sure there is no trace of washing-up liquid left on the dishes etc. Any liquid left on dishes and pans will end up in your food later, and constant digestion of such cancerous chemicals will cause you ill health in later years. Finally the drying part by tea towel is the quickest at around ten to fifteen minutes. We are not slow at washing up, just thorough; we are not ‘dab washers’ like many people we have witnessed on both TV and in real life.

  2. Today’s dishwashers do save water, if people always load them to full capacity and select a suitable programme every time. In most cases, the economy programmes are fine. Very dirty loads need the longer and hotter programmes, but if the dishwasher is full to capacity and dishes are not rinsed under the tap first, then the dishwasher wins, including when you take into account the detergent being rinsed off properly, as Ian mentions in comment #2.

    The only time I’d ever rinse things before loading is to rinse off sauces which are likely to stain plastic items in the dishwasher, especially curry and ketchup, but any dark coloured sauce liable to stain plastic items. Rinsing these under the hot tap uses less water, as hot water breaks up the sauce remains quicker compared rinsing under the cold tap.

    The dishwasher keeps the kitchen tidy of dirty washing up – you just shut the door on it and the dirty items are out of sight instead of cluttering the kitchen sink and its surroundings. :)

  3. Mrs F Osbaldeston

    Dishwashers are marvellous machines. They do a job that I dislike far more efficiently than I can and give me time to do more interesting things. One fact that no one seems to have mentioned is that breakages seem far less frequent. In my experience crockery and glass wear get broken during hand drying, by being dropped or simply coming apart. We hardly ever break anything now that it is all done by machine. True one has to load and empty them but one has to take washing up to the sink and put it away when it is done so what is the difference?
    Anyone who has room and can afford one should get one.

  4. The chemicals used to achieve the same result in a dishwasher are awful. The water jets are a pale substitute for the abrasive action of your hand a scrubber. They chemicals are so corrosive they will eventually corrode your glassware and the glazes on your crockery. I used to work as a lab technician for P&G and i really would not recommend them. – That said washing dishes is the worst house hold chore. Though i would use citric acid to clean the machine (they had their’s for nearly over 10 years running several cycles a day; and the fancy fuzzy logic ones don’t clean half as reliably as the older standard ones). Washing by hand is far safer and washing up liquid is not cancerous as has been suggested. You would need to take a child to casualty if it had a dishwasher tablet but unlikely if it got a bit soap foam in its mouth.

  5. I agree with Paul about older dishwashers being superior; our Smeg PL310 (I think) circa 1990 would run rings around our new Bosch SMI50M05GB. The only thing the Bosch does slightly better is the drying part and that is all. Also the basket was better designed on the Smeg and we had no problems arranging the dishes etc; the Bosch on the other hand is a pain to load and requires constant moving around, right up until the day of the wash (we wash every alternate day, Mon, Weds etc for two people). I’m think that maybe people who eat fresh food and do not drink alcohol, are not whom Bosch had in mind. I suspect that the basket was designed for customers that have lots of wine glasses and child sized dishes and plates.

    Having said all that, it is good to have a dishwasher again after a six or seven year gap!

  6. I’d NEVER do without my dishwasher. As for dishwasher detergents being harmful, they should be kept out of reach of children just like all household cleaning products. I use Fairy Platinum tablets and I’ve not noticed any damage on anything. Delicate glassware should always be washed on the coolest programme and lead crystal glass is not dishwasher-proof. Anything that is valuable or irreplaceable should never be cleaned in the dishwasher.

    As for baskets and tricky loading, I was lucky to discover my dishwasher has fold-down spikes and fold-down wavy glass supports before buying it, so I fold down the spikes or move up the glass supports when I don’t need them. It’s always worth checking your plate sizes will fit BEFORE buying and if the upper basket height is adjustable. If buying a dishwasher online, check to see if maximum plate diameter sizes are listed.

    As for saving water, I use my dishwasher when it’s as full as possible and before owning one, I’d go through bowlfuls of water and replace the bowl of water when it discolours and the bubbles from the washing up liquid had gone. I sure used a lot more water when I washed up by hand!

    Hope that helps.

  7. Much Depends on whether the hand washer lets the water run the whole time or turns it on just to rinse?
    Appliance salesmen usually wil figure the hand washer will let it run the whole time while leaving to answer the phone and well you get the picture.

    Actually results like any statistic can vary highly and can be biasedly skewed to make anyone’s point.

    I can wash up my wife’s and mines dishes in less than five minutes even letting the water run is less than running a dishwasher for a whole cycle after all its not just water your using but electricity as well.

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