Scrub a dub dub

Is it greener to wash dishes by hand or machine?

When I was five, we moved into a house with a dishwasher.  A nonfunctional dishwasher.  We used it to store snacks.  My parents were not worried about this — from their viewpoint, they had three very functional dishwashers, or would, once some of them grew up a bit.  I never minded this task much, but my youngest sister thought it was horrible.  Once she reached functional dishwasher age, a “real dishwasher” occupied the top spot on her wish list for both Christmas and birthdays.

So, what’s the answer?

Because there are many factors, there may not be one right answer, so here are some things for you to consider.

To wash dishes efficiently, have a sink full.  Washing a single dish or just a few dishes, whether by hand or machine, will always use more water, energy, and soap per dish than a full load.

If by hand:

  • Use a tub (or large pan or bowl) for rinse water instead of constantly running a stream of hot water.
  • Wash least dirty dishes first so the wash water stays clean longer.

If by machine:

  • If you are buying a dishwasher, look for one with the Energy Star rating.
  • Only run the dishwasher when you have a full load.
  • Most newer dishwashers are very powerful, so despite what you may have done in the past, you do not have to rinse dishes before washing; just scrape off excess food and load.
  • If you have an older dishwasher and need to pre-rinse the dishes, fill the sink or a pan or bowl with water to use for all of the dishes.
  • Do NOT use any of the extra settings, like high-temp wash or heated dry.  These just waste energy.
  • When the cycle is finished, open the dishwasher and pull out the racks to let the dishes air dry. Open the dishwasher just as the cycle ends, when all of the dishes are still hot; they will air dry very quickly.

For either:

  • Look for environmentally friendly dish detergents.
  • Be lazy.  Is your plate from lunch clean but for a few breadcrumbs?  Brush them off and use the same plate for dinner — no washing required!

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