At the conclusion of nearly every meal, people have a choice to make: clean the plates and utensils in the dishwasher or hand wash them. Over the years the capabilities of the dishwasher as an appliance have grown drastically, however some individuals are still unsure of which method is more sensible to rely on. The promise of being able to control all elements of a cleaning can lead to the conclusion that hand washing is the more efficient of the two, both in terms of time required to clean as well as the energy to perform the wash. In reality, a lot goes into this and actually undermines these commonly held beliefs. At the conclusion of your next meal, consider the following before going one way or the other.
How A Dishwasher Works
In order to complete a load of dishes, the dishwasher must utilize a number of processes meant to ensure that not only do the remnants of food get removed but also that plates and utensils are thoroughly sanitized. When activated, it is the job of the dishwater to add and heat water, apply detergent, utilize jets to clean dishes, and finally remove the dirty water from the cleaning and give everything another rinse. Instead of filling completely with water, it is just a small portion within the dishwasher’s bottom that fills. As the entire cleaning is underway, it is also the job of the dishwasher to keep track of time so that it can properly move along through each phase.
On the dishwasher operator side of things, there are some inputs required to clean dishware such as supplying detergent and providing details about the wash. Opting for a dry cycle is a choice available to those who need their dishes cleaned but in order to save on energy, this step can be ignored. As of 2017, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that dishwashers are one of the least-used appliances in homes as research shows that more households have microwaves and laundry machines than dishwashers.
How Much Water Do Dishwashers Use?
The amount of water and energy utilized by dishwashers can vary based upon their overall efficiency. Energy Star, a program within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), goes around and certifies certain appliances that are energy-efficient. In addition to saving individuals and businesses, this also lends itself towards different levels of water and energy use. As a result, the average usage for dishwashers comes in the form of the standard versions of the appliance as well as the Energy Star certified ones.
While the average dishwasher uses around 6 gallons of water to complete a cycle, energy-efficient washers can cut that in half and use as few as 3 gallons. When it comes to the energy used by a dishwasher, the process of relying on the appliance actually uses about half as much as it takes to wash dishes by hand. This, in large part, is due to the fact that newer dishwashers do not require the use of the hot water heater to warm things up and instead can utilize internal heaters that do the same job for far less energy. In terms of kilowatt-hours needed, the dishwasher’s energy needs per load can range from .90 kWh to 1.60 kWh.
Shortcomings of Hand Washing
An alternative to using a dishwashing machine is handwashing, which comes with its own unique set of benefits and shortcomings. When comparing it to dishwashing through the use of a machine, hand washing has some rather important things to note. First and foremost, hand washing is helpful for cleaning a small number items. While the time saved may seem like a desirable plus, the reality of hand washing is that in order to thoroughly sanitize dishware, the temperature of the water needs to reach upwards of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Because individuals cannot handle that kind of temperature, it is best to just rely on the dishwasher.
Beyond the heat required to properly clean plates by hand, the amount of energy and water that is wasted during hand washing is quite alarming. It is estimated that per load, individuals use around 27 gallons of water to clean by hand. On an annual basis, over 6000 gallons of water are wasted by hand washing per household. In the same wasteful manner, hand washing requires the use of the home’s hot water heater to pump warm water to the sink. In doing this, a considerable amount of energy is used and meant to aid in dishwashing but far too often is lost as people leave the sink running. And in the event the sink is plugged and water recycled, the use of water that becomes dirtied early on after use once again undermines the sanitary element of the cleaning.
Improving Dishwasher Efficiency
Though it is the much more efficient option, using the dishwasher can come with its own share of drawbacks. The source of these can be any number of things such as energy use and cost. In order to cut back on them, there are a few things that can be done. One of the easiest ways to improve efficiency is to make sure the dishwasher is used when there is a full load. This will help to minimize excessive use of detergent as well as water and energy. At the same time, having the appliance filled to the brim can reduce its cleaning effectiveness and hinder the hot water jets, so be mindful of that. For those with older dishwashers, making the switch to a newer energy-efficient one can promise reduced energy use.
One thing that can contribute to the cost of operating the dishwasher is the time of day in which it is done. During peak hours, or periods of high energy use, service providers face high demand from customers for power. In order to prevent being overwhelmed, many companies will incentivize customers through the use of off-peak hours in which rates are reduced during certain periods of time. If saving money and saving energy is a goal, consider checking if that is something provided by your energy company and take advantage of it.