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Is It Cheaper to Hand Wash or Use a Dishwasher?

Does a dishwashers hold the edge over hand washing

wear marigold gloves to wash dishes

When it comes to cleaning dishes, the eternal debate rages on… Is it more cost-effective to hand wash or use a dishwasher? 

Around half of UK homes have a dishwasher. So as a country, we are divided. What’s certain is that most like the idea of saving money, time & the planet.

In this in-depth analysis, we delve into the nitty-gritty of both hand washing and dishwasher usage to determine which method truly reigns supreme in terms of cost-effectiveness, time & eco credentials.

Water Consumption: A Key Factor

The first aspect to consider is water consumption. Most of us run the tap continuously when hand washing. Dishwashers are designed to use water efficiently. In recent years manufacturers have responded to Government pressure to make kitchen appliances more effective & efficient. You’ll see grading (A to G) on all dishwashers making it easy for consumers to compare dishwashers for efficiency & performance. 

An average washing-up session, uses 8-27 litres of water per session, depending on factors such as flow rate and personal habits. On the flip side, the best dishwashers use as little as 6-16 litres per load, and some high-efficiency models can use even less. Factor in that a full-size dishwasher will replace around three hand washes and you can see (in terms of water) how efficient a dishwasher is.

Energy Consumption: The Hidden Costs

While water consumption is a significant factor, we must also consider energy costs. Hand washing typically relies on hot water to break down grease and food particles effectively. Heating water can consume a considerable amount of energy, especially if done multiple times a day. The time spent hand washing does add up and this leads to a high overall energy usage in the long run.

Dishwashers, on the other hand, have advanced energy-saving features such as eco or quick cycles that use less hot water and electricity. Moreover, they are designed to optimise water temperature and distribution, reducing energy consumption. Although dishwashers require electricity to operate, their overall energy efficiency usually outperforms hand washing.

Detergents and Chemicals: Balancing the Costs

When we talk about the cost of cleaning, we cannot ignore the expenses incurred using detergents, clothes, brushes, scourers and chemicals. Hand washing may seem like a low-cost option, but it does add up.

Dishwashers, while initially requiring a larger investment in dishwasher detergent, use smaller and more controlled amounts of detergent per load. Additionally, detergent manufacturers often create formulations specific to dishwasher use, optimizing cleaning performance and reducing waste. That said, dishwasher tablets are expensive. You can expect to pay around 14p per wash (including rinse aid & salt).

Wear and Tear: The Long-Term Consideration

Another factor to contemplate is the wear and tear on kitchenware. Hand washing can be more abrasive on delicate items, leading to faster degradation and the need for replacements. Over time, this could contribute to increased expenditure on new dishes, glasses, and cutlery.

Dishwashers, when used correctly and with appropriate settings, can be gentler on kitchenware. Modern dishwasher technology has improved significantly, and many models offer delicate cycles designed to protect fragile items, potentially extending their lifespan. And generally, there are fewer breakages using a dishwasher compared to washing in the sink.

Time is Money – Opportunity Cost

One aspect that is often overlooked is the opportunity cost of time spent on daily tasks. Hand-washing dishes can be time-consuming & dull! Time spent hand washing could be used for other activities or simply relaxing – you’re a long time dead!

Using a dishwasher is a real-time-saver. Load it up, press a button & you’re done. This convenience is perhaps the main reason most people who once they’ve owned a dishwasher wouldn’t consider reverting to hand washing.

How Much?

Adding everything up, the EnergySavingTrust state that a standard dishwasher costs between £30 to £85 a year to run. (Also factor in the cost of the appliance between £300 & £1200).  But what about hand washing?

Before washing up, most of us run the tap for hot water & then leave it running for the duration of the handwash. At the other end of the spectrum, some folk are much more careful and use significantly less energy. Unfortunately, there’s no robust data for the average energy cost of hand washing the dishes, but most experts agree that a dishwasher is far more efficient and uses less energy to get the dishes clean.


Top 3 Tips on Saving Money With Your Dishwasher

  1. Run a full load – For smaller households choose a slimline dishwasher
  2. Skip the pre-rinse – Scrape plates to remove any food fragments instead
  3. Use the Eco cycle – Avoid hot washes that cost significantly more & may damage your glasses & crockery

The Verdict

After analysing the various factors, it is clear that dishwashers hold the edge over hand washing in terms of time & cost-effectiveness. While hand washing dishes might seem like a frugal choice at first glance, the cumulative costs of water, energy, time and the potential for increased wear and tear really do add up.

Dishwashers, with their water and energy-efficient features, controlled detergent usage, and time-saving convenience are the more cost-effective option. Not only do they save money, but they also provide a more efficient and hygienic way to tackle the never-ending pile of dirty dishes.

However, the argument does grey a little when you factor in the cost of the dishwasher. It comes down to a personal choice centring on time.

Ultimately, if you like donning the marigolds, all good. For the rest of us, a dishwasher is an easy choice.


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