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Handwashing vs. Dishwasher: Which is Better?

Handwashing vs. Dishwasher: Which is Better?

Mother stands behind young daughter as they load a dishwasher together.The handwashing versus dishwasher debate rages on: which one gets your dishes cleaner? Which one uses less water? And, most importantly, what’s the most efficient method for your household? Here are the pros and cons of handwashing and using the dishwasher, and a few factors to consider when tackling that never-ending pile of dishes in your sink.

Handwashing Pros

  • When done correctly, handwashing can be more energy efficient. However, most of us aren’t actually handwashing our dishes in the most energy-efficient manner. We’ll discuss the best handwashing method below.
  • Washing dishes by hand can be therapeutic. Yes, some people find this chore to be a major stress reliever. Researchers found that people who washed dishes mindfully experienced increased feelings of inspiration and decreased nervousness.
  • You can tackle grime and stuck-on food effectively. If your dishes have stubborn, crusted on food, washing your dishes by hand may allow you to target those problem areas a little better.

Handwashing Cons

  • Handwashing may be more time-consuming. There’s no doubt about it: washing a full sink of dishes by hand takes more time than loading them into a dishwasher and pressing a few buttons.
  • Handwashing is rarely done in an eco-friendly way. Simply put, many people don’t know how to wash their dishes in an environmentally-friendly way.
  • It can be difficult to get dishes fully sanitized. Dishwashers use scalding hot water to get dishes sparkling clean and sanitized. It’s simply not possible to get your dishes quite as clean with just elbow grease.

Dishwasher Pros

  • Dishwashers are convenient and easy. Load up your dishes, add some dishwashing detergent, and run the dishwasher with the press of a button. What’s easier than that?
  • Modern dishwashers are extremely energy efficient. Dishwashers are best for the planet, especially if you’re doing a full load every time.
  • Dishwashers typically use much less water than handwashing. They use a small amount of water, but with maximum efficiency. Is using a dishwasher more eco-friendly? The answer is generally YES.

Dishwasher Cons

  • Depending on the settings, they may use excess water and energy. Contrary to the points above, if you’re using every bell and whistle on your appliance (think presoaking and heated drying), your dishwasher is not as eco-friendly as it could be.
  • They may miss stuck-on food and stains. Certain foods are notorious for giving dishwashers a run for their money. It’s never fun to unload a dish only to discover it needs a second go.
  • You may run out of dishes between washes. If you don’t have many dishes, your supply may dwindle before your dishwasher is completely full.

Dishwasher vs. Handwashing: Factors to Consider

When comparing handwashing to using a dishwasher, there are several factors to consider, like the model of the dishwasher, the technique you’re using to hand-wash, and more.

Water Consumption

Does hand-washing dishes save water? When comparing handwashing vs. dishwasher water usage, it’s not always entirely straightforward.

Generally, modern dishwashers use less water than handwashing 99% of the time. Standard dishwashers manufactured after 2013 cannot exceed 5 gallons of water per cycle, while compact dishwashers cannot exceed 3.5 gallons per cycle.

When washing dishes by hand with the water running, however, you’re sending over two gallons of water down your drain per minute (and most of us take several minutes to get this task done!). If you’re washing dishes using running water, you will likely use well over 20 gallons. However, if your only option is handwashing, there is a way to do it more efficiently.

  1. Fill one side of your sink with soapy, warm (not hot!) water, and the other side with clean, cool water. (Don’t have a two-sided sink? Fill a plastic tub with cool water).
  2. Scrub your dishes in the warm, soapy water, starting with the cleanest dishes first.
  3. Rinse them clean in the cool water.
  4. Let your dishes air dry.

The steps above are quite possibly the only handwashing method that can compete with a modern, eco-friendly dishwasher.

Energy Usage

But what about dishwasher vs. handwashing electricity usage? Similar to water usage, modern dishwashers are often more energy efficient than handwashing. Much of the energy for handwashing comes from heating the water. So, if you need to handwash, minimize your energy usage by keeping your water warm.

However, you’re not exempt from this advice if you’ve got a modern washer. Features like pre-soak and heated drying can use excess water and energy, reducing the eco-friendliness of your machine. To be as environmentally friendly as possible, turn off these features or use them sparingly.

Cost Effectiveness

Budget-conscious individuals are likely the most concerned with handwashing vs. dishwasher cost breakdown. Is it cheaper to handwash or use a dishwasher? Using your dishwasher is likely the cheaper option, thanks to the water and energy they save.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, using an Energy Star dishwasher can reduce your utility bills by approximately $130 per year.


If your biggest priority is ensuring your dishes are as clean as possible, dishwashers are your best bet. Although dishwashers use less water, that water is scalding! Water that hot easily kills the bacteria on your dirty dishes much better than handwashing. Just make sure you routinely clean your dishwasher to keep it in tip-top shape!

Ready to save on water and ensure your family gets the cleanest clean possible? Shop the latest rent-to-own dishwashers at a Rent-A-Center near you. Plus, with our flexible payment options and free same-day delivery**, you can cash in on savings as soon as today!

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