Hand-Washing vs. Dishwashers

Hand-Washing vs. Dishwashers: Which Is Better?


Most of us would automatically assume that using dishwashers is more costly than manually hand-washing dirty dishes. Many would presumably think these chunky machines consume more power and water, thus the more harmful option of washing dishes for the environment. 

However, that is surprisingly not the case.

On top of handling the dirty work more conveniently, several studies have already shown that using dishwashers is ultimately the more energy and water-efficient option. 

So much so that many argue that dishwashers are significantly more eco-friendly than opting for traditional hand-washing techniques.

This article aims to end the age-old debate of hand washing vs. dishwashers. We will pit the two options head-to-head in several categories (cleanliness, money-saving, and environmentally friendly) in the hopes of determining the one true winner. 

Summary Table: Pros and Cons

Below is a straightforward table detailing the pros and cons for both hand washing and dishwashers. Have a look.

Hand WashingYou can target tough spots more effectively

Some items require hand washing to be cleaned

For some, hand washing can reduce stress

Does not use any electricity
Can be hard on your hands

Uses significantly more water

You are forced to stand in front of the sink for long periods

Sponges can harbor bacteria

You can spend a lot of time thoroughly cleaning dishes
DishwashersUses significantly less water

More efficient for cleaning full loads

More eco-friendly; wastes lesser resources

Saves more money in the long run
Lets your home look nicer and tidier

Perfect for big families
Can be expensive to purchase or repair

You may get lazy

Need repairs from time to time

You have to maintain it regularly to preserve optimal performance

May not be necessary for small families or single-person households

With that out of the way, let us now start putting our two contenders on the line and conclusively determine which of them is the better method.

Cleanliness: Hand Washing vs. Dishwashers

With the recent pandemic, people are now more concerned about germs and bacteria than ever before. Cleanliness has been brought back to the top priority for almost every household worldwide. 

With that being said, which of our two candidates is better at getting our dishes and kitchenware germ-free? Is it cleaner to diligently scrub your dishes by hand or just put them in a trusty dishwasher and let it do its thing?

Unlike traditional hand washing, dishwashers use much hotter water to wash dishes. It has a built-in heating mechanism that ensures that the water used to clean our dishes is scaldingly hot, killing off virtually all bacteria and germs that may get stuck on it. 

As a matter of fact, this heating mechanism consumes the most power in dishwashers. Approximately 80% of a conventional dishwasher’s energy consumption falls solely on water heating.

That may be, dishwashers aren’t totally free of bacteria. As with any machine or appliance, dishwashers could accumulate bacteria over time. Most of this is found near the rubber sealing around the dishwasher parts. 

However, the results turned out negative in nearly 100% of the tests conducted to determine whether this bacterium is harmful to humans. 

In contrast, washing dishes by hand tends to accumulate more bacteria, mostly because it is living on the rag, sponge, or towel you use every time you hand wash dirty dishes.

For our first category, we are giving the win to dishwashers

Washing dishes using a dishwasher provides much cleaner dishes than hand washing due to the fact that they are built for that sole purpose. 

Even those dishes that don’t necessarily come completely clean after a cycle have fewer bacteria on them than most hand-washed dishes, no matter how diligent you do it.

Money Saving: Hand Washing vs. Dishwashers

It is worth noting that in the US, the initial cost of purchasing a dishwasher can range from about $300 to well over $1,500. Looking at that price tag alone would already skew many of us into thinking that hand washing is the more cost-effective option. 

However, while purchasing a dishwasher might not be an option for everyone, getting one might be cheaper than sticking with traditional hand washing in the long run. 

Surprisingly, hand washing actually consumes more energy and water than using dishwashers. Generally, hand washing dishes uses six times more water and almost double the energy consumed by heating the water than just outright letting a dishwasher do its purpose. 

As shocking as this may be, it is based on behaviors people show while washing dishes by hand on their kitchen sinks.

It has been proven that most people leave their hot water running while washing dishes, leading to excessive energy and water usage, especially when dealing with a day’s worth of load. 

Furthermore, many hand washers aren’t effectively cleaning their dishes by hand, leading to more time spent running the water and more water wasted. Adding all that up would certainly explain the high electricity and water bill we get every month without dishwashers.

Alternatively, most dishwashers today now have an eco-setting feature installed, which helps you save energy and money without much effort. Simply switching a dishwasher onto an eco-setting can save water use by 20% to 40% for each wash cycle. 

In addition, the eco setting also heats water more slowly, using lesser energy in the process. This means that even though it would take a bit longer to finish, you’d still get the same result as the machine’s normal setting.

With all that being said, we are also giving the win for this category to dishwashers. 

Even though they are expensive machines, they are built in a way that would help you save more money over time. 

Environmentally Friendly: Hand Washing vs. Dishwashers

There is no denying that prolonged use of dishwashers can build up adverse effects on our environment. After all, it requires energy and water and runs very long. 

However, it is less harmful to the environment than just using your hands and manually cleaning the dishes on your kitchen sink. 

As we have already discussed above, dishwashers use far less water than hand washing the same number of dishes in the sink. In fact, it is not even close. 

Contrary to the belief of many, pre-rinsing your dishes before feeding them into your dishwasher does not boost their efficiency at all. It is actually hurting it. Pre-rinsing is not necessary for all modern and properly working dishwashers – doing so only leads to more wasted water. 

What about electricity consumption, then? Hand washing does not require any electricity, so it should beat out dishwashers this time, right? While that may be true, it is worth noting that it takes considerable energy to produce clean water for you to use. 

And as we have established above, hand washing consumes significantly more water, thus, leading to more energy wasted as well.

For the purpose of this particular category, we firmly believe that dishwashers still use less overall energy than hand washing, making them more environmentally friendly. Add to that the fact that many models now have an eco-friendly option built-in on them. 

Again, dishwashers get the win here.

Related Article: The Environmental Effects of Using a Dishwasher (12 Facts & Statistics)

The Verdict: Hand Washing vs. Dishwashers

Dishwashing won all the categories we included above by a landslide. It is the better option of the two in almost every way. 

While they are an expensive up-front cost, these machines will make easy work for your energy bills on top of rendering your life much more comfortable. 

Your back shouldn’t hurt as much once you have a dishwasher, as you wouldn’t have to stand over the sink for long periods anymore.

As long as you take good care of your machine, it will also take care of you. It is only when broken that hand washing trumps dishwashing. 

So, if your dishwasher is not draining or not filling water properly, turning to your trusty sponge and manually scouring the grease and stains on your plates is your fail-safe option.

If using a Dishwasher is not an option

Let us say that it only takes you about 10 minutes to do the average amount of dishes in your kitchen sink. If you leave the water running the entire time (most people do as we mentioned above), those two gallons of water that go down the drain per minute can add up to 20 gallons by the time you are done. 

That is quite a lot. With that said, here are a few sustainable ways to wash your dishes by hand.

To minimize water usage when hand-washing dirty dishes and kitchenware, fill half of a split sink with hot water and a considerate amount of eco-friendly dish soap. 

Next, fill the other side with clean hot water. Say you don’t have a split sink; use a big bowl instead. Then scrape any leftover food waste into the nearest compost bin.

Now scrub your dishes on the soapy side of the sink, then transfer them right after to the clean side for a thorough rinse. 

After that, quickly dry them down using a clean dish towel, or let them air-dry on a rack – your choice. This method would use the same amount of water as a typical ENERGY STAR-rated dishwasher.


To finish off, dishwashers are proven to be better for you and the environment in almost every way. If you can get past the steep price point of actually purchasing one for your kitchen, then there is no reason why you should stick to traditional hand washing. 

Related Article: Top 9 Budget-Friendly Dishwashers for 2023

No matter how we look at it, dishwashers are the better choice, that is, if you know how to take care of such machines optimally. Nevertheless, we hope to have resolved the debate once and for all.

Would you like to know the top dishwashers this 2023? We got you covered! Follow the link and take a look at our picks.