Dishwasher vs hand washing – which is cheaper?

Dishwasher vs hand washing

With households trying to consume less energy, we put the dishwasher and washing dishes by hand head-to-head and ask which is cheaper.

With energy bills sky-high, many of us are wondering how to use less gas and electricity in the home. With this in mind, what’s the most energy efficient way to wash the dishes: dishwasher vs hand washing dishes

Making an effort to use less energy can be straightforward such as only boiling enough water for a cup of tea, or turning down your thermostat by just one degree.

But with a dishwasher, it’s tough to know what’s going on inside, how much water’s being used and how much it’s costing you on your energy bills compared to washing up by hand.

We’ve looked into it and found out whether you should use the dishwasher or wash by hand. We also have loads more tips so you can save on your water bill, such as changing your shower head, washing clothes at a lower temperature, plus what water-saving freebies are available.

Another way to potentially pay less for your energy is to switch onto a better tariff. Do an energy comparison to find the best deal for you.

Washing dishes by hand

If washing dishes by hand, there are no specific figures for water or energy consumption because some households use running water and others use a washing up bowl. 

But it’s pretty clear, using a washing up bowl uses less energy and water than leaving the hot tap running. And if you’re having to dilute it with cold as it’s scolding, cut your hot water temperature to save on your energy bills.

Washing dishes by hand seems like a chore to many, but it also has its benefits.

  • You can target your scrubbing. Whether you’re washing a plate or a pan, you can direct harsher scrubbing to where it’s needed, on the stubborn stains. Sometimes not all harsh stains will come off in the dishwasher, it will actually make it stick even more to the dish, making it harder to wash off later.

  • Don’t forget the fragile dishes. Some items in your kitchen can’t be washed in the dishwasher – for example wooden utensils – otherwise it’ll cause damage. By hand, you can gently wash these items properly.

  • Washing dishes can lower stress levels. According to Time, it’s been scientifically proven that if you wash the dishes by hand mindfully, it can benefit your mental health.

  • It keeps emissions low. Washing dishes by hand reduces emissions, but only if you’re not using a running tap. If you prefer washing by hand but want to keep costs and energy usage low, then try not to leave the tap running and switch it off when scrubbing. An efficient system is to use one washing up bowl with soap and water, and another washing up bowl with just water, which you can use to rinse your dishes off in.

Washing dishes in a dishwasher

You can check how much it costs to run a dishwasher using our appliance cost calculator.

Plus Which? has put it to the test against hand washing dishes and found a dishwasher uses around 10 times less water than washing by hand, depending on the model you’re using. But even the least water-efficient dishwasher still uses half the amount of water.

Here are some benefits of using a dishwasher:

  • It cleans the dishes better. A dishwasher reaches high temperatures of up to 60°C which you physically can’t wash under with your hands. The hot water kills bacteria and gets rid of harsh stains, so it cleans pots and pans more thoroughly.

  • Time saving. Using the dishwasher is convenient, especially when the dishes pile up after a big dinner. All you have to do is load and unload the dishwasher, and leave it to do the hard work for you. A dishwasher can save you over 230 hours of washing up a year, according to Energy Star. That’s almost 10 days.

  • You save on water consumption. A lot of dishwashers now have a feature where the cycle is adjusted based on the soil levels. This means you’ll only use exactly the amount of water that you need to.

  • Eco mode. Most dishwashers have an eco mode which ensures it cleans dishes efficiently whilst using less energy:

  • It’s easier to know how much energy you’re using with a dishwasher. All dishwashers now have an energy efficiency rating. The ratings range from A to G labels where A is the most efficient and G is the least efficient. While the average dishwasher consumes between 1.2kWh – 1.5kWh per load, you’ll be able to find the exact level on the label. These labels also give information on water consumption, energy consumption and noise emissions for every 100 cycles.

  • Your hands will thank you. Washing up detergent is not good for your hands. Soaps have chemicals in them that irritate the hands, and the constant hot water can leave them feeling dry and dehydrated.

To save on energy costs further when using a dishwasher, make sure you only turn it on when it’s fully loaded.

Dishwasher vs hand washing: the verdict

Let’s talk costs. It seems obvious, but the less water you use, the less energy you use.

We’ll assume an average dishwasher uses about 1.5kWh of energy per wash, and has a 50-minute cycle. Based on a unit cost of 29p per kWh (January 2024 price cap average), this costs a fraction over 36p per load.

The annual cost will depend on how much you need to use it. But according to examples used by Ideal Home:

  • B-rated 14-place full-sized dishwasher with an average annual energy consumption of 214 kWh: £62 a year to run.
  • F-rated 14-place full-sized dishwasher with an average annual energy consumption of 266 kWh: £77 to run per year.

When it comes to hand washing, a lot depends on how you heat your water, but Which? uses figures for a 3kW electric immersion heater and a 9-litre bowl. Using current prices, this works out at a little over 12p a wash.

If you need to wash up three times a day, and are away from home 10 days a year, this works out at £130.

If your water is metered, using more water will obviously add to this bill too. But at least you’ll be able to keep a closer eye on this, and change your usage accordingly.

So, in summary, using a dishwasher will save you between roughly £53 and £68 a year.

Ultimately, using the dishwasher saves you time, it’s more hygienic and it’s generally the cheaper method of the two, in terms of both water and energy — although this is dependent on loading it fully and correctly. 

But many items are inappropriate for the dishwasher, such as wood or exposed cast iron. If you are washing by hand, instead of leaving the hot tap running, top up a washing up bowl. 

Not every household owns a dishwasher, so you need to weigh up whether it’s worth the investment in the long term, or if you’re happy washing by hand. 

Both methods will always be necessary, but the dishwasher should more be relied on for everyday washing up – especially if you make use of the eco setting.

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