Dishwasher vs hand-washing – which is cheaper?

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

There are some straightforward ways to use less energy, like only boiling enough water for a cup of tea or switching off the air fryer when you’re finished with it.

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

We’ve looked into it and found out whether you should use the dishwasher or wash by hand.

Washing dishes by hand

When it comes to washing dishes by hand, there are no specific figures for water or energy consumption. 

That’s because some households use running water and others prefer to use a washing up bowl, though the latter method will mean you use less energy and water than leaving the hot tap running.

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 most needed, on the stubborn stains. When using a dishwasher, there may be occasions when harsh stains won’t come off. In fact, it can actually cause them to 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 will cause damage. By hand, you can gently wash these items properly. 
  • Washing dishes can lower stress levels. According to Time, there is scientific evidence 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, according to the University of Michigan. If you prefer washing by hand but want to keep costs and energy usage at a low, then try to avoid leaving the tap running and switch it off when scrubbing. The university advises using 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.

Washing dishes in a dishwasher

You can easily work out how much it costs to run a dishwasher. 

A two kWh dishwasher will cost you around £0.60 an hour to run, based on the new energy price cap. However while some programmes, like a ‘quick wash’ option, may only take one hour, if you set your dishwasher for a more intensive wash, this may take around two hours per cycle and cost more for each dishwashing cycle.

Based on using your dishwasher for a total of eight hours each week – which could for example mean eight short one hour cycles or four longer two hour cycles – you’d be looking at adding around £4.80 to your electricity bill. That works out at £249.60 over the course of a year. 

However an investigation from Which? found that a dishwasher uses around 10 times less water than washing by hand, depending on the model you’re using. 

Here are some benefits of using a dishwasher.

  • It cleans the dishes better. A dishwasher reaches high temperatures of up to 60 degrees Celsius 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 above 230 hours of washing up a year, according to Energy Star.
  • You save on water consumption. A lot of dishwashers now have a feature where the cycle is adjusted based on the soil levels. There is also an eco feature on dishwashers which ensures the cycle uses less water and energy. 
  • 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. Also, all dishwashers now have an energy efficiency rating. The ratings range from A to G, where A is the most efficient and G is the least efficient. 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. Skincare brand Pai says these soaps have chemicals in them that irritate the hands, and the constant hot water on your hands leaves your hands feeling dry and dehydrated.

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

Dishwasher vs washing by hand - the verdict

It seems obvious, but the less water you use, the less energy you use.

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 use, although this is dependent on loading it fully and correctly. 

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. 

What’s more many items are inappropriate for the dishwasher, such as wood or exposed cast iron. 

As a result, even if you have a dishwasher, you may still need to wash at lease some items by hand.