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

Left, person loading dishes into a dishwasher. Right, person washing dishes in sink
(Image credit: Getty images)

With rising energy bills we ask, what is the most energy efficient way to wash the dishes, is it in a dishwasher or by hand? 

Making an effort to use less energy can be straightforward 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 toy 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.


Person washing plate in sink with eco-friendly brush

(Image credit: Getty images)

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.

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 will cause damage. By hand, you can gently wash these items properly. 
  • Washing dishes can lower stress levels. According to Time, it has 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, 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 not to leave 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 in.


Bowls And Utensils In a Dishwasher

(Image credit: Getty images)

You can easily check how much it costs to run a dishwasher. But 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. 

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:
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  • It’s easier to know how much energy you’re using with a dishwasher. Also, all dishwashers now have an energy efficiency rating. According to Beko, the ratings range from A to G labels 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 at full capacity.

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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 — 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. 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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Vaishali Varu
Staff Writer

Vaishali graduated in journalism from Leeds University. She has gained experience writing local stories around Leeds and Leicester, which includes writing for a university publication and Leicester Mercury. 

She has also done some marketing and copywriting for businesses.

When she is not writing about personal finance, Vaishali likes to travel and she's a foodie.