Inside a dishwasher

How Much Water Does Your Dishwasher Use?

From air conditioners to microwaves, electric kettles to freezers, there’s a multitude of convenient home appliances to invest in. One of the most coveted — but still optional — is the not-so-humble dishwasher. Buy one, and you can skip washing the dishes (or fighting over who will) ever again. That said, as tempting as it sounds, the price of a dishwasher can be a barrier.

If you do want to buy one, however, you may be interested in the eco-friendly bonuses. Dishwashers are touted as more economical, as far as water usage goes, especially compared to traditional hand-washing. But is this really the case?

How much water does a dishwasher use, and can investing in one genuinely save you time, water, and money?

To Dish Wash or Hand Wash — Which Is More Eco-Friendly?

One of the obvious advantages of hand washing, vs using a dishwasher, is using less electricity. Of course, this depends largely on whether you hand wash with hot water from your geyser, or not. Washing and rinsing dishes only in cold water reduces your electricity usage to zero.

However, doing so may not be the wisest route when it comes to sanitizing them. Warm to hot water is better, particularly the 130-140°F (51-60°C) temperatures that dishwashers offer. Additionally, dishwashers are the clear winners when it comes to saving you both time and water.

Most dishwashers recycle water intelligently, at various stages of their cleaning cycles. Meaning they can use up to 85% less water, compared to washing the same volume of dishes by hand. Speaking of which, a standard dishwasher also fits around 2-3 times the quantity of dishes the average kitchen sink does.

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How Much Water Does a Dishwasher Use?

No two dishwasher makes and models are the same. As such, how much water a dishwasher uses varies. Water demands are usually based on the following specifications of every unique machine:

  • Size
  • Volume
  • Age
  • Cycle
  • Settings

Older dishwashers used around 10 to 15 gallons of water per cycle. However, any dishwasher manufactured after May 30, 2013, in the US, has to meet much more stringent federal water-usage standards. For standard-sized dishwashers, not more than 5 gallons may be used per wash cycle, and 3.5 gallons or less for compact models.

Many newer dishwashers use even less water than required — as low as 2.5 gallons per wash.

To compare, traditional hand-washing of similar-sized loads demands around 15 to 27 gallons of water per wash. That’s a saving of around 3,600 to 8,900 gallons of water a year when dishwashing.

It’s not only water usage that’s decreased on the latest models, either. Newer machines are becoming more and more energy-efficient.

How Much Energy Does a Dishwasher Use?

The average dishwashing cycle uses around 1,200 to 2,400 watts of electricity. However, Energy Star (US) or A-rated (Europe) models can use as little as 1,000 to 1,200 watts of electricity. Usually, it costs around $30 to $100 per year to run a dishwasher once every day or second day. Choosing a more energy-efficient model can save you up to 50% per year, depending on your usage.

Check your dishwasher’s specs to find out how much energy yours uses, or compare the models you wish to buy beforehand. This way you can ensure that you select one with the best energy efficiency for your money. Doing so may save you even more, should energy costs go up.

How Can I Reduce Dishwasher Water & Power Usage?

Are you wondering if you can use even less water and reduce power consumption further? Dishwashers can be very water-wise, but there’s even more you can do to improve efficiency.

Try:

  • Opt for “Eco” or another shorter, more energy- and water-efficient mode.
  • Buy a compact model if your household and dish-washing demands are small.
  • Consider a countertop or portable dishwasher for single/two-person households.
  • Invest in an energy-efficient Energy Star (US) or A-rated (Europe) dishwasher.
  • Skip the heat dry cycle and rather air dry your dishes by opening the dishwasher door.
  • Clean your dishwashing machine regularly, according to the model’s instructions.
  • Keep your dishwasher well-maintained, and fix issues timeously.
  • Pack your dishwasher full, as each cycle uses the same amount of water and electricity.
  • Avoid the half-load setting, which usually uses the same amount of water and electricity as other options.
  • Don’t over-fill your dishwasher, as doing so may obstruct the jets, leaving you needing to run a second wash.
  • Scrape dishes thoroughly before dishwashing to reduce debris and the likelihood of blockages.
  • Use as little water as possible (or none) when scraping or pre-rinsing your dishes.
  • Switch to an eco-friendly, bio-degradable dishwashing detergent or pods.

Is a Dishwasher Water-Wise & Eco-Friendly?

Dishwashers — particularly the latest models — are very water-wise, using much less water than traditional hand-washing. Plus, the most energy-efficient models can cut your electricity bill considerably, ending up partially paying for themselves.

That said, you can wash up more sustainably by hand if you follow the tips below. Whichever you choose, be sure to implement efficient procedures to use as little water and electricity as possible.

How Can I Hand-Wash My Dishes More Sustainably?

Knowledge is power, and knowing the following will allow you to plot a course of action that’s more sustainable. As far as water efficiency goes, hand washing isn’t quite as eco-friendly as dishwashing. However, there are ways to optimize your wash to reduce both water and power consumption.

Double-bowl sink

Try:

  • Only using cold water to wash and rinse your dishes. Doing so will save electricity.
  • Investing in a double-bowl sink so you can wash and rinse separately.
  • Keeping the rinse and wash (if you have a double-bowl sink) water in for the next wash.
  • Filling up a separate plastic washing-up bowl for rinsing if you don’t have a double-bowl sink.
  • Reusing your rinse water sink as a wash-up sink once it gets soapier.
  • Keeping the dirtiest, grimiest, or starchiest dishes for last.
  • Using an optimal amount of washing-up liquid to reduce suds and subsequent excessive rinsing.
  • Not letting the tap water run without putting a plug in the sink.
  • Limiting the number of dishes, utensils, and cooking equipment you use, to reduce your washing up.
  • Installing a sprinkler or aerator nozzle on your tap to reduce water usage when rinsing by tap.
  • Switching to an eco-friendly, bio-degradable soap or washing-up liquid.
  • Reusing grey water to irrigate the soil around your plants and in your garden.
  • Installing a grey water filtration system in your home to improve cleanliness and versatility.

How Much Time Will Using a Dishwasher Save Me?

In this fast-paced and ever-more-demanding day and age, time is money — and vice versa. The main reason why consumers buy a dishwasher is to free up time for more important things. That doesn’t just mean work; it could include things like attending that football match, taking time out to read a book, or playing with your pets.

Convenience is the biggest draw, with a dishwasher saving around 30 minutes to an hour’s manual washing-up time daily. Besides time, other benefits include not getting raw hands or a chipped manicure from scrubbing. Older citizens, those with large households, or anyone with an ailment can also benefit. If you have a reduced capacity to do manual housework, a dishwasher may even be a necessity.

How Can I Reduce the Impact of Dishwasher Waste?

As with any appliance, dishwashers and their internal parts have a set lifespan. If you take care of yours and use it sparingly, you can extend its longevity. However, dishwashers will need to be fixed once in a while, and eventually disposed of once they’re no longer usable. Try to get a broken dishwasher fixed first, before throwing it away.

If your old dishwasher is under warranty, the retailer, supplier, or manufacturer may fix it for free. If not, they may still be able to help, but usually for a fee. Be sure to ask around should they claim it’s unfixable or the quote you get is too high. Repairmen usually price according to their needs, while some just don’t take on certain types of repairs. It’s possible they can’t get the part, or lack the knowledge and experience to fix it.

If you simply want to upgrade your dishwasher, you can trade it in at select retailers, or re-sell it. Even broken dishwashers can be sold for parts — but never dump it. Because dishwashers are made of various salvageable and recyclable materials, such as steel, aluminum, and plastic, recycling is key. Calling a professional recycling center to pick it up, or dropping it off at one is your best bet.

Caitlin Greyling

Caitlin is a staff writer at Durability Matters.