Dishwasher vs kitchen sinkHome » Latest issue » Good, issue 3 » Good start » Dishwasher vs kitchen sink
Dishwashers make life easier—so they must be bad for the environment, right? Not necessarily
Whether ’tis better to wash your dishes by hand or by machine really depends on the people those dirty dishes belong to. Let’s split the entire population of New Zealand into two main groups: singles and couples with no kids (or brand new ones); and families and other groups of people living together (flatmates, say, or kinky polyamorist types).
For families who make stacks of mess in the kitchen and need to do dishes several times a day, the convenience of a dishwasher will be life changing. Lucky, then, that if you choose the right dishwasher, and use it smartly, it won’t use any more power or water than doing all those plates by hand.
If there’s only one or two of you dirtying dishes, however, get out the yellow gloves. Washing by hand, using just one sinkful of water, is the best way to economise on energy and water if you’re only doing one load of dishes a day. (If you don’t mind letting your dishes stack up for a few days until you’ve got a full load then a recent model dishwasher could match that efficiency—as long as you only run it when it’s full.)
Both groups will save water and power if we wash smart. For hand washing, that means filling the sink then turning the tap off, instead of washing dishes under running water. If you must rinse the suds off—and if you use small quantities of eco-friendly dishwashing liquid there’s probably no need—fill a bowl with warm water and pour it over your washed dishes once they’re stacked happily in the dish drainer.
Smart dishwasher use means always using the economy cycle (try tweaking the temperature and cycle length to make it even more efficient). By using the air-dry setting or opening the dishwasher door instead of using its drying cycle, you can save about 15 percent of the machine’s total energy use.
Scrape food off plates instead of rinsing them, too. Rinsing a load of plates can use even more water than a full dishwasher cycle, and new models of dishwasher are powerful enough to remove food residue.
When your old-model dishwasher gives up the ghost, replace it with a modern energy-efficient model: choose an appliance with an Energy Star logo. Water use is equally important. Most of the electricity it takes to do the dishes is used to heat up the water. Dishwashers use some energy on top of this, but that can be balanced out by using a water-efficient model that uses even less hot water than you need to fill a sink. Dishwashers bearing the WELS (Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme) logo use half the water of a standard model.
Two caveats: new dishwashers are about twice as efficient as old ones, so the older the machine the less advantage it has over hand washing. And none of this advice takes into account the energy, metals and plastics it takes to actually build a dishwasher in the first place.
Dishwashers are, sadly, a non-essential item, so if you’re looking for the least possible environmental impact, then say hello to your kitchen sink. But if using a dishwasher improves your quality of life, makes you a nicer person or frees up an hour a day to change the world, then let technology serve you.