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The Green Kitchen: Using a Dishwasher versus Hand-Washing Your Dishes

Which method of cleaning your dishes is better for the environment, dishwasher or hand-washing? You might be surprised to find that in some cases, using an electric dishwasher may be a little more green than old-fashioned, hands-in-the-suds washing.

[Credit: Corbis Digital Stock]
Credit: Corbis Digital Stock

An Energy Star-rated dishwasher manufactured after 1993 likely uses less water than hand-washing — because it doesn't waste water in that waiting-to-get-warm process you go through at the sink, and because it cleans a lot more effectively, which means you don't have to pre-rinse to get all food remains off. To maximize efficiency, however, you want to wash full loads and use the most energy-efficient settings (choose air-dry and steer clear of heat-dry, rinse-hold, or pre-rinse options).

All well and good, if you can fill up the dishwasher every day. However, if you live by yourself, it might take you a week to come up with a single dishwasher load. In this case, you can wash mindfully. Once a day, fill up a soapy sink tub about halfway — just enough hot water to submerge or dunk most dishware. Wash and place your soapy-clean dishes in the other sink. When you’re done, you can take your spray hose and rinse them. In the summer, you can save the tub water to pour on your garden, providing the soap is vegetable-based.

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