Dishwasher vs washing by hand — which is cheaper?

Dishwasher being loaded
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If you’ve ever wondered which is cheaper, running the dishwasher vs washing by hand, you’re not alone. Because we can’t see what’s going on inside even the best dishwashers, it’s tricky to tell how the water consumption compares to a running faucet. Plus, because dishwashers require energy to run, many of us naturally assume that this is the more expensive method, but things aren’t as clear cut as that. 

In fact, the actual costs involved in running a dishwasher might surprise you, especially when compared with washing your dishes by hand. Add to that, there are many benefits to running a dishwasher which should be taken into account. So, when it comes to using the dishwasher vs washing by hand, here’s the facts.

Dishwasher pros 

Water running down the drain in a stainless steel sink

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1. Uses less water on average — The first point worth clarifying is that your dishwasher, on average, will use less water compared to washing by hand. 

Most modern dishwashers now offer auto programs, which means they will adjust the cycle and water required based on the soil levels. This, as well as the introduction of eco programs, means modern dishwashers are far more efficient than previous generations. In fact, to be Energy Star certified (opens in new tab), a standard dishwasher can only use a maximum of 3.5 gallons per cycle. 

The amount of water you use washing by hand will vary depending on the flow rate and your speed and method of cleaning. However, for a clear comparison, Finish (opens in new tab) says you could use up to 40 gallons to achieve the same goal — that’s over 10x the amount of water. Even if you use a washing up bowl and rinse sparingly, it would be difficult to come close to what a dishwasher achieves. So, it’s safe to say that using the dishwasher will tend to save on water waste.

A close up of an open dishwasher door showing the control panel

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2. Saves energy — It might surprise you to learn that the dishwasher uses less energy as well. Energy Star certified dishwashers cannot use more than 270 kWh/year. And considering there’s less water to heat versus washing by hand, less energy is ultimately required when running the dishwasher. 

Energy Star (opens in new tab) points out that less than a quarter of the energy is used by the dishwasher when compared to washing by hand. And between this and the water savings, you can save up to $130 per year on your utility bills, if you opt for an Energy Certified model.  

So, despite the added features and the necessary energy to power the appliance, dishwashers still work out as the cheaper option between the two.   

Dishes being washed by hand in the sink under running water

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3. Saves you time — While it’s not a matter of money, you should also consider the convenience a dishwasher provides. There’s essentially no need to watch a pile of dishes stack up, and no need to stand there and scrub. While time is necessary in terms of loading and unloading the dishwasher, this does not compare to the time spent washing by hand.

In fact, according to Energy Star (opens in new tab), using a dishwasher can save you over 230 hours of washing up a year. That’s nearly 10 days you get back.

An open dishwasher door with steam coming out

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4. Provides a more hygienic finish — While our hands are pretty hardy, unfortunately they can’t withstand the temperatures a dishwasher can reach. The heavy program in particular often reaches temperatures as high as 140°F — designed to shift stubborn stains on pots and pans. Water at this temperature would burn our skin if exposed for too long. For that reason, a dishwasher is naturally the more hygienic option compared to washing by hand and offers better sanitization.

Washing by hand pros 

A stack of china teacups

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1. Gentler on fragile items — Because we’re handling the items ourselves, and we keep the temperature at a more moderate level, washing by hand is a much gentler process versus using the dishwasher. In fact, there are certain things you should never put in a dishwasher, otherwise you could end up damaging the item, as well as the appliance.

Therefore, if you’re dealing with any fragile objects or any materials which may react badly in a dishwasher — such as wooden utensils or china, washing by hand will ultimately be the better method. Considering there would be less damage, it’s likely the cheaper method too in this instance. 

Washing by hand can also help your glassware last longer — here's how to clean cloudy glasses if your dishwasher has already left a mark. It can help prevent rust on cutlery as well, here's why your cutlery is rusty and how to restore it.

Cleaning pot with soapy water

Cleaning pot with soapy water (Image credit: Shutterstock)

2. Focused cleaning where required — Washing by hand also means you can focus on any heavily stained areas — areas which the dishwasher may struggle to completely clean. For that matter, due to the high heat of a dishwasher, any residual stains which aren't fully removed can actually be baked onto the item, making it more difficult to clean than when you started. 

So don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up if you're dealing with a tough customer, such as burnt pots and pans. Pre-soaking the stain can help to loosen it before you start to scrub.

Verdict

Ultimately, there are more pros to using the dishwasher vs washing by hand. It saves you time, offers a more hygienic wash 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. Of course, hand washing has its benefits and should still be the chosen method when dealing with inappropriate items for the dishwasher, such as wood or exposed cast iron.

A balance of both methods will always be necessary, but the dishwasher should generally be relied upon for everyday washing up. If you stick to it, and make use of the eco setting, you should see your bills start to fall.

Next: Here are 7 oven mistakes you never knew you were making.


For more dishwasher tips, tricks and how tos, check out how to clean a dishwasher, 7 dishwasher tips that can save you money and how to make your dishwasher last longer and need fewer repairs. Plus, check out the 10 things you never knew you could wash in a dishwasher

Katie Mortram
Homes Editor

Katie looks after everything homes-related, from kitchen appliances to gardening tools. She also covers smart home products too, so is the best point of contact for any household advice! She has tested and reviewed appliances for over 6 years, so she knows what to look for when finding the best. Her favorite thing to test has to be air purifiers, as the information provided and the difference between performances is extensive.