Should I wash my dishes by hand or use a dishwasher?

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Are dishwashers a greener option than washing the dishes by hand?

With more and more homes across the UK coming with built-in dishwashers the temptation to put the dishes to one side is greater than ever, but are dishwashers an energy-efficient solution?

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Unfortunately, there's no absolute proof as to whether hand-washing your dishes or using a dishwasher is more energy-efficient, in terms of either the amount of water or electricity used. However, there's plenty you can do to make sure you're using less energy whichever way you choose to do the dishes. 

Read on  for tips to help you save energy whether you wash your dishes by hand or use a machine and to find out more about picking an energy-efficient dishwasher.

Three tips for using your dishwasher efficiently

If you do chose to run your dishwasher there are a few simple things you can do to make sure it uses less water and power.

  1. Use the economy or eco programme. Every modern dishwasher has a special energy-efficiency setting that will use less power to heat the water.
  2. Wait until your dishwasher is full before putting it on. Washing a half load of dishes simply wastes half the energy produced by your dishwasher.
  3. If your dishwasher has a time delay, and you have Economy 7, set it up to come on during the night and take advantage of cheaper rate electricity. Economy 7 rates take advantage of cheaper energy at night to run your appliances then.

Dishwashers have other advantages over hand washing; they save time and are very hygienic. Not to mention that they're far easier and take all the hassle out of washing your dishes.

If you don't have a dishwasher, and rely on hand washing, here are some tips to make sure you are as energy-efficient as possible:

Four tips for energy-efficient washing-up

Washing up may be far more time-consuming than using a dishwasher and, while it may save you energy, can also be made more energy-efficient with a few simple steps.

  1. First of all you should always pre-soak all heavily soiled dishes in a bowl, rather than rinsing them under the tap before you start your washing-up.
  2. Always wash your dishes in a bowl, rather than washing under a running tap. A bowl will keep the warm water together without requiring you to constantly waster hot water.
  3. Have a second bowl for rinsing - again, don't rinse dishes under a running tap. This is another easy way to save both water and energy for heating.

Should I replace my existing dishwasher?

Like most household appliances there's a huge difference between older and new models, both in terms of their energy efficiency and how much water they use.

Modern dishwashers, like modern washing machines, are cold-fill only, which makes them far more energy-efficient than older models.

If you have an older style machine that takes in hot water, it may well be time to update it. While the upfront cost may be substantial it's likely to save you a lot more money in the long-run on heating costs.

Washing up or dishwasher

Choosing an energy-efficient dishwasher

The more energy-efficient a dishwasher, the more expensive it tends to be due to the extra features, but the upfront cost can be offset over time by the savings you make in running the machine. So, check the energy efficiency label before you buy - an A-rated machine will be the most energy-efficient and the cheapest to run.

Dishwashers come in many sizes, so it makes sense to choose the size that best suits your needs. Full-sized dishwashers are the most energy and water-efficient, and this will be reflected in their energy rating, but this efficiency is based on filling the machine to capacity.

For a single person this may not be practical and a compact or slimline dishwasher may be more appropriate. Your choice will also depend, of course, on the size of your kitchen and the space you have available.

Other ways to save on washing

It's not just washing dishes that takes up energy, there are plenty of other appliances in the kitchen and laundry room that do the same thing.

A washing machine for example takes up roughly 7% of your laundry so choosing an energy-efficient washing machine should be one of your top priorities if you want to increase the energy-efficiency of your appliances.

Again, replacing an older model with an energy-efficient washing machine will be cheaper in the long run, despite the significant upfront cost.

You can also make things cheaper by changing your washing habits. For example, you should always wash clothes on the shortest cycle necessary, so only using a half-cycle if your washing machine is half-full.

Likewise make sure you don't heat up the water unnecessarily. The majority of energy used by a washing machine goes into heating the water, so if you can use a lower temperature setting.

30 degrees should be sufficient for most clothes with the exception of particularly dirty clothes, those with bad stains, underwear and bedsheets.

And just like dishes you should try and soak any particularly items before washing them, so your washing machine doesn't have to work as hard.

Likewise always make sure your washing machine is full before you start washing to make the most out of the water you're heating.

And after your clothes have been washed you should always try and air-dry rather than using the dryer function. Dryer uses a huge amount of energy so always hang your clothes up, even if it's inside.

If you do use a dryer try and put similar types of fabrics together. Make sure you clean the filters regularly, removing any layers of lint and fluff. Similarly, if your dryer uses vents make sure they're clear and allow air to circulate freely.

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