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Is it more energy-efficient to hand-wash dishes or use a dishwasher?

Wash up by hand or use the dishwasher? It's a debate that can divide households and families, but which is more energy-efficient? We take a look at the facts.
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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.

Tips for energy-efficiency dishwasher usage

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

  • Use the economy or eco programme. Every modern dishwasher has a special energy-efficiency setting that uses less power to heat the water by heating the water more slowly over a longer cycle

  • 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

  • Don't pre-wash. It isn't necessary and wastes water. Just scrape food into the bin

Tips for energy-efficient washing-up

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

  • Always pre-soak all heavily soiled dishes in a bowl. Don't worry about rinsing them under the tap before you start your washing-up

  • Always wash your dishes in a bowl rather than under a running tap. A bowl will keep the warm water together without requiring you to constantly waste hot water

  • Use 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 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.

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.

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.

  • Running a washing machine can take up a large portion of your energy bill. 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 use 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, except particularly dirty clothes, underwear and bedsheets

  • Always make sure your washing machine is full before you start washing to make the most out of the water you're heating

  • Always opt for air-drying clothes over using a dryer when you can. Dryers use a huge amount of energy so opting for air dry will save you money and energy

  • If you're time crunched for dry clothes, you can always part air dry and finish off in the dryer to save amount of time of dryer use.