Dishwasher vs Hand Wash

At the end of a dinner party recently I got up and offered to help ‘wash the dishes’. Some of the other guests responded in somewhat astonished tone ‘oh, no need - she has a dishwasher!’ (she being the hostess) as if the dishes would somehow put themselves in the machine.

This got me thinking, just how much more time, effort, energy, water does a dishwasher actually save? The benefits of a washing machine (for washing clothes) is abundantly obvious to me. When you compare what people had to do prior to the invention of the washing machine with what we do now, the difference is starkly in favour of the washing machine. The benefits of the dishwasher, in comparison, are not as immediately apparent.

I should be quick to say that I have nothing against dishwashers per se. If people feel that it helps them, then great - use a dishwasher by all means. The problem I have is with what seems to be a blanket rule that dishwashers are always superior without any application of critical thinking.

This is something I would love to see a group like Mythbusters look into: setup an experiment where a standard load of dishes is cleaned via dishwasher vs hand wash, considering all the variables involved. Well it turns out that Mythbusters have already done this experiment. Unfortunately, the experiment was sponsored by a dishwasher company (!!) and so the result was always going to favour the dishwasher, duh!. Hopefully someone else will do a more fair & balanced comparison.

Other comparisons I found focused on water usage and hygiene - neither are things that I see as being major issues. Unless you hand wash under a constantly running tap, then water usage shouldn’t be that much different. On the point of hygiene, most of that seems to be scare mongering propagated by dishwasher companies! Time and effort are the two major concerns I have, followed closely by overall $$ cost.

I must confess that I have never lived in a house where a dishwasher was in regular use. I have pretty much always washed by hand as a result. When I have stayed in houses with a dishwasher, I’ve not tended to use them as I know how long it will take me to wash by hand, it doesn’t feel like a chore. I think this point is key - I’m well practiced. People who are not used to washing by hand will naturally take longer to do the job and will actually be working harder due to their hands and arms not being used to the routine. When I wash by hand, the item moves from one side of the sink to the other side in a constant, steady stream - not much slower than it would take me to place that same item into the dishwasher. I also tend to leave items to drip dry - come back in a few hours and simply put the items away, using a tea towel to wipe any damp bits. Again, not much slower than taking the item from the dishwasher and putting it away. So far, the dishwasher is slightly ahead in time saving and effort required. Then we have the pots and pans that cannot be cleaned consistently in a dishwasher. Most people I know, don’t bother trying to put them in the dishwasher and end up washing by hand. So on that point, both methods are equal. Once you add on the extra costs of a dishwasher: upfront cost, electricity usage, special detergent - the overall benefits of a dishwasher, in my mind, are marginal at best.

A case where I see a mechanised dishwasher as being superior to hand washing would be anywhere that an industrial dishwasher can be used - for example restaurants, hospitals etc. I have no doubt that at that large scale a machine will save a huge amount of time and effort. For domestic use with typical family-sized loads, I don’t see a compelling case for the dishwasher but I’m happy to be persuaded otherwise.