I Hate Washing Dishes By Hand Because It Wastes So Much Water. What Can I Do?


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This is a legitimate concern of many people, including myself. Because we live in an apartment, we do not have the option of installing a dishwasher and have to wash all of our dishes by hand. It kills me how much water goes down the drain each evening as I stand there for 15 minutes washing the days dishes! According to several resources, using a dishwasher is way better then hand-washing because:

1. Recent model-year dishwashers are very stingy with their water use – 1/6 of the water of hand-washing on average!

2. Dishwashers tend to clean the dishes better than you could when washing by hand.

3. If equipped with an “booster” heater, dishwaters use less energy to heat the water than your water heater does.

4. Dishwashers use less soap than hand-washing.

Of course, these are only true if you run the dishwasher when it is full and if you do not rinse the dishes before you put them in it. But aside from those two caveats, a dishwasher beats hand-washing by a mile. So what can us “non-dishwasher-owners” do to clean up our act? Anyone have any idea? I have biodegradable soap, a reusable sponge, and an aerator on my faucet. Is there anything else that you guys might do or know about to cut down on the water use when hand-washing?

Oh what I would not give for a dishwasher…

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  1. Maria – We did, but then we found out that the landlord won’t let us. Ugh.

    Aimee – but when you rinse dishes in water you keep using over and over, how much are you really rinsing them? Wouldn’t you end up just rinsing freshly cleaned dishes in dirty “rinse” water after a few plates?

  2. I think because most people run the water the entire time they are doing dishes, newer washers can easily claim that they are better. Are they better than what you do? Who knows, really. We should have a washing dishes throwdown!

  3. have you considered an energystar-rated portable dishwasher like this one? it hooks up to the sink with a hose. kind of an investment, but it sounds like you may be willing to pay the price. if i had stayed in my apartment with no dishwasher for longer, i might have gotten one of these guys.

    otherwise, maybe use two basins (or if you have a double sink, filling up both sides) for washing and rinsing like at camp. that way you don’t have to keep the water running.

    good luck!

  4. I’ve always thought about washing dishes by hand as the less wasteful way of doing things. I know new dishwashers claim to use 1/6 of the water that normal dishwashing does, but what is normal dishwashing? Does it mean you have one sink full of soapy water for washing and one of clean water for rinsing? And have the claims of these new dishwashers’ been backed up?

    I wash my dishes by hand for now, as the dishwasher has been on the fritz lately. The amount of water I use is minimal (I don’t have a second bath for rinsing) and I’m sure not to use more than is needed. This also means that I’m able to wash fewer dishes at a time. Living in a home with just two people, I would rarely fill up a dishwasher in order to run it at it’s most efficient.

  5. I’m not sure how we are supposed to wash dishes, I just do them in the same way my great-grandmother taught me. If it was good enough for her when she actually had to pump & heat the water herself, then it can’t be terrible.
    I just see a great big asterisk next to any dishwasher’s claims that they are more efficient. Under certain conditions, I’m sure they’re better. But do those conditions encapsulate the everyday dishwashing done by most people out there in a 1- or 2-person home?

  6. Joel – I suppose you could try to climb inside and run a cycle to see…;-) In all seriousness, I have no idea! Do you by any chance have the instructions/pamphlet that came with it? That may have the water usage information.

  7. I like to use the phrase “it didn’t kill me” when we only ever used to use one sink full of water and not rinse them afterwards. These days I do rinse the dishes – but only on orders of my wife! Actually we moved a couple of months ago so have a dishwasher , however I’ve no idea how much water that uses – any idea how to measure it?!

  8. I start by filling the pot used to cook dinner, or the body of the salad spinner with soapy water – its smaller than the sink, and something gets washed in the process. A little pre-rinse when needed stops the soapy water from getting slammed with dirt. Then I stack up the soapy dishes in the other compartment till its crowded. I rinse them quickly with the running water – it does not have to be on all the way, and go back to washing. You don’t use a lot this way and everything gets a clean rinse.

  9. That’s a pretty good idea Greg, will have to try that tonight with the dishes. Maybe using one of the already dirty pots, when you have one, can work as an extra sink. Interesting…thanks!

  10. I have a dishwasher and wash most of my dishes by hand. I fill the sink with water and soap, and wash the glasses first, followed by the flatware, then plates, then finish with the pots, pans, and anything that had raw meat on it. We use the dishwasher at most, once per week.

    I rinse everything in the second sink as I wash. In fact, I often use the dishwasher as a dish drainer! 🙂

    When I do run the dishwasher, I pre-rinse everything, then wash it on the glasses cycle, which is the shortest and uses the least amount of energy (for my model dishwasher). Maybe there is a better way, but this works for us. (Because I do the dishes!)

  11. I wish sites would stop quoting sources that are obviously biased without giving us the links to those researched results. So called facts that say machine dishwashing is better for the environment is so flat out mis-guided, it is like saying driving a Mini is better than a Tundra…what about walking? Any site that has a GE ad next to the fact should be questioned.
    Try, try again.

  12. I think some of you are stuck in one environmental good habit (use of water) without considering another—the environmental impact of creating that huge dishwasher, and transporting it! Personally, between that, the energy cost of running it and the water used, I like Lavardera’s technique of dishwashing the best.

    For rinsing, it’s best to stack them up and then if you have a little hose on your sink give them a good little spray in a batch.

  13. I don’t understand why a landlord would not let you have one. It’s no cost to them, they are probably paranoid about water damage.
    We had one of these at a rental house and it was a life saver. We hate washing dishes and it was well worth the investment. Pricey? not if you see it as costing about $1 a day in purchase price. We used it for 7 years, then gave to a friend and its still going strong, 10 years later.

  14. According to the “Water Calculator” at OWASA.org:

    “* 9 if your dishwasher was made after 1994
    * 11 if your dishwasher was made between 1980 and 1994
    * 14 if your dishwasher was made before 1980”

    I would think your average double sink would hold about 10 gallons if both were used at the same time.

    For those of us who live in the country or are otherwise not on a sewer line, I don’t consider either as wasting water. The water goes directly to the leech field (providing your plumbing is correct) via the gray line. From there it leeches into the soil and bacteria break down most of the contaminates in the water. The rest is filtered by the material(s) and soil surrounding the leech field. By the time this water is re-introduced into the ground water, it is basically as clean as your fresh water.

    Now with that being said, if you make a practice of dumping say, mercury down your sink, it won’t take long before everything around you gets sick and dies. 🙂

    In a city environment, your average water treatment facility actually does quite a good job at treating water, and in many places they filter contaminates out before it is re-introduced.

    The idea that once your water goes down the drain, it will never be used again (safely) is a fallacy. Other than worrying about your water bill, it is pretty hard to actually waste water. Of course, putting heavy metals, or other chemical compounds into the water could hurt, sure, but the average household does not do such things.

  15. Jeff, sorry to disagree, but anytime you use more water than you need to use you are wasting water for no reason. Whether or not it goes to a leeching field, a treatment plant, or the ocean, there is still no need to run fresh water if you don’t need it. Most cities and towns are having trouble providing fresh water, so wasting it is in-fact, wasting it, as you never get fresh water back after it goes down the drain.

  16. I am sorry to disagree with you, but the Romans used more water than the United States ever has, so I suppose all that pooping and dish washing they did back in the day spoiled that water forever?

    Take all the land in the world and multiply it by 3, and that is how much area water covers. Water is for an intents and purposes, an infinite resource.

    Eventually that water will spill out somewhere, evaporate, and rain down somewhere thousands of miles away. It has been doing it for billions of years and will continue to do so.

    Now if you want to talk about water contamination, I will agree that it is a problem. Why a city/town would pay for roads before they took care of their water is beyond me and it is a valid issue. However, every drop you put down the drain eventually gets reused. In fact, the water you drink today has been swallowed and disposed of by millions of creatures.

    The water level in the world is for the most part, static. However, droughts do happen and always have, and population swings can affect its availability no doubt. This is not because there is LESS water, it is because there are more people in a particular area using it, or it is being distributed differently than it was (i.e. a drought).

    Where I live, water is abundant, especially this year where it seems to have rained almost every day this summer. I wish I could give it to those who are lacking. 🙂

  17. So should we all just turn on our faucets and let them run, as it makes no difference? That is the point I am making.

    Where I live, we live in constant drought and we depend on a river to provide water. If everyone thought like you, that letting water run is not wasteful, it wouldn’t be long before the town was out of water.

  18. No, I would not advise anyone to let the faucets run. My point is, water isn’t somehow destroyed when you use it. It isn’t like oil, when you use it, it is gone.

    Sure, towns can run out of water, but that is a water management issue, not a water supply issue.

    I guess what I am trying to say is, the world is NOT running out of water. We are (in some areas) failing to manage it correctly. It is a big difference.

    Most of the water you use is re-introduced LOCALLY to your water supply. I would not stay up at night worrying whether a glass of water is going to break the world. In some areas, sure water conservation is a must, but the vast majority of the country it is not. If I DID let the faucets run day and night, it would in no way affect the rest of the world outside of my small locality. Sooner or later that water will be back.

    Worry more about running out of money to pay your water bill rather than the water itself.

  19. Those numbers on how much dishwashers aren’t what you think. (It is from a value-laden survey.)

    The average dishwasher (now with energy star products etc) uses only 2 gallons of water per use.

    Someone rinsing dishes before putting them into the dishwasher increases the water usage to about 20 gallons.

    It takes nearly 2 gallons of water to brush your teeth, if you leave the water running. 🙁

    I never use all the water allotted to me…and the city keeps upping the amount of minimal payment for more water than I can use now!

    I catch rain water for outside use, though my dad always used it to wash his hair, and never had any scalp problems and had soft hair 🙂

    The “appliance” in your home that uses the most water? The toilet. If you have an older model, put a brick in the bottom to save water, don’t flush after urinating only, or go outside. (Just kidding on the last:) )

    Our community was the first in the area to use reclaimed water for lawn sprinkling. Great! Just have to be careful when dog wants to bite at the sprinkler heads while it’s running. (Non-potable water.) Our fire hydrants are on the same service. (Does this mean if we have a house fire, that it will grow mold and mildew sooner and stronger afterwards?)

  20. I just want to make a couple points about Waste Water…
    ***Most of the water you use is re-introduced LOCALLY to your water supply. ***
    All the Waste Water from your home goes to the same place…be it from your sinks, shower or toliet….
    It goes to a Waste Water Treatment Facility….
    This water can then be used as recycled water but NOT AS POTABLE WATER..IT IS TOTALLY SEPERATE FROM YOUR DRINKING WATER.
    Its main uses are for Industrial and Municiple Irrigation…(When you see Purple pipes and valves, this is recycled waste water)
    When you conserve on water you are in essence conserving the Avalable Fresh water resources that Municipalities store and purchase for use in your home.
    Some ways I save water at home…
    1. Hand wash Dishes..By filling up a dish pan or orther container with warm sudsy water, use approx 2 gal. and again a container for rinsing. I use my Dishwasher only if I have entereained.
    2. save a cple gallon milk jugs and Next ime you turn on the faucett and let it run to get hot water stick a jug under..A. you will be very suprised at how much water is actually “going down the drain EVERYTIME”
    I use this to water house plants, outdoor containers, toss it in the washer to reduce the amount of water used when it fills….
    By not using the dishwasher I save on not using the hottest water, water heater not going as much and the electricty used to run the DW…
    Stick a 3 or 5 gal bucket in your shower to catch the water while you wait for it to heat…
    Yo me, I know that I am saving my self money every month as well as getting the MOST bang for my water buck…I am actually using Most of the water I am paying for…..

  21. just wanted to comment about disposing of water…
    In my statistics class we learned that the water someone drinks in New Orleans has been through at least 7 people. Someone, somewhere has consumed your waste water.

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