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Is it Better to Hand Wash Dishes or Use a Dishwasher?

A person washing dishes by hand.
Dishwashers can be highly efficient at washing dishes.
Minute amounts of bleach can be added to water to sanitize dishes.
A woman washing dishes.
Dish soap and a sponge.
Hand washing dishes can dry a person's skin out, so lotion should be applied afterward.
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  • Originally Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Revised By: Bott
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 July 2014
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The point of washing dishes is to not only clean the dish, but also to get rid of harmful germs and bacteria that may cause illnesses. Whether one chooses to use a dishwasher or hand wash dishes usually depends on several factors, including how much time a person has to spend washing dishes, whether or not one method is more convenient for a person, and what types of dishes are being washed. In general, choosing to wash dishes by hand can be a quicker because there is no waiting for the dishwasher to finish its cycle, but a dishwasher can save a person time because it does most of the work.

Washing Dishes by Hand

Someone can hand wash dishes as safely as using a dishwasher by using hot water, dish soap, and bleach to get rid of germs. This method is often preferred when washing a dish made of material that is not dishwasher safe, as a label on the dish will usually state; for example, many plastic or stainless steel water bottles have a label recommending that they are washed by hand to avoid melting or rusting in the dishwasher. People may also want to wash dishes by hand when it is not possible to wait for the dishwasher to clean the dishes, as a typical dishwasher cycle can take anywhere from one to two hours.

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Hand washing also has its negatives. First, people should use very hot water in order to kill germs and bacteria — a good rule is to have the water as hot as the individual can handle. This high of temperature can easily burn the hands within a matter of seconds, however. Due to the risk of working with such hot water, experts recommend that children not help with washing the dishes using such hot water. Second, the time it takes to heat water and monitor its temperature in order to wash dishes safely may be extensive; so while washing by hand can cut down on time compared to a dishwasher, it can also take time to heat water and keep it hot while washing.

Using a Dishwasher

Many people turn to the dishwasher as a safer and easier practice than hand washing. For some, it is more convenient to put dirty dishes directly in the dishwasher, turn it on, and walk away, releasing them of the duty of washing dishes. The only time investment for a dishwasher is the amount of time it takes to put the dishes in the dishwasher and the time it takes to put them away; this is often preferred as long as there are other dishes to use while the dirty ones are being washed. The dishwasher can use extremely hot water to ensure that bacteria and germs are not a problem without burning anyone, and it can also use hot air to not only dry the dishes, but to kill germs and bacteria as well.

On the other hand, the hot water can potentially ruin some dishes, such as those made of plastic or certain metals. Some items should not be washed in the dishwasher at all, and some items are safe to wash on the top rack only; most dishes that require special treatment will have a label with washing instructions, usually on the bottom of the dish. If there is no such label, then it is usually safe to wash in the dishwasher.

Another thing to consider when using a dishwasher are the potential side effects of dishwasher detergents. Some leave a residue on dishes after they are washed, which can make them look like they were never washed in the first place. Also, many dishwasher detergents contain fairly toxic chemicals, and must be kept out of the reach of children; this suggests that residual chemicals on dishes could harm children or adults. There are many biodegradable and non-toxic dishwashing detergents on the market to help solve this concern, and they generally perform as well as those that have more toxic ingredients.

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Discuss this Article

anon960382
Post 41

Do you eat soap? Try this experiment.

Empty your dishwasher and start a rinse only cycle. Wait a few minutes, pause the cycle and open the dishwasher. Is it full of soapy water even though you didn't put any soap in?

Now cancel the cycle so all the soapy water drains out and repeat. Keep repeating the above until you actually have no sudsy water in your rinse cycle. How many times did you have to do that? Four, six, eight times or more?

Think about all that soap left on your supposedly 'clean' from the dishwasher dishes. Are you drinking soap residue in every glass or cup of things you drink? Is the food on your plates and bowls absorbing the soap residue with every meal? Actually, I don't really need a dishwasher after all. Thanks though!

anon323474
Post 38

Our dishwasher broke down recently and I've started washing by hand. My kitchen is a lot cleaner and neater than it was before. With the dishwasher I'd load it all day, then dried on food wouldn't come off. I'd unload it in the morning only to find bowls with crap still stuck on. Then I would soak those bowls and put them back in the dishwasher. It wasted so much time for me!

With handwashing, I like having the drying rack on the kitchen counter because it's a constant reminder that I have clean stuff to put away. We ordered a dishwasher and it's on back order for a few more days. I've told my husband (this coming from a homeschooling mom of three) that I think we should cancel the order. He doesn't agree, and says there will come a time when the dishes will pile up and I won't want to hand wash them, but I think it's for him. Sometimes I'm gone for a couple of days at a time, and I know he doesn't want to wash by hand!

anon310343
Post 37

In every home I've ever been in that uses a dishwasher. I find that almost every dish has some morsel of some once edible compound adhered to it. I find myself secretly re-washing these pieces in the kitchen sink to avoid embarrassing my gracious hosts and to avoid savoring the small portion of one of their petrified meals from ages past. Even though dishwashers have merit when used properly, few people ever do it.

Unfortunately, believe it or not, dishwashers are not a procedure where you just throw them in and close your eyes. There's a way to arrange the dishes so the sprayers can efficiently work on your kitchenware to clean it. Second, most people throw their dishes in the dishwasher, leaving chunks of food to solidify and by the time they get around to turning on the machine, it's not powerful enough to sandblast off those crusty chunks.

I understand if someone has a dinner party, but load the dishes and turn on the dishwasher right away. You're probably going to be fine, but most people wait a day or two or more before they run the cycle. Now what's to be said for those days of growing active cultures in one's dishwasher?

anon278173
Post 36

Hand-washing only uses more water than a dishwasher if you sit there with the faucet on for the entirety of the time that you're washing a comparable amount of dishes (i.e. what would be a full load in a dishwasher).

The following method is unfortunately the norm for people who wash dishes by hand:

Turn the faucet on full blast. Scratch their nose and whine quietly about how life has dealt them such a rough hand that they have to wash dishes by hand. Shouldn't they have servants that do this for them?

Take one dirty fork from the counter and give it a nice long rinse, under a torrent of water, thinking idly about how in this year of 2012 they were hoping they wouldn't have to expend any effort to live this life of luxury that they've been owed since birth.

Take their sponge with dishsoap, and absent-mindedly scrub their one utensil, not really paying attention to how effectively their mechanical efforts are actually removing grime from the item they're cleaning.

Let out a long sigh. Return their fork to the cascade of water, and slowly rinse.

Chat with their friend/significant other about how much easier it would be if they owned a dishwasher, and how great it is to have such technology that makes life more efficient for them.

Continue to rinse off their fork, just to make sure that every last bit of dish soap is off because they heard Dr. Phil say once that dish soap can cause cancer, and is must be true because he's a real doctor, and they don't want to get cancer.

Place it neatly in their drying rack. Reach over and get the next dish

Then when a study is done and a group of these hapless people are pooled together, we get mind-numbingly stupid results like "the average person who washes dishes by hand uses 27 gallons of water!"

Taking a breath though, dishwashers might actually be a good thing. If you assume that a majority of people use water in an such an inefficient manner as characterized above, having them all instead use a dishwasher would save a lot of water. Even if it's possible to wash dishes by hand using a lot less water than a dishwasher, it's a better idea to just let people use the dishwasher since using water efficiently is just beyond the mental capacity of some.

anon275624
Post 35

We're in 2012, so just use a dishwasher for god's sake! At least you're getting it somewhat clean without even having to lift a your finger. Using cold water while handwashing? Give me a break.

anon274678
Post 34

I definitely prefer the dishwasher. It really cleans the dishes properly and uses a lot less water. If you use the right detergent, you won't get spots on your dishes. The cleaning is thorough and completely takes soil off without pre-rinsing, coffee stains on mugs, and everything.

When handwashing, I find it takes forever and tons of hot water just to get the soapy smell out of the inside of cups. The dishwasher does it right and definitely does a better and safer job for everyone.

anon244915
Post 33

Honestly, if you're going to bother with pre-rising and pre-soaking dishes before using the dishwasher, you're better off just finishing the job and washing them by hand already!

I have also noted that my hand-washed dishes are always sparkling, whilst my friends with dishwashers have some issues with clean looking dishes. Just saying.

anon243246
Post 32

Anti-bacterial dish soap is only anti-bacterial when used as a hand-wash. It does not have anti-bacterial properties for the dishes, according to my bottle anyway. Read the label!

anon233536
Post 31

It seems that some people are misinformed on these posts. There is almost no difference between washing by hand and putting your dishes through the dishwasher, except in my experience, dishwashers often leave residue which can be seen in clear glass cups.

Here are the main differences between the two methods: Dishwashers use hot water to clean, with no mechanical scrubbing action. Hand-washing is mostly mechanical action to kill and remove bacteria and residue, and the number of bacteria killed depends partially on whether you use antibacterial soap or not.

On a very important note, if you wash your dishes in warm soapy water (soap is actually optional), you won't have any problems with bacteria. There have been empirically-based scientific studies showing the efficacy of mechanical scrubbing for killing bacteria. Believe me when I say, after dishes have been washed, whether by hand or through the dishwasher, there are no bacteria left which could harm you, make you sick, etc.

In truth, many people hear the word “bacteria”, and images of sickness instantly come to mind. This is the result of minimal education on the subject, or beliefs that have gone unchallenged by research and facts. Bacteria is an important part of life. Bacteria reside literally everywhere. The ones that will make you sick aren't going to be clinging onto a freshly washed plate, trust me. The bacteria that will make you sick are floating in the air, or they are on that door handle you touched, or on the person’s hand you shook who has the habit of sneezing into it. People are incredibly misinformed.

Let me repeat: Any bacteria which reside on a plate after washing, regardless of whether the plate has been "sanitized" or not, will not harm you. You are more likely to harm yourself by bleaching or "sanitizing" your counters. Sure, this kills 99.9 percent of germs, but guess what happens to the 0.1 percent that survive? They're called MRSA, VRE, etc; look them up. These are nosocomial, or hospital-borne infections. They are super-bacteria created in hospitals through the overuse of antibiotics and such. Basically, these bacteria grow resistant strains to the point where the infections become untreatable.

In summary, it does not matter whether you hand wash or use a dishwasher. You will not get sick from hand washing. You get sick from other people who are sick. I have studied infection control for the last five years, and am appalled at how little is known by the public about these issues, and amused at this irrational fear of some insidious bacteria residing on your washed plates. I have also hand-washed dishes for nearly 30 years, and trust myself better than any dishwasher, because I know it's being cleaned. If you are really concerned, then do your own research about the nature of bacteria. Bacteria are an essential part of life. They help protect the body, build immunity, break down substances, and are perfectly fine in moderation. Let’s give ‘em a break.

anon232875
Post 30

Those who support hand-washing must be backwards, really backwards!

The detergent used for handwashing isn't powerful enough to clean off grease and dirt, and if you don't use enough water, the dishes are still dirty.

Dishwashers are becoming more and more efficient and powerful that washing by hand is no longer a valid argument.

By the way: no need to pre-rinse your dishes. It's what is called "pre-wash" in dishwasher terms.

anon228206
Post 29

I always hand wash. I have sensitive skin so I wear gloves. Without gloves, hand washing is a lot harder. For gloves, it's better to get gloves at any hardware store. The PVC gloves are much sturdier than the average latex gloves. I can use dishwasher, but the amount of water and time required seems highly inefficient. I also use either bleach or ammonia to kill bacteria. To get rid of oil, I use paper towels or newspapers to absorb it and throw it in the thrash.

anon201098
Post 28

Best to wash your dishes directly after use. If you do it this way, you have the job done and do no have to worry about it. Why be lazy and let them sit in the dishwasher for days or weeks?

anon152084
Post 27

I know for a fact that it takes a lot less water to use a dishwasher than washing by hand. While we were remodeling, we had our dishwasher set up like a portable one--hooking up to the faucet for water, and putting the drain hose in the sink to drain.

I closed the drain one day, and after the dishwasher was done the one bowl of my double sink was top full. My dishwasher holds about four times what I would usually wash by had (also something I tested), and I was using almost 1/2 the amount of water. I would use both bowls full of water when I washed by hand. So I use up to an 1/8 of the water using the dishwasher. That would be even more savings if you're the type of person that washes every dish by hand as it hits the sink and doesn't wait to get a sink full of dishes.

anon136960
Post 25

People trying to determine if a dishwasher uses more or less water: it all depends on how you wash by hand to be able to compare! Of course a dishwasher uses less water if when you wash by hand, you keep the faucet on the entire time! If you rinse, turn the faucet off, wash, then on after you're done to rinse, then you used less water washing by hand. There's no "exact" measure of which uses more or less. Good grief, people.

As for the bacteria comments: yeah there might be a mess of bacteria that isn't properly washed off if you leave your dishes in the sink for days and let it get moldy, but if you rinse off and don't leave them for too long soaking, then you're fine!

anon135261
Post 24

My house has no running hot water from the tap. We fill a big boiling- pot with cold water and heat it on the hotplate. I have found that if you boil the water until it is at a brisk boil and then pour it over the dishes and soap and let it sit until you can use it without burning yourself, the dishes end up easier to wash- even if dried on food is present- and they come out much cleaner.

All the bacteria dies in the water while it's boiling hot, and the soap and water helps keep new bacteria from growing.

anon108003
Post 22

me and my roomies have a dishwasher but we just use it to store plastic bags.

they use the three sinks method at my work and usually the water is so nasty and dirty.

anon105816
Post 21

Practice. Even washing dishes takes a little bit of practice. Teach kids when they're young so they'll know how when they're on their own. We use hot water to soak and soap to help remove oils. Then rinse and air dry. All my kids know how to wash by hand.

anon103029
Post 20

this is ridiculous! just bloody wash the dishes with warm water and dish washing soap! The reason why so many people find many of their dishes aren't cleaned as advertised by using a dishwasher is because you have to load the machine up fully before you can start washing them.

Over time, the food and substances will dry up and it will take a much longer process to wash the dishes properly because the substances are difficult to remove, and even so, the dishwasher itself gets dirty. You have to clean the dishwasher! So you may be using a dirty dishwater to wash dishes, and thinking that your dishes are clean to eat from? That's just stupid.

People are saying that the dishwater uses less water and energy when washing dishes. Using less energy is true, the fact that it's really meant for lazy people who won't be able to know how to properly wash their dishes properly once the machine breaks down.

However, the water part is tricky because what's happening is that the person fully loads it up with dirty dishes until nothing else can fit and with several cycles of washing, the dishes are washed, but are they clean?

In truth, dishwashers actually use more water than we thought. With the dishwasher, you cannot control how much water is actually being used, while washing the dishes in the sink, you can control how much water is being used through the faucet. I use warm water at a low speed, just enough to get the dishes wet and rinse it off without the big watery splash mess.

My boyfriend's family uses a dishwasher and I refuse its efficiency. Instead I hand wash all of the dishes. Even if it takes more time and energy on my part, at least the dishes are clean. My family has been hand washing the dishes all of their lives and no one has been sick.

Whenever I see the dishes from my boyfriend's family, there's always some sort of substance that's still on the utensils, plates, pots, etc. Obviously someone or something isn't doing its job right. With their busybody family members running around all of the time doing leisure activities, they tend to never find the time to properly wash the dishes. Oh, i wonder why.

If you had a late big dinner and you're too tired to wash the dishes, just sink the dishes in water with some dish soap overnight and in the morning you can wash off the stuff with complete ease, saving you a lot of stress if you don't have a dishwasher.

Don't be lazy people. Your dishes aren't getting properly clean with a dishwater. Getting your hands dirty into the dishwater won't kill you. If you don't have the time to even wash dishes by hand, how do you find the time to even maintain your home? Good lord, no one tends to their homes anymore?

My boyfriend's family just hires someone to clean their house, super lazy. His mother just works and makes money, buys certain technology to make her life easier. Well, i am not complaining, but when they have a filthy dog running around and a 27 year old boy who refuses to clean anything except his bedsheets, that's when i complain when i just see the place, because i would want to clean it up because it's just so darn disorganized. No one in his family has the time to take care of their home.

anon92208
Post 18

How ridiculous! Three bowls! Talk about OCD. Washing up liquid and hot water will do the job fine. Seriously, people really need to stop being so worried about a few germs. No wonder people are getting ill more often; their immune systems have become weak due to ludicrous ideas like these.

anon92189
Post 17

Can wash dishes in the sink while I have the dishwasher going at the same time?

anon90622
Post 16

Why not wash clothes by hand? Get rid of your computer and use pen and paper? Sell your car and walk or ride a horse? Its called progress. Would you want to give up the other mod cons? Why have TV when radio will do.

anon89977
Post 15

what is the germ difference? can you post some numbers or stats between the two?

anon83292
Post 14

Rinsing your dishes in bleach water? Come on, how toxic is that? This obsession with germs is so crazy. All that's on your dishes is food.

Taking care with a cutting board you've prepared raw meat on is one thing but the dishes you've eaten off are hardly going to harbor toxic bacteria. If your family is healthy, what's the worry about sanitizing plates and cups they've used?

A regular soap and cold water (hot for oily dishes) works fine for me and I've never caught anything from my dishes, nor have I ever heard of anyone who has having washed the same way. That three-bowl system is ludicrous.

ravenv
Post 13

I installed .33 gpm aerators in all of my sinks. My shower has a .55 gpm shower head. Got rid of the dishwasher. You should really look into the bacteria issues with dishwashers. Not healthy for anyone. My sink is filled just enough to get one rotation of dishes done, while second basin is filled for the rinse cycle.

You can make washing dishes by hand eco friendly and time friendly. I have sat down and explained all the income price of water and out going price of water to my kids.

We also use small salad plates as our main dishes. One better for us on our intake and great on space saving.

Since we do not eat meat, I never have to worry about grease, which is a plus.

I also have the hot water on a timer, which doesn't apply to the use of a dishwasher (theory of heat washing the dishes well enough). I do beg to differ, about the cleanliness of a dishwasher, mainly because no matter how much I tried to get all foods off the plates, the washer always had food still on them as well as spots on everything.

Nothing is like my time saved from that stress. Good old-fashioned dish washing in my house. Re- purposed the space to hold my daily recycles.

Since I have made all the changes, my bills went down to 30 bucks a month for water bill, and between 40-65 dollars (580-750 kwh used a month) power bill. We have a two story home with three bathrooms and a total of 1800 square feet and yes I do use a washer and dryer only because my husband refused to cave on the dryer usage.

Mom of three teens doing her part to save the planet one day at a time. LOL

anon78694
Post 11

I love how people save time by hand washing dishes rather than using a dishwasher. Okay Einstein why on earth did you buy a dishwasher. Seems like a complete waste not only of the "time" you are saving by not loading and unloading, but the money you spent on the dishwasher.

I have a suggestion: buy a lawnmower preferably a riding mower, but ask the salesman to throw in for free one of those push-mowers, you know one of the old fashioned jobs with the spinning blades attached to the wheels. Use the free one to mow your lawn.

anon72221
Post 10

these comments are all well and good until you live in a house with lazy roommates. I never know how well the dishes I'm eating off of have been cleaned and they all have ideas about properly cleaning. So for me, I vote dishwasher because at least the dishes get done right the first time.

anon58173
Post 9

I've heard that automatic dishwashers actually use less water, but in the time I load and unload the dishes, I could probably wash them myself. The way i do it is have my family members "pre-scrape" all dishes before putting them in. I microwave the sponge in water to kill germs. Then I add a few drops of soap in that hot water and that is my solution. That way the first dish doesn't get a ton of soap followed by the others getting much less.

I soap about half the dishes (the cleanest ones). Water is off. Then I rinse them with very hot water, and as i do, the very dirty dishes underneath get rinsed off. Then I rinse these with hot water the same way. I get really grossed out when people stick a clean sponge in an eggy or greasy pan first.

I don't use bleach or antibacterial, I am not looking for a 100 percent sanitization, 99.9 is good enough for me. --free09

anon49710
Post 8

Washing dishes well in hot water and letting them air dry is a perfectly safe way of cleaning dishes. Anti-bacterial soap has been proven no more effective than old fashioned soap, as it is the mechanical action of washing and rinsing that removes the food and germs. Anti-bacterial soap does contain chemicals that have been linked to health issues, including infertility. The reason hot water is used is to aid in the removal of grease. Bacteria dies when it is dehydrated, and if you air dry, you don't risk bacteria that has grown in a damp cloth.

My suggestion is to accept that the world is full of germs and bacteria, some of which are helpful to your body. Eat and sleep properly, so that your body can function the way God or evolution intended it to, and after keeping your little part of the world reasonably clean, relax. All this stress over germs is probably depressing your immune system and hclewk is correct about keeping your immune system strong by exposing it to everyday germs.

anon43845
Post 6

I fill a dishpan with soap and the hottest water available from the tap. Dishes go in and sit quietly until the water cools to tepid. Then I wash the dishes and rinse them under almost hot water from the tap. The action of the hot water and soap solution on the dishes creates a little molecular action which practically washes the dishes for you. There is even a scientific name for the action, but I can't recall it at present.

anon36202
Post 5

I've always heard that dishwashers use about a third of the water needed to washing dishes by hand. --lindamom1

anon14521
Post 4

there is a new product out that actually filters the water going into the dishwasher, solving the cloudy, spotty dishes problem for good. parents can also rest assure their children's dishes and bottles are being rinsed with extremely clean filtered water.

bigmetal
Post 3

i remember the three bowl method from home ec--it's definitely a lost art! i do have to say that i'd take scalding hot water and bleach over antibacterial soap anyday. i fear that overuse of antibacterial soap is causing more harm than good, and there is much debate as to whether antibacterial products are creating strains of super-bacteria. it's more of a convenience, and has taken the place of good old fashioned elbow grease. i don't think dishwashers (which are miracles of modern technology!) employ antibacterial soap, but instead, heated water and steam to clean the dishes...

hclewk
Post 2

"However, the process to safely hand wash dishes is extensive and must always include the "three-bowl" system in order to ensure that all germs have been removed from the dishes."

I remember back in the 1850's when millions died from not using the "three-bowl" method. (joking)

Seriously! There is such a thing as antibacterial dish soap. Do you know what the 'antibacterial' part does? It kills germs. No more scalding hot water and bleach.

The only time I ever use hot water is when I want to soften some food stuck on a dish. How many times have I gotten food poisoning from dirty dishes? None. And no, I do not have a dish washer.

And for anyone who does not know this, lack of bacteria can be more harmful in the long run than its presence.

If a tree grows in an area with no wind, and then suddenly a 60MPH wind blows, the tree might fall. But if that same tree were to grow in an area with a constant strong wind, that same 60MPH wind would be laughable.

If you never encounter bacteria, you won't be sick until you come upon even the mildest of diseases. If you encounter bacteria daily, your immune system will fend off minor diseases and only the tough stuff will affect you (and even then to a much lesser degree)

somerset
Post 1

For centuries dishes were washed by hands, it appears quite safely. It is good to wash dishes immediately after a meal though, so bacteria have no time to grow. Once the dishes have been washed and dried, there is little chance that something unwanted will grow on a them.

When I have only a few dishes to wash, I might wash them by hand, but on the whole I prefer to use the dishwasher. I rinse the dish first in the sink, then place it in the dishwasher and wash when dishwasher is full, but at least once a day even if not completely full. I think that both methods are quite safe.

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