Does a Dishwasher Really Use Less Water than Washing Dishes by Hand?

Plus, more dishwashing tips.

Published Nov. 10, 2023.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a dishwasher, yet still somehow have your dish rack piled high with dishes you washed by hand, you may want to reconsider.

You might think it’s faster to just wash the random cup or fork after you use it. Or maybe you’re worried about the amount of water it takes to wash a load of dishes.

The ATK Reviews Team delves into this question and more in their new book Kitchen Gear. It turns out, running the dishwasher only feels like a colossal waste of water. In fact, it’s actually more efficient than hand-washing. 

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How Much Water Does a Dishwasher Use?

All those splashing and gurgling sounds a dishwasher makes as it goes through a cycle make it seem like a lot of water is being used, but the amount is actually less than you might think. 

Interestingly enough, any standard-size model made since 2013 uses no more than 5 gallons per cycle, and current Energy Star–rated models use 3½ gallons or less. By contrast, because faucets run at 1½ to 2 gallons per minute, hand-washing dishes under running water for 5 minutes can add up to 10 gallons of water down the drain.

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Kitchen Gear: The Ultimate Owner's Manual

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Ways to Cut Back on Water Usage When Hand Washing

Some items, such as knives and wood cutting boards, are best washed by hand. However, this process (any handwashing, really), can be streamlined in the following ways:

How to Use the Dishwasher Efficiently

Remember, your dishwasher is a kitchen tool in need of specific cleaning and care. We cover many best dishwasher practices in Kitchen Gear, but here are a few to get you started:

  • Scrape any bigger chunks of food off your plates, but don't prerinse them. The enzymes in dish detergent need something to hold onto.
  • Load your dishwasher properly; make sure that nothing is blocking the spray arms and don’t overcrowd.
  • Clean your dishwasher regularly, including the filter.

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