Dishwasher vs Washing By Hand: Which Is Cheaper?

When it comes to using the dishwasher vs washing by hand, there’s a clear winner.

Close-up of hand in yellow rubber glove putting detergent tablet into dishwasher
(Image credit: Getty Images)

How many times a week are you washing dishes? Typically, every day. Have you ever wondered if washing the dishes by hand could be cheaper or vice versa? Below we’ll figure this out. 

But first, consider our other articles about home energy savings, including oven vs air fryerelectric heaters vs radiatorswood burning stove vs central heatingfan heaters vs oil heatersheat pumps vs solar panels, and our audit on how to save on energy bills

Dishwasher pros

1. Uses less water. A widely known feature of modern dishwashers is low water use. Most dishwashers only use 3 to 4 gallons of water per wash, depending on the settings of their automated programs. When washing, your dishwasher automatically adjusts the cycle and water required. 

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Believe it or not, Finish says that you can use up to 40 gallons of water to achieve the same cleaning goal as your dishwasher. It’s hard to judge the amount of water you use when cleaning by hand. Imagine washing a bowl and trying to figure out how much water was used.

2. Saves energy. Handwashing uses more energy than using your dishwasher. Energy Star-certified dishwashers cannot use more than 270 kWh/year. Energy Star points out that less than a quarter of the energy is used by the dishwasher when compared to washing by hand.

3. Saves you time. This one might be the most obvious of all but it couldn’t be any more accurate. A dishwasher provides pure convenience. There’s no need to watch dishes pile up, and no need to scrub. In fact, according to Energy Star, using a dishwasher can save you over 230 hours of washing up a year. That’s nearly 10 days you get back. 

4. A more hygienic finish. Our hands can’t withstand the temperatures needed for the majority of stains and bacteria to be wiped but your dishwasher can. The heavy program in particular often reaches temperatures as high as 140°F.

Handwashing pros

1. Gentle for fragile items. This might be another obvious upside to scrubbing dishes manually, but many times people don’t realize what can’t go in the dishwasher. There are certain things you should never put in a dishwasher, otherwise, you could end up damaging the item, as well as the appliance. If you’re questioning if an item can go in the dishwasher, you’d be better off washing it by hand.

2. Focused cleaning where required. Have you ever taken a dish out of your dishwasher and noticed it wasn’t entirely clean? This often happens to many people. Due to the high heat of the dishwasher, any residual stains can be baked into your dishware making it more difficult to clean them. With handwashing, you can focus on cleaning those “hard to clean” dishes/areas. It also becomes necessary when washing delicate items such as wood and exposed cast iron. 

So don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up if you're dealing with a tough customer, such as burnt pots and pans. Pre-soaking the stain can help to loosen it before you start to scrub.

The verdict

Using a dishwasher is the distinct winner here vs. washing by hand. It’s faster, involves less work, and ultimately saves you money. 

With that said, handwashing still has its benefits and is still necessary when it comes to certain dishes. A balance of both methods will always be needed, but your dishwasher should be relied upon for everyday washing. If available, make sure to use the “eco” setting on your dishwasher. You should start to see your bills drop.

Digital Producer,

Quincy is the digital producer at Kiplinger. He joined Kiplinger in May 2021. Before, he worked at Agora Financial - Paradigm Press and was a contributing writer for several other online media publications.

In his current role at Kiplinger, Quincy produces several newsletters, including Kiplinger Today, Investing Weekly, Tax Tips, Kiplinger’s Special Report, and Closing Bell. At the same time, he writes numerous articles every month. 

When he’s not working, he’s taking his dogs for a walk or fishing.