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Dishwasher Water Conservation
updated: Jul 09, 2014, 11:40 AM

By Edhat Subscriber

My family is trying to conserve water, so our question is, do we use more water doing the dishes by hand, or by using the dishwasher?

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 534046 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 11:54 AM

Assuming you run a full dishwasher you will use less water than by washing by hand. I believe there are some studies out there.


 COMMENT 534047 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 11:56 AM

About 5 years ago Ed Begley Jr, an environmental activist, had a TV show, "Living with ED". It was all about living green and saving money. His experiment showed that the dishwasher used more water than doing them by hand.


 COMMENT 534050 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 12:03 PM

City of SB staff has the answer to all these questions. They have a number for water conservation on the website.


 COMMENT 534051 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 12:04 PM

I wash them by hand before putting them in the dishwasher.


 COMMENT 534053 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 12:05 PM

Your dishwasher owner's manual will have specs for the number of gallons used per wash.

Newer energy/water-efficient models can use as little as 1 1/2 - 3 gallons per load. Not bad if you fill the unit up completely before running it. At our house (2 retired people) we do only 2, maybe 3 loads per week.


 COMMENT 534057P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 12:31 PM

A dog or cat could assist by pre-washing the dishes.


 COMMENT 534059P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 12:36 PM

057, I think cats are way to picky, dogs will eat anything, for the most part.


 COMMENT 534061P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 12:39 PM

This might only serve to muddy the water (pun intended) even more:



 COMMENT 534063 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 12:51 PM

I know from experience that I use less water by washing by hand than using the dishwasher. I also use a plastic tub in the sink to wash and then use the water for plants, etc.


 COMMENT 534066 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 01:00 PM

It depends.... if you let the water run continually while doing the dishes by hand you are not conserving. If you can do the dishes with only a gallon of water or less, assuming it's not just a cereal bowl and coffee mug, you're a hero.


 COMMENT 534069 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 01:07 PM

Still waiting for the comment from the guy that says we don't need to conserve any water because 80% of the water use in CA goes to agriculture. Oh wait, I'm that guy!


 COMMENT 534071P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 01:10 PM

If you wash dishes the way we do, then you're probably using a heck of a lot less water than any electric dishwasher. Using less energy, too. Plus, you never have to consider high-use electricity times or any of that. You save money on buying expensive dishwasher soaps. You never have to pay to have your dishwasher repaired or maintained. You have more space in your kitchen for drawers/cabinets. Not to mention doing dishes by hand is quieter and kind of meditative.

We soap up a non-scratch scrub sponge (no perfume/no dye and eco dish soap only) and then use that to scrub our plates, pans and cutlery.

We clean the glasses/utensils/dishes/pans, in that order. Scrub, rinse under the faucet with low volume of hot water. Saves more water if you dump soapy water from one glass to another, and so on.

Last rinse or two is conducted over a small tub, which is set in the sink to catch this water. Then water is carried out to the garden next to the kitchen. (Good reason to use eco-friendly dish soap, too.)

Happy plants, eco-clean dishes. Oh, and the dog does sometimes enthusiastically perform the "pre-wash" cycle.

One tip I can give everyone, and something I taught myself: Always rub a small amount of olive oil or some other oil around on inside of your plate or bowl, before adding foods that will stick. (Think fettucine Alfredo.) You can use butter, if you think you can afford the extra calories. This oil prevents food sticking and really aids in the washing up. Particularly if you don't do the washing up right after you've eaten, and you're not intending to soak dishes first.

You can use oil rub with oven-proof plates/bowls that you use to bake your dinner in the oven or if you microwave your food. I think the oil treatment saves a good bit of water, if you're doing your dishes by hand.


 COMMENT 534072 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 01:11 PM

If the gist of the question is how to get the best use out of your water, hand washing in a tub is the answer. As you see the water filling in the tub, you tend to use less water to keep from having to empty the tub more than once.

Emptying the tub on a hedge or shrub gets the most out of water that was used. I wouldn't use the water on any vegetable or fruit bearing growth.


 COMMENT 534075 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 01:21 PM

053 is right on. No comparison of DW's today and back when Ed Begley did his comparison. They are incredibly energy efficient and use much less water now. Every household is different and a DW may conserve more water for some and not others. And 069, we all need to do our part regardless of how much we use. And I hope you aren't an advocate of abolishing our agriculture.


 COMMENT 534083 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 01:55 PM

The canine pre-wash cycle can save water. In reality, though, the water used in the dishwasher is much hotter than typical hand washing, so if you are concerned about killing germs and other harmful pathogens, or have a sick person present, then you probably want to use a dishwasher.


 COMMENT 534099 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 02:24 PM

072 has a great technique. We do this as well and dump the grey water outside in the planters. Our plants are green as ever and we don't use our outdoor hose nearly as much.


 COMMENT 534100 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 02:26 PM

069 - Where do you get your food?


 COMMENT 534112 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 02:50 PM

069 makes an excellent point. California agriculture is now dominated by large businesses who profit by selling their crops to foreign countries, especially China. We are exporting billions and billions of gallons of water in the form of crops so agribusiness can make record profits. Alfalfa is a good example. Read "California drought: Why farmers are 'exporting water' to China"
by Alastair Leithead BBC News, Los Angeles for an education. So while you're doing canine prewash and gray water irrigation the Chinese are enjoying juicy steaks fattened on California alfalfa.


 COMMENT 534122 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 03:08 PM

069 - I don't believe that 80% of Cachuma is going to agriculture. Thanks for pitching in.


 EZ2 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 03:13 PM

We bought a big bucket from Home Improvemnt to put in our kitchen sink..we wash dishes in it and use the water on our plants..it has 2 handles Helps save water


 EZ2 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 03:14 PM

We also have one in our shower


 COMMENT 534129 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 03:24 PM

This may be a dumb question, but what kind of dish detergent are people using that it's not hurting the plants? Thanks.


 COMMENT 534137 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 03:46 PM

Check this site about detergents and greywater. It talks about types of detergent.
replace the (dot) with .


 COMMENT 534171 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 04:49 PM

Use paper plates! Then you don't have to wash anything.


 COMMENT 534199P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 05:43 PM

7th Generation makes a good biodegradable dish soap. You can find it at Lazy Acres and Whole Foods. Sometimes its to be found at Vons or Ralph's, too. Comes in nice, mild scents or free and clear. I've seen Ecover touted as a good dish soap, too, but don't know if it's sold locally.

My gripe is I can't stand the super perfumey soaps and Mrs. Meyer's is one of the worst, as all scents are gaggingly overpowering.

Whatever you do, don't fall for the "Dawn" p.r. about it being so animal-friendly and caring about the environment. Dawn is made by Proctor & Gamble and P & G is still a top villain, when it comes to torturing animals in laboratories. (I say this, because I wrote to P & G about animal testing and the reply was: YES, the company still tests on animals.)


 COMMENT 534200 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 05:43 PM

quick tip for this hot muggy weather: if you use a modular air conditioning unit, find a way to collect the condensate. we collect nearly 5gal of almost-distilled water (it still contains house dust and VOCs) per day-- enough to water a good number of our plants.


 COMMENT 534207 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 06:26 PM

paper plates


 COMMENT 534241 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 08:27 PM

My dishwasher uses 4 gallons of water. I can't wash the same amount of Dinesen with that.


 MOUNTAINMAN4865 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 09:32 PM

For the question of soaps/detergents, I found this brand several years ago and have been really, really happy with it. We have always had grey water, so it was really important to me to find something that was compatible with that. I went to their website for the first time tonight, because I wanted to pass the info on, and for some reason I thought, at one time, they were based in SB. Wrong about that, but the story behind the company is awesome! and makes me even happier to use it.


We use their dish soap and laundry detergent. I can't speak to their other products. Sadly, though, it's hard to find in stores. They don't sell through their website, but there is a store locator that lists Lassen's, Lazy Acres, Whole Foods, Tri-County Produce, and Cantwell's as carrying their products, although the list might be outdated (as it also lists Kayser's in La Cumbre Plaza).


 COMMENT 534250P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-09 09:35 PM

Kayser's. WAY off-topic, but I miss those Hercules' Flips. Tried to find the mix online, but no luck. Anyone know the recipe?


 COMMENT 534281P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 06:48 AM

Biokleen is also available at Amazon. Thank you, Mountainman, for the reference -- I had never heard of this. The company has an extensive line of products. Have you been using it for a while in your gray water system - have your plants had any problem with it?


 MTNDRIVER agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 06:55 AM

I don't know that there's a definitive answer to the question, but at our house we don't rinse before loading the dishwasher and generally only run it every other day, sometimes every three days (there are only two of us). Wash pots, etc once a day. Who knows if that's less water than we'd use doing it all by hand? 6-9 meals worth in one load...


 COMMENT 534293 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 07:21 AM

Did the test repeatedly over several years while I lived up on the pass, where every gallon of water was extremely precious to me and I had to carry by hand or car to my house.
Dishwasher wins every time, unless you only eat on dishes once per week.
Average daily water use for family of 4 doing dishes in sink by hand was 5 gallons. (We tried many ways)
Average daily use by dishwasher run every 3 days when full was less than 2 gallons
I have the water meter data to back it up!
Interesting thing about using DW was that if you put the dishes out of sight into the DW there was no unsightly mess beckoning to be cleaned every day. Much more efficient.
I did the tests out of necessity, don't care about anything other than the truth.


 COMMENT 534295 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 07:22 AM

250P - Used to be equal parts of vanilla ice cream or ice milk, orange juice. Then add 2 oz. of "Flip Mix" protein powder and any additions such as wheat germ, extra protein, honey, etc. Blend and enjoy.


 COMMENT 534297 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 07:26 AM

Ag is not a big user of Cachuma water, SB ag uses groundwater as long as it is still available. But statewide the 80% number is true because of the senior rights holders along the Sacramento River raising rice (inundated in water) and alfalfa for export (requires 7 ft of water per acre). But due to the drought they can now make more money ($15K/ac selling the 7 af to cities that are desperate for it.


 COMMENT 534311P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 07:53 AM

If you can, have a plumber hook up a gray water hose from your dishwasher to your garden and then use biocompatible blue soap such as Oasis or similar.


 ARCHIE agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 08:02 AM

I recently watched the old movie I Remember Mama and saw Mama rinse over the dishes in the sink with a pot of water she had heated on the stove. I'm going to try that.


 CORKY agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 08:26 AM

O51: Are you kidding? Why not just use the rinse cycle? I soak before running the DW, but please don't do both!


 COMMENT 534344P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 08:49 AM

Anything that goes in a dishwasher gets put in our Bosch. Anything that doesn't gets put in a pan of hot soapy water and handwashed. We then rinse it under the tap but over a small bucket and then dilute that with "warming up" water and keep it for the garden. Good luck!


 COMMENT 534358 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 09:03 AM

One thing not yet mentioned. We were without a dishwasher for about six months - during that time, family passed around colds like crazy. Once we got a new dishwasher, (which heats the water beyond what you can stand on your hands), the problem went away.


 MOUNTAINMAN4865 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 09:21 AM

281p - We've been using it off and on for years, but it was spotty trying to buy it in town. We finally found a steady source for it and have been using it solely for a couple of years. The laundry drains out around 3 citrus trees and they're happy. The kitchen sink goes to an elderberry tree, under which grows a tangled forest of tomatoes. Freebie from the grey water, plus two more I planted this year.

I concur with 293. Living in the mountains, every gallon is precious, but it seems like that philosophy has now creeped in to town by necessity. Thank you to the OP for the question. And I am so heartened by the extent and thoughtfulness of the responses.


 COMMENT 534378 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 09:54 AM

In '76 we were living in Paradise, CA. A critical shortage. Oroville Dam was very low and things were very dry. We kept a dishpan in the sink (2 people and
2 dogs) Soaked the dishes so the food didn't stick until there was a sink full, then washed and rinsed with as little water as possible, and disposed of the water outside.
Also, had a utility sink next to the washer dryer and saved the rinse water for the yard. A bit inconvenient. Saved a lot. Remember to turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Did not have a lawn, mostly ground cover and natural plants. We built the house during the drought so had an advantage.
The toilets had notes on them. "If its yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down..
When the dogs water was changed it went on the plants. 2 big labs can use a lot of water..


 COMMENT 534384 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 10:05 AM

Bit off topic but if you're handy - convert your washing machine to greywater. Google it, Very easy-just need trash can (at least 4' high) and a few connectors, safe detergent and for less than $20 in materials all your water goes outside to plants, etc so you don't need to water there at all. Saves us $$ on SY water bill.

Besides that, I concur the newer energy star dishwashers are very efficient and use much less water than hand washing.


 COMMENT 534444 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 01:10 PM

Dishwashers have different levels of use and so different levels of the amount of water used. Some people scrub their dishes hard with lots of water running and others don't. To each must remember that we are in a bad drought and use your conscience.


 COMMENT 534467 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 02:26 PM

Water conservation is all good in any form. If anyone sees blatant water wasting happening, call 805-564-5460 to report it.


 COMMENT 534513 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-10 03:59 PM

Paper plates... Yes, I know there are other environmental issues but hey, no washing :))


 CORKY agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-11 09:36 AM

I loved my old DW that had a dial you could use to shorten the time. Now, I have no way of knowing where in the cycle it is, and chose one hour wash, because it was the shortest.


 ELAZ agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-11 11:56 AM

I'm with 071P. I use the dishwasher sometimes, but usually wash as he/she described. It drives me nuts to see people letting water run and run and run, whether they are washing dishes, brushing teeth or "just letting it get to the temp they want." Ugh.


 COMMENT 535008 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-07-12 03:04 PM

I have a portable dishwasher that I drain directly into a 5 gallon bucket (biodegradable soap/native plants). The same bucket in the sink catches any clean rinse water (veggies). 2 buckets in the shower (clean water while I'm waiting for the water to heat up/veggies), (greywater/$30 pump/rechargeable batteries/solar panels/native plants.) My clothes washer is outside. Biodegradable soap/garden hose to heavily mulched bioswales around my fruit trees. Did I mention that everything is heavily mulched?!?

Water is our most important resource. We must invest it back into the ground where the micro/macro organisms and organic material in healthy soil clean and store it, turning it into habitat and food production. Simple steps that reduce your water bill and make a big difference for the environment. Imagine the possibilities!


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