Is handwashing the dishes cheaper than the dishwasher? Experts settle this once and for all

Dishwasher vs handwashing dishes – what’s cheaper?

A wood-finish kitchen with an open, loaded dishwasher
(Image credit: Future PLC/Clive Doyle)

It’s pretty clear what is more convenient when we compare the dishwasher vs handwashing the dishes – obviously, the dishwasher takes the crown. But when it comes to the question of what’s cheaper and more energy-efficient, there seem to be a lot of myths surrounding the correct answer.

And that’s exactly why we asked some appliance experts to compare the best dishwashers and washing dishes by hand side by side and settle the debate of what uses less water once and for all.

And their answer was unanimous – the dishwasher wins in this aspect too. Here’s why exactly that is.

A kitchen sink in a rustic kitchen with eco-friendly dishwashing tools and products

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Eltes)

Dishwasher vs handwashing dishes

It is obvious that the upfront cost of a dishwasher initially makes it more expensive compared to doing the dishes by hand. But if you look at it long-term, then you’ll see that a dishwasher is a worthwhile investment, as long as you avoid the dishwasher mistakes that could be adding to your energy bills.

‘Most modern dishwashers are incredibly water and energy-efficient – and in many cases may be more economical than washing dishes by hand,’ says Matt Ayres, appliance expert at RDO Kitchens & Appliances. ‘Depending on the size and brand of dishwasher, an average cycle can use anywhere from 7 to 13 litres of water, while an average kitchen sink can hold around 20 litres of water.’

This is made even worse when people repeatedly refill the sink with water or just leave the tap running.

A kitchen with a red brick backsplash and an open dishwasher

(Image credit: Future PLC/Holly Jolliffe)

‘According to the Energy Saving Trust, hand-washing dishes accounts for 4% of the average household’s water use – whereas dishwashers make up just 1%,’ says Gwilym Snook, appliance expert at AO.com.

Another factor is energy efficiency, in other words how much it costs to run a dishwasher. And turns out, it’s not much. ‘Their energy consumption with each use is relatively low.  Depending on the energy efficiency rating of your dishwasher, the average cycle could cost between 18p and 26p.’

Additionally, dishwashers are designed to wash and clean dishes more efficiently, which can result in cleaner dishes that will last you longer. 

‘Dishwashers can also heat water to higher temperatures compared to typical household taps, this is necessary to effectively kill bacteria and sanitise dishes,’ says Dmitry Letsman, Hotpoint dish expert. ‘Using a dishwasher can help extend the life of your dishes, whereas handwashing may cause scratches or damage over time. Dishwasher jets are designed to be gentle on dishes, keeping them looking new for longer.’

A wood-finish kitchen with an open, loaded dishwasher

(Image credit: Future PLC/Clive Doyle)

FAQs

What is the most hygienic way to wash dishes?

The dishwasher is a more hygienic way to wash your dishes as the water reaches higher temperatures than a regular kitchen sink tap and ensures all bacteria is therefore removed.

‘Using a dishwasher helps ensure the water is the right temperature and clean enough to wash dishes thoroughly – something far more difficult to achieve with handwashing,’ Gwilym says.

Kitchen with faux-oak cupboards and slimline dishwasher half open.

(Image credit: Future)

Is a dishwasher more eco than handwashing?

Using a dishwasher is essentially more eco-friendly than handwashing the dishes as it uses up less water.

‘Using a dishwasher is generally considered to be the better option. Dishwashers are designed to use water more efficiently than handwashing,’ Dmitry says.

Gwilym adds, ‘There’s a common misconception that eco-cycles use more energy because they take a bit longer to complete a cycle. In truth, each eco setting washes dishes at lower temperatures and uses far less water.’

We rest our case.

Sara Hesikova
News Writer

Sara Hesikova has been Ideal Home’s News Writer since July 2023, bringing the Ideal Home’s readership breaking news stories from the world of home and interiors. Graduating from London College of Fashion with a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism in 2016, she got her start in niche fashion and lifestyle magazines like Glass and Alvar as a writer and editor before making the leap into interiors. She feels the two are intrinsically connected - if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.