South and Hickory Facade

Dishwasher or Hand Washing?

Man loading a dishwasher. Image credit: Wendelin Jacober

December 2022


Even if you don’t cook at home often, one thing about the holidays is that we all tend to generate more dirty dishes than normal. That might have you wondering what’s better… washing things by hand or in the dishwasher?

Which is better for the environment? Which sanitizes better? Which is quicker? Which costs less? If you guessed that there’s no one right answer… you’re right! It can depend on how many dirty dishes you generate and how quickly you run out of clean dishes. And there’s also a mental aspect. Some people love to wash dishes by hand. They consider it a ritual that’s almost meditative. To avoid complicating the issue entirely, here are three fundamental considerations that will help you with your decision.


A typical Energy Star dishwasher uses 4 gallons of water for a single load. You might think that washing by hand uses less, but if you’re hand washing the equivalent of a full load of dishes, you’ll use more water doing it by hand. And even if you only hand wash a few dishes at a time, if you add up all the water you use across the equivalent of a full load of dishes, you’ll be using more water. And using more hot water means using more energy.

So, if you can wait until your dishwasher is full and then run it, you’ll be taking the most energy efficient route. But that can be a problem if you run out of dishes before your dishwasher is full. Or maybe you have a travel mug you use every day. Chances are, it will make sense for you to hand wash frequently used items while slowing filling your dishwater with the things you can wait for.

When you do hand wash, don’t leave the water running unless you’re actively using it. Also, you’ll typically use less water if you fill your sink with water and soap, then use that to wash your dishes.

One last thing about filling your dishwasher. There’s no need to rinse your dishes before you put them in. With modern dishwashers it isn’t necessary, and it just wastes water. All you need to do is scrape off any food residue and load them in.


Hands down, your dishwasher sanitizes better than hand washing. It uses hotter water than your hands could tolerate and the heat that builds up inside a dishwasher is highly effective at killing germs. Even if you choose to hand wash, it’s worth using your dishwasher when sanitizing is important – like when you have a cold or flu that you don’t want to pass on.

Keep in mind that there are lots of things in your apartment that you could use your dishwasher to sanitize. Adding them in will also help you create a full load. Sponges, your microwave turntable, hairbrushes, combs, toothbrushes, toothbrush holders, soap dishes, your shower caddy, appliance knobs, exhaust fan covers… let’s just say it’s a really long list.


Unless you have a lot to wash, hand washing will be quicker than a dishwasher. But there’s also the opposite of quick. Some people don’t think of hand washing dishes as a chore, but a mindfulness exercise. As you wash, just focus on the washing. When other things pop into your head, drop them and go back to the washing. Notice how the warm water feels and listen to the sounds of washing. While hand washing won’t be as environmentally friendly or sanitary, it can be a way to help you be present and create a calming ritual in your life.

The good news is that whichever method of dishwashing you choose, South & Hickory Place has you covered. We’ve equipped our kitchens with beautiful, deep, stainless-steel sinks and full-size dishwashers.