Sustainable Dishwashing

Dara de Bruijn



Hand-washing vs. Dishwashing

We are going to look at our dishwashing habits and how we can make some adjustments to reduce our consumption. Compounded over time, this daily task, when done correctly, can save a lot of water and energy.

The comparison

The average sink is about 20 litres in volume. Assuming you don’t wash the dishes with a completely full sink, you’ll be using about 15 liters of warm water. Most modern dishwashers average at about 13 litres of water consumption per wash, but older models could be using up to 40 liters. 

Upfront, washing dishes by hand might seem more economical, however most of us are in the habit of either rinsing a lot, or refilling the sink multiple times, which moves us into wastage territory! This could double or even triple the 15 liters we mentioned before. So what to do?

Effective hand-washing

There are a few things which we tend to do when washing dishes by hand that waste a lot of water. Washing individual dishes without filling the sink is not always avoidable, but letting the tap run like this can waste a lot of water. It is better to let the dirty dishes build up and they can all be washed all together in one batch of hot water. Fill a tub with plenty of hot water and as little as a teaspoon of soap. Too much soap can leave our dishes excessively foamy which does not help with cleaning and is also a waste.

Then we have excessive rinsing. The foam from dish washing soap contains a very minute amount of soap (it’s mostly air), so don’t worry too much about rinsing all of the suds off with the tap! Get a drying rack and let gravity do its work; dish washing soap is not harmful to the body if a tiny amount is ingested, and you certainly won’t taste it.

Bonus tip:

If you use a tub to wash your dishes in, you can throw the soapy water over the plants when you are finished (provided you haven’t got huge strings of spaghetti floating around in it). As a plus, dish washing soap is actually a common DIY insect repellent, so your plants will thank you for giving them some protection from any critters in your garden.

Dishwasher etiquette 

Most modern dishwashers have an “eco” or “rinse” setting. These can be utilized very effectively if we are conscious of how we load our dishwasher so that we don’t put too much strain on the machine.

A small tub of shallow water in the sink (perhaps filled with water that it has caught throughout the day when you rinse your hands etc.) can be the perfect friend for an eco dishwasher. When you have a dirty plate, rinse it in the tub, making sure the food hasn’t been left to solidify too much, before putting it in the dishwasher to finish the job.

These “eco” cycles tend to use much less hot water and are often far shorter than regular cycles, so it’s only fair that we give the dishwasher a fighting chance. 

You can also help your dishwasher by cleaning the filter regularly. A dirty dishwasher filter can lead to plates coming out the way they went in, so remember to clean your filter regularly to avoid any mishaps!

In summary

Pick your battles. There is no definitive better or worse when it comes to how you choose to wash your plates, but no matter what method you choose, you can always improve on something small which over a long period of time can make a huge difference.

About the Author

Dara de Bruijn is a freelance writer, musician and yoga instructor based in Dublin. His main focus is exploring the benefits of co-operative living and leading a life orientated around social service.

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