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washing dishes by hand vs. dishwasher: water, expense and time  RSS feed

 
Jenny Nazak
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Location: Daytona Beach FL
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What I like about washing dishes by hand is that it encourages extreme mindfulness. Some might call it laziness LOL. I use hardly any dishes, and HAVE hardly any dishes!

I cook most of my meals on the stovetop with one pot, occasionally also use a cast-iron frypan. And my main eating vessels are one (stainless steel) bowl-like plate or should I say plate-like bowl, sort of a hybrid of a plate and a bowl (imagine a plate but with curved-up edges so it can hold soup) and one spoon.

Most of my meals are vegan or vegetarian, and I find that I can simply rinse off my dish with a swish of cold water as soon as I finish eating, and it's fine (clean enough), since I'm the only one eating from it.

I rarely need hot water. The stainless-steel pot I use for stovetop cooking, rinses off easily in cold water. When I cook something that's oily or greasy, I use the cast-iron pan. Any extra grease gets used for a subsequent meal. Soap never touches the cast-iron pan. The most I ever do is swish a bit of water in it.

In addition to cooking on a stove, I also use a solar oven. For that I use a thin-walled, enameled black pot. That one is always super easy to clean, since the (mostly vegan or vegetarian) food gets cooked at the relatively low temps common to solar cooking, there is no messy sticky residue. Rinses off pretty easily with cold water.

For the occasional hot water needed, I'll heat some up in the kettle.

Washing dishes takes me less than 5 minutes a day, and usually consumes less than a gallon of water. Oh, and when I use detergent, I use it in VERY dilute form - a bottle of dishwashing liquid lasts more months than I remember. Maybe a year! Another thing I use besides detergent is a bit of baking soda, for those times I need something a little more than water to scrub the cookware.

Water gets captured in a big stainless-steel pot and I use it to water my tiny yard, trees etc.

I really appreciate the great ideas and thoughts I've read on this thread - thank you Paul and Jocelyn and everyone else!

Jenny Nazak, apartment-dweller in Daytona Beach, FL USA
 
Peter Ingot
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I've considered dishwashers, but never used one in my life.

Water use is a consideration

So is energy. I try not to heat anything with electricity if I can help it, so ideally I would want water to be preheated with solar or wood (possibly complex plumbing in my current fairly low tech system, different systems for summer and winter etc.)

So is time. Housework takes up way too much of our time, and time is an issue when you herd animals, bake bread, weed, harvest, dig clay for ecobuildings, catalogue seeds etc. 

Dishwashers seem to require special detergent and the issue of this in greywater seems to be being glossed over. Could I use homemade liquid soap in a dishwasher?

The dishwasher should be able to work efficiently with a small amount of dishes. I don't want to use lots of dishes for the sake of running a dishwasher at full capacity. I like the one knife, one fork, one spoon, one bowl, one mug system (with extra dishes stored away, out of sight and mind, for guests).

Also the dishwasher should not be a POS. It should be sturdy, durable, repairable (mostly standard components, not dependent on weird flimsy little bits of plastic only made by a small company in China) and ultimately recyclable. Money is an issue too

If a dishwasher meets those specifications I'm open to the idea

Also consider different styles of eating: sharing a central dish of food for instance. Maybe not hygienic enough for some, but it is done in many parts of the world. Cooking a big pot of stew for several meals, or baking 8 loaves of bread is better than spending hours preparing lots of little meals cleaning up after each (sometimes in communal settings, I have noticed people choosing to spend hours cooking lots of small meals as an alternative to doing heavier work)

By the same logic, living without a washing machine would be slightly more bearable if we wore different clothes - shirts with detachable cuffs and collars for instance (something which went out around the time washing machines came in). I still value my washing machine very highly, but technology can become addictive rather than simply useful when we build our lives around it.
 
Creighton Samuiels
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I'm not trying to start more arguments, but I live in Kentucky, where there is no water shortage to speak of, so the differences in water consumption are truly trivial. I have long considered a dishwasher to be one of the greatest, most labor saving devices ever invented.  That said, I typically use the "air dry" settings in summer and switch to the "heated dry" settings in winter.  So while I also use more energy with my dishwasher overall, I have some control about how beneficial that "waste heat" is to my household.  I burn wood during occupied waking hours in winter, and use propane as the automatic alternative.  So I typically reload & start the dishwasher before going to bed, so that the heat contribution occurs overnight, when my woodstove is burning low enough to safely dampen down and ignore; while the waste heat from the dishwasher is displacing the (much more expensive) fossil fueled heat.  I can't provide measurements about how much this saves me in propane, but it's a number higher than zero.  Also, since both the dishwasher & the woodstove are in the kitchen, if I were to run the dishwasher when the woodstove is still near it's peak heat output, the kitchen becomes uncomfortable rather quickly.  So I suspect that the real heat contribution from the dishwasher is not trivial, either.
 
Jerry McIntire
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Dale Hodgins wrote: "My greatest beef with other people who clear the table or otherwise try to help, is that they place everything in on top of something greasy."

My Dad and Uncle Harry had a terrific knock-down, drag-out about this very issue. It approached the top of their lungs as we rolled west in a borrowed motor home. Uncle Harry didn't want the plates stacked because he didn't want to have to wash the bottoms as well as the tops. My Dad thought he was being unreasonable (and a few other unmentionables). I don't stack the dishes because I'm lazy too.
 
Jenny Nazak
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Creighton Samuiels wrote:I'm not trying to start more arguments, but I live in Kentucky, where there is no water shortage to speak of


I live in Florida, where we get 49 inches of rain a year, so technically there is no water shortage here either. And yet I still feel compelled to minimize my consumption of fresh water, because we have a limited supply of it planet-wide. Also, where I live, although we get a lot of rain, people don't do a good job of saving it -- either on the land via mulching and earthworks, or in rainbarrels. No matter where I live, I've always felt compelled to minimize my water consumption. And I'm not trying to start arguments either
This is a great thread though!! Very educational and inspiring.
 
Jenny Nazak
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Location: Daytona Beach FL
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Peter Ingot wrote:By the same logic, living without a washing machine would be slightly more bearable if we wore different clothes - shirts with detachable cuffs and collars for instance (something which went out around the time washing machines came in). I still value my washing machine very highly, but technology can become addictive rather than simply useful when we build our lives around it.


VERY good points! And interesting bit of information ... that detachable cuffs & collars went out at about the time washing machines came in. Which came first, the chicken or the egg ...?

BTW I had a gig for a while cleaning a house whose occupants were DROWNING in clothes. I can't even describe to you how many clothes each family member had, but to give you an idea, each of the young kids had at least A HUNDRED pairs of shoes. The adults had far more. These people were literally doing laundry all of the time. Large closets, huge chests of drawers, every available surface ... all jammed with clothes. I swear, sometimes I found myself putting things into the laundry just to get them off the dining-room table.

If the washing machine had never been invented, would families ever get themselves into this situation?

Sorry, I strayed from the dishwasher topic but it seemed relevant. Which comes first, the invention of an appliance or the extreme proliferation in volume of STUFF that needs attending to? Interesting exploration.

 
Creighton Samuiels
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Jenny Nazak wrote:
Creighton Samuiels wrote:I'm not trying to start more arguments, but I live in Kentucky, where there is no water shortage to speak of


I live in Florida, where we get 49 inches of rain a year, so technically there is no water shortage here either. And yet I still feel compelled to minimize my consumption of fresh water, because we have a limited supply of it planet-wide. 


No, we don't.  Water shortages are, most certainly, a regional issue; and the nature of the water cycle guarantees that it will always be so.  Your personal convictions are noble, but not based in reality.  Every region has it's ecological limitations, and we are wise to acknowledge those, but it is not always a lack of freshwater.  If you truly are concerned about the difference in water consumption between hand-washing dishes and using a dishwasher; you can buy a new water-compliant dishwasher available this year (which consume a maximum of 2.5 gallons per fill cycle, or typically 5 gallons per standard wash & rinse; I work in a dishwasher factory) or simply plant a deciduous tree.  One adult tree will contribute about as much water into the air, and thus the water cycle, as an acre of ocean surface; and it is not difficult for an acre of woodlot to hold 50+ mature trees.  As a bonus, you are also (temporarily) sequestering carbon during their growth.
 
Jenny Nazak
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Creighton Samuiels wrote:If you truly are concerned about the difference in water consumption between hand-washing dishes and using a dishwasher; you can buy a new water-compliant dishwasher available this year (which consume a maximum of 2.5 gallons per fill cycle, or typically 5 gallons per standard wash & rinse; I work in a dishwasher factory)


EXCELLENT! An industry insider's perspective. Thank you. And it confirms that I use less water with my method. I use less *in my situation, the way I do it*. I can't speak for others. Some folks might be using 10 gallons of water to hand-wash their dishes. Those folks would save by getting one of these dishwashers you mention.

My method also uses less electricity than I would if I were to get a dishwasher. Not to mention the embodied energy of the dishwasher's manufacture, the additional hours I would need to work to earn the money to purchase the dishwasher, etc. (Some people have high-paying jobs and would laugh at that notion. I imagine there are some folks on here  who earn enough in an hour or two to buy a dishwasher.)

Also, I have found that *FOR ME*, my method encourages me to find ways to minimize energy expenditure (human OR fossil). Not having a machine to wash my dishes encourages me to find the simplest cooking methods and cleanup methods, and also to keep my inventory of possessions to a minimum. I keep just enough pots and dishes for myself and friends/guests. 

Creighton Samuiels wrote:or simply plant a deciduous tree.  One adult tree will contribute about as much water into the air, and thus the water cycle, as an acre of ocean surface; and it is not difficult for an acre of woodlot to hold 50+ mature trees.  As a bonus, you are also (temporarily) sequestering carbon during their growth.


Hear, hear! I'll mulch to that any day!!

Jenny
 
Creighton Samuiels
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Jenny Nazak wrote:
Creighton Samuiels wrote:If you truly are concerned about the difference in water consumption between hand-washing dishes and using a dishwasher; you can buy a new water-compliant dishwasher available this year (which consume a maximum of 2.5 gallons per fill cycle, or typically 5 gallons per standard wash & rinse; I work in a dishwasher factory)


EXCELLENT! An industry insider's perspective. Thank you. And it confirms that I use less water with my method. I use less *in my situation, the way I do it*. I can't speak for others. Some folks might be using 10 gallons of water to hand-wash their dishes. Those folks would save by getting one of these dishwashers you mention.


Well, you *probably* do, if you can wash as many dishes as a fully loaded dishwasher without changing your wash water more than once.  But that maximum is a new EPA regulation, and many models used less than that already, depending upon the cycle.  If you have soft water, some modern models can automaticly detect that, and use less water by design as a result. 


My method also uses less electricity than I would if I were to get a dishwasher. Not to mention the embodied energy of the dishwasher's manufacture, the additional hours I would need to work to earn the money to purchase the dishwasher, etc. (Some people have high-paying jobs and would laugh at that notion. I imagine there are some folks on here  who earn enough in an hour or two to buy a dishwasher.)



You definitely use less energy, even on an "energy saver" cycle.  Dishwashers are required to heat the dishes high enough to "pasteurize" the surface, which typically means 140 degrees for 7 minutes.  So whether or not the water is heated before going into the dishwasher, the cycle still requires quite a bit of heat, even without heated drying.  I can't imagine that a dishwasher would be cost effective on an off-grid home.
 
Kate Muller
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When we moved into our current house we didn't have a dishwasher and I happily hand washed everything till I tore my left rotator cuff.  My husband hand washed the dishes for about a week and he bought a dishwasher. I do still hand wash dishes but I love the dishwasher when I am injured, have company over, or I am doing a lot of canning.  I need to remember that I can use the dishwasher as a drying rack so it is easier to hand wash the dishes. 



 
branimir marold
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paul wheaton wrote:I would like to add to that that if kids complain of their suffering doing chores like dishes, remind them that all that suffering helps them write good poetry when they are older.


fortunately some of those kids grow up and doing dishes is the last concern it their practical lives

I have read some comments about sterilizing dishes.  I think that is a terrible idea.  George Carlin has some thoughts in this space:


sterilization is imo unwise, and does more damage in long terms .. good old Gorge said it well in his style, respect

When a person tells me that a dishwasher is better because it saves water and then won't allow further discussion ... I feel like that person is not only wrong, but that person can never understand what I feel.


generally talking about water "issues" imo is absurd cause water is water .. it is OK .. it's not like it's going anywhere right? .. why panic .. why fear of loosing water .. how those people experience urination I don't want to ask

people often in their lack of knowledge and wisdom put them selves in "godlike role" (I'm so important and strong and must watch out and fear of not destroying the "whole world") and in the same time can't see that they are playing "devil role" mostly from spreading that fear around themselves that helps them justify their illusions

human didn't invent/create nature and "he" sure will not destroy it .. only him self if he really try hard he sure can do everything .. let's hope (and work along ) that lack of knowledge prevents him in that way and directs him in way of learning and connecting with his environment that he is part of nature not nature itself whatever he believes or wish .. he is still stuck on this planet with everything on it .. and it is still life worthy and always challenging experience imo

Thanks grandad.  You're awesome.


respect!
 
Travis Johnson
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Years ago when I worked at the shipyard my wife did the dishes by hand. That was all well and good, but by the time I got home at 5:30 PM, had supper, then she did the dishes, it was nearing 7 PM. I was nearing bed time because I got up at 3:30 AM. That did not leave much time to talk about life or the the kids.

One of our houses had a dishwasher and being unoccupied we grabbed it an installed it in our main house. Maybe there is some extra water useage, maybe there is some extra electricity spent, but I got my wife away from the sink and that is priceless.
 
Lindsey Jane
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We have a dishwasher but never use it. I've always washed by hand.

Fill up one side with sudsy hot water/ put dishes in. Soak, wash, transfer to other side, rinse and put in the plate rack. Done. Easy and lot's of good conversation and/or podcasts to listen to. NO biggie.

Extra bonus? The tons of research that says washing dishes by hand leads to less illness in houses - b/c over time we build up good immunity to all the germies and baddies lurking on "un-sterilized" plates. That's the argument against hand sanitizer, yes? Too much santitizing means we sanitize ourselves right into week immune systems. Also toxic additives, etc.

It's always seemed like a no -brainer to me. Grew up without a dishwasher and never missed it. Bought my first house without a dishwasher in it and didn't realize that fact until we were moving in. Our house now has one but I'm thinking that I might rip it out b/c I could use that cabinet space for all the other things I use daily.
 
Daniel Morse
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Time, time is everything and so is clean. I think we are looking at this as a broad statement. I use my dishwasher. Not ashamed. I work two jobs, go to school and still cook daily. The dishwasher saves me an hour a day. I do my pots every day or two. when I load up the dishwasher after I do pots.

The also big gorilla is clean. I have to scald my dishes. Why? I have pets and they eat off the plates. I have separate plates but they need clean too. I get enough germs at work and play thank you. So do they.  I also like to say this. I do entertain a lot of people at times. If someone has Hep C or something I like to be sure we have cleaned the utensils. Not hateful, just cautious. Unless you have a true sterilization system heat/steam or a three sink system it is something to consider.

I have traveled the world. One thing that is true is good sanitation and food handling skills. People stopped dying in the streets when safe food handling was learned and taught. Most of you get a C- in this dept. Sorry, the truth hurts. A Kosher Kitchen is a subject to learn from. There is a reason they boil knives that cut meat. It is not always germs we are trying to destroy also.

Now, one more thing. I do not like a lot of the new dishwashers. They dont use a heat dry. If they do not heat the water up to 160, a good heat dry will accomplish the same thing. Many of the new dish detergents do not use  a bleach. I have ran loads that I flt were not clean enough. If you get a stink out of your dishwasher. There is a systematic failure.

I also like to point out that many people run the water heaters at too low a setting and they breed bacteria. Clock them up once in a while and get them cleaned up. There is a reason one should never drink hot water out of many taps.

My gosh, I can not believe I spent time on this this morning.
 
Philipp Mueller
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My dishwasher is used for 2 reasons. First: My sink is much to small to really use. Second: I am lazy/ like to spend the little time i have in the garden or with other things than doing dishes. Of course i try to minimize the ecological footprint of my dishwasher, but i am aware that it is still bigger than washing by hand. I dont even think it is more hygienic. The danger of germs on dishes is in my opinion negligible. Contaminated water and food are the main problems, especially if bacteria have time to multiply in moist, warm environment. For most pathogens, sterilization is overkill and only really necessary if you are preparing food for storage. This is also applicable for almost all pathogens transmitted by animals. You dont have to sterilize your hands after petting your dog or cat. Washing is sufficient (and better for your hands)
 
Dawn Hoff
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I cook all our food from scratcht, we didn't have a dishwasher first tow years we lived here - and honestly having to do the dishes after every meal made me not want to cook at all. If felt like all I ever did was washing dishes...

Maybe if I had an indentured servant or maybe just a servant... I would be willing to go back. I also was completely unable to use as little water as my dishwasher does (7-10L). I get tired of eating one pot foods (which we also did the first two years as we didn't have more than one burner), and I developed a nasty rash on my hands that I am still fighting...

I love my dishwasher! If I can find someone to work for me for as little as that thing costs me, then I will consider doing things differently (and yes that comes down to oil prices...) but currently I would rather be a creative cook, do gardening and play with my kids.
 
Dawn Hoff
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Dan Boone wrote:
<snip>

I spent too much of my childhood washing dishes for a family of six using two dishpans (actually big stainless steel mixing bowls), one wash cloth, and a dish drainer.  Big dishpan full of soap and water and dirtiest non-plastic dishes would be heated on the wood stove until water was "hot", along with a two-quart kettle of supplemental hot water.  Small dishpan would have clean cold water in it, sometimes warmed a bit on the stove so it wouldn't be miserable to dip hands in.  Hot kettle was used to top up the big dishpan as water splashed out (we had a two sinks draining into a slop-bucket arrangement) and dippers of cold water from the drinking water bucket (2.5 gallon) could be used to supplement the rinse as necessary.  Protocol was to empty the five-gallon slop bucket before and after, so I can confirm that total water use was generally in the 3-4 gallon range.  The project (starting with putting the cold water on the stove, emptying the slop bucket, filling the water bucket) usually took about an hour at kid pace.  Slop water got slung into the woods behind the outhouse.  All of our water was hauled quite a distance so, in winter, we'd sometimes be told to start with dishpan packed full of snow to minimize water use.   No extra charge for the spruce needles and snowshoe hare poop.

I've seen several sentiments in this thread discounting the cost or the value of the time spent hand-washing dishes.  There's the notion that dishwashing time can be quality social time, the notion that the person washing dishes doesn't have anything more valuable or interesting to do with the time, and the notion (expressed quite wittily) that time spent by children can be discounted because it's "automatic" from the perspective of some other person.  It strikes me how contextual each of these notions must be, in order for it to be true.  Dishwashing time in our cabin was never social, friendly, or familial; dishwashing was always a chore and frequently a punishment, carried out while other family members sat at leisure less than ten feet away ignoring the dishwashing process except to instruct/complain/bitch about perceived imperfections.  Obviously it could have been different had my parents been other than they were, but in that context, house chores were never "quality time" and always an imposition into whatever activities we children felt had value (usually reading or getting the hell out of the cabin on whatever pretext).  Forty years later I remain quite hostile to the notion that there's anything inherently pleasant or ennobling about routine repetitive chores; I would have to be very dull indeed if I could not imagine some better and more pleasant or productive use of my time.   Being able to fill the sonic environment with entertainment or education is the best way to mitigate the opportunity cost of time lost to routine chores, and it's how I cope with them now.  I can imagine (but have never experienced) filling the time with pleasant socializing.  I cannot imagine thinking "I've got nothing better to do."  Thinking "the kid has nothing better to do" would be hypocritical, and also suggests a parenting failure; the kid damned well should have something they are more excited about doing than washing dishes.

But I still wash dishes by hand (for reasons mostly economic) and other people wash dishes by hand to save water or energy or the fossil fuel embodied in the dishwater.  My point is that these motives don't generalize well.  Whether you want to save water versus expense versus time is hugely contextual.  What are your circumstances, what are your values, what is the opportunity cost to you of an hour spent with a dishrag in hand?  Everybody's got a different answer. 


Thank you!

I spent too much time doing dishes as a kid too. In my grandmas house it was fun-time (and we were allowed to lick our dessert bowls if we helped my uncle do the dishes). In my godparents house in Sweden it would be a social event too - and even getting water from the well was a pleasure. But at home - even if we did have hot running water out of the tap, I was lonely and a clear indication that my time was worth far far less than my parents time.

I swore to never treat my children like servants or slaves, like I was. They do help out around the house, but my feelings around dishes are so negative as a result of my childhood experience that making social and enjoyable is near impossible for me... And I can grow a lot of veggies or knit a load of leg warmers etc. in the time it would take me to do the dishes, dance ballet withy daughter, go for a walk in nature, cook yet another lovely meal.
 
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