Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dish Washing Dilemma

Dirty dishes are a fact of life ... well, my life. We eat at home a lot (it's healthier, cheaper and environmentally friendly) and we don't use disposable plates or utensils. That means ... dirty dishes.

I thought that washing dishes by hand was the most Eco-friendly method. However, I've come across quite a few articles which suggest that dishwashers are more environmentally efficient than hand washing. I wrote to the author of one such article and she kindly replied, telling me that even if a dishwasher is half full, it still uses less water and energy than hand washing.

How can this be so? It doesn't make sense to me. When I wash dishes, I use either warm or cold water and never let it run. I use a small amount of water to moisten the sponge ... soap up the dishes ... then rinse using a small stream of water. I've seen others use dish pans ... again using small amounts of water. Further, when I've actually, on a rare occasion, used my dishwasher, I've paid attention to what it's doing and it seems to fill up with water for a long time and then, it swishes and runs ... forever. How can this be the most efficient way to wash dishes?

So I started digging ... reading everything on the subject. Finally ... I figured it out. Here's how dish washing methods stack up, from worst to best:

The least environmentally efficient method is regular hand washing. Regular hand washing refers to letting the hot water run continuously while one scrapes, washes and rinses their dishes. This method uses approximately 27 gallons of water and 2.5 kWh of energy for a standard load of dishes.

Next in line is the older dishwasher. My observation that it seems to fill with a lot of water and run forever is correct. This method uses up to 15 gallons of water and 2-3 kWh of energy.

The second best option is efficient hand-washing. That's the method I use, described above. It uses under 8 gallons of water and approximately 1 kWh of energy.

The best dish washing method is (may I hear a drum roll, please) ... a new, energy star washing machine. It uses 3-5 gallons of water and only 1 kWh of energy.

So, it turns out that everything I've read is correct ... they just forgot to tell me that it's only correct if one has an energy star machine.

As always ... I'd love to hear from you!