How Much Water Does a Dishwasher Use?

There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to the efficiency of dishwashers. Many believe that using a dishwasher isn’t environmentally friendly and that it saves water to wash dishes by hand.

Let’s take a look at what the numbers tell us, including how much water a dishwasher uses and how to maximize the efficiency of a dishwasher.

How much water does dishwasher use

What the Numbers Say

  • Handwashing dishes can use up to 27 gallons of water per load
  • The average dishwasher uses 5 gallons of water per load
  • Before 1994, a dishwasher could use over 10 gallons per load
  • Energy-Star certified dishwashers use as little as 3 gallons per load
  • Pre-rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher wastes over 6000 gallons of water per load
  • Federal mandates passed in 2013 capped dishwasher water usage at 5 gallons per load
  • An Energy-Star certified dishwasher can save $111 on utility bills per year
  • Dishwashing sanitizes dishes effectively with high temperatures

While we tend to think that handwashing dishes saves water, the numbers show that dishwashers do a better job of cleaning the dishes while saving water at the same time. Of course, there are caveats to this.

There are several factors that impact on the water efficiency of the dishwasher. These include factors like the dishwasher model, the year it was built and how big the load of dishes is.

If you only have a couple of dishes and you use the dishwasher for them, you’d of course be wasting energy and water. In this case, handwashing is the smarter choice.

But if you have a large load of dishes, a dishwasher will make more efficient use of 5 gallons of water than you probably could.

How to Save Water with a Dishwasher

How to save water with dishwasher

If you want to save water in the kitchen, your dishwasher can be an excellent way to do that. Here are some tips on making the most of a dishwasher:

1- Buy a water-efficient dishwasher

An energy and water efficient dishwasher can save you thousands of gallons in water and hundreds of dollars over the course of its lifetime. While most dishwashers today use only 5 gallons of water per load, some Energy-Star certified models can complete the cycle with just 3 gallons.  

The average household uses a dishwasher at least 4 times a week. Assuming that the dishwasher only uses 3 gallons, that amounts to a saving of approximately 416 gallons of water per year.

2- Choose the Right Size

You might think that buying a smaller dishwasher will be more water efficient, but if this leads to you using the dishwasher much more frequently, you’ll be wasting more energy and water. It’s best to choose the right dishwasher size based on how big your washing up load generally is.

3- Always Fill the Machine Up

You could have the most water-efficient dishwasher, but you won’t be making any savings if you don’t fill up the machine to capacity. Some households struggle to fill up the dishwasher and find that it takes two days’ worth of dishes to fill up the machine. If you’re machine has a setting that allows you to rinse the dishes but hold them until the machine is fully loaded, use this feature. According to the EPA, a full load can save you around $40 per year on utility bills and reduce prevent pollution by over 100 pounds.

4- Load the Dishwasher Properly

Load the dishwasher properly to ensure that water gets to all surfaces and can do its job on the first go. Otherwise, you may need to rewash the dishes which is a waste of resources.

5- Avoid Pre-Rinsing Dishes

We tend to pre-rinse dishes before loading them into the dishwasher because we’re worried that food particles will clog up the system. But this single step uses up an astonishing 6000 gallons of water per year. Most modern dishwashers are designed to deal with some amount of food particles. Just ensure that you’ve got rid of all the larger scraps of food.

6- Use the Correct Cycle

A dishwasher that comes with several wash cycles allows you to choose the best option for your load of dishes. These cycles range from light to heavy, and suit lightly soiled to heavily soiled cycles. There are also energy saving options and speedier cycles, all of which depend on your situation.

Dishwasher or Hand Washing?

Hand washing dishes

Dishwashing is proven to be the better option when it comes to saving water, time and energy.

Hand washing your dishes take up to 5 times as much water as a dishwasher which translates to higher utility bills. Hand washing also takes up your time, compared to loading up the dishwasher and allowing it to do the work.

Another thing to note is that for dishes to be properly cleaned and sanitized, they require high temperatures of at least 140F. While your hands can’t handle this type of heat, dishwashers are designed to do this.

Dishwashers Today are More Efficient

Dishwasher settings

Multiple cycles allow you to choose the right setting for your dishes

Modern dishwashers are efficient and designed to make the most of the water and energy they use. These machines have better dish racks to maximize space and expose the dishes to the internal water spray jets.

They also have technology that allows them to ascertain how dirty the water is after a cycle. If it’s still dirty, the machine adds more water and runs another cycle until the water is clean and clear.

They have efficient cleaning stages involving filters, pumps, sensors and waterspouts. The result? Clean dishes with the minimal amount of energy and water.

The Bottom Line

Making the switch from hand washing to dishwashing is an easy and convenient way to save water, time and money while properly cleaning and sanitizing your dishes.

However, for this to be true, it’s important that you follow some basic steps, including completely filling up your dishwasher, loading it correctly, using the correct cycle and avoiding pre-rinsing.

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