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Washing Dishes By Hand vs. Dishwasher—Which is More Effective?

It’s an interesting question and one that comes up every time I write about how to use and maintain a dishwasher. For many readers, handwashing dishes just feels better and something that’s hard to let go of, especially for those who don’t use enough dishes to fill the dishwasher more than a couple of times a week.

But isn’t low-tech handwashing just as effective as a high-tech dishwasher? All things considered, the answer might surprise you.

 

Dishwasher filled with sparkling clean dishes

Health and safety

To kill the germs and bacteria on dirty dishes, water must reach a scalding 140° F, according to Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Arizona. But if you set your home water heater to that temperature, you’ll put family members at risk of scalding when using hot water in tubs, showers, and sinks.

Most home water heaters are set to 120° F to avoid scalding, which means getting the water hot enough from the tap for hand washing dishes is all but impossible. And even if you could, 140° F is much hotter than your hands could stand for the minimum required 2-minutes those dishes would need to be exposed to that high temperature. But a dishwasher? No problem.

Since the early 1990s, most dishwashers in the U.S. have built-in heaters to boost water temperature to 140–145° F, the temperature recommended by manufacturers for optimum dishwashing performance and by food safety experts for killing bacteria.

The advantage of a dishwasher with a booster heater is that you can turn down your water heater thermostat, significantly reducing household water heating costs. Resetting your water heater to 120°F will provide adequate hot water for your household needs.

Economics

Hand washing dishes typically uses a lot more water than a dishwasher. Unless you could get that sink full of dirty dishes hand washed with soap and rinsed with the water running from the tap in fewer than 2 minutes, it’s likely you’re using a lot more water than a current dishwasher model requires. And in most cases, a lot more if you pre-rinse, wash, and then rinse again.

That’s because according to the U.S. Energy Department, a federal standard kicked in for dishwashers requiring a 20-percent reduction in the amount of water it uses. If yours is a highly efficient Energy Star-certified dishwasher, it uses less than 4.25 gallons of water per cycle.

Time

Not long ago, we remodeled our kitchen. I was without a dishwasher for what seemed like forever, but in reality, it was about a month. That doesn’t mean I stopped cooking or we stopped eating a home. I just had to find other ways to get the job done.

Health, safety, and economics aside, it took so much time—far more time than required to get the same job done with a fully operational dishwasher. To keep up, it seemed like I was handwashing all the time; the drying rack was forever full; even so, there were always dirty dishes in the make-shift sink and clean dishes always waiting to be moved from the drying rack to the cupboard.

Not only does my dishwasher save energy and water, it just makes my life so much easier.

If you don’t own a dishwasher

Not everyone has a dishwasher. If that’s you, don’t panic. You can hand wash dishes and make sure they are sanitized, too. The Oregon State University Extension Service says you need to add this one step to the process:

After scrubbing with soap and water and rinsing, soak everything for 5 to 10 minutes in a gallon of hot water—a typical sink full—and one tablespoon of chlorine bleach. Don’t re-rinse. Instead, allow the dishes to air dry in a rack or on a drying mat. The bleach will kill any microorganisms that your scouring failed to kill. As everything dries, the bleach will evaporate, leaving your dishes clean and sanitized.

Conclusion

The evidence is clear—a dishwasher is far more efficient than hand washing dishes. It’s faster, safer, and cheaper than even the most frugal method of hand washing dishes.


You may also want to check out:

The Proper Care and Feeding of the One Thing Every Home Must Have

6 Simple Ways to Develop a Saver’s Attitude

11 Of The Very Best Homemade Cleaners That Really Work

 

How to Make Even an Old Dishwasher Perform Like New

There are many things in my life that I enjoy, but would not be completely devastated if required to give them up. My dishwasher is not one of them.

 

dishwasher-filled-with-clean-dishes-and-bright-start

 

During our recent kitchen remodel, we got rid of the appliances, all except for my stripped down 14-year-old Whirlpool dishwasher.

Even though it has been replaced, it has found a new home across town with our son and family. It continues to do a flawless job, not because it’s such a high-end machine (it’s not), but because I have learned the secrets of how to get any dishwasher to perform well.

It doesn’t matter how old your dishwasher is. If it will turn on, spray hot water and go through some kind of cycle, you can turn out sparkling clean dishes. You just need to know a few secrets about cleaning, maintaining, and operating it.

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Questions on Auto Leasing, Homemade Laundry Detergent, Silver in Dishwasher, HE Washers, and 529 Plan Money

You should see my email inbox. Yikes! It’s overflowing with reader questions, tips, stories, feedback, rebuttals, and all kinds of love from you, my dear readers. In this post, I’m making a tiny dent in the pile with these responses to a handful of your questions on auto leasing, homemade laundry detergent, and more.

 

Colorful graphic depicting Everyday Cheapskate readers with their hands in the air with their questions for Mary

 

Here is a quick summary of the questions answered in today’s post. You can click on one to jump straight to it or just scroll down for all.

Contents

  1. Lease or buy a car?

  2. Which is better? Powder or liquid laundry detergent?

  3. Can you put silver in the dishwasher?

  4. Is my washer repairman right?

  5. Daughter not going to college—now what?

 

Q1: Help! Should we lease or buy a new car?

Dear Cheapskate: My wife and I are disagreeing. I want to lease a new car now because ours is old and paying for repairs is like flushing money down the drain. She wants to keep it until we can buy a better car. I hate car trouble and think peace of mind is something to be considered. I’m sure we can afford the payment, but she’s not. What should we do? James

 

Dear James: I’d rather shove toothpicks under my fingernails than ever lease a new car again, which is another story, but enough about me.

Here’s my best advice: Do whatever you must to keep the old car running for now.

Then, for the next 12 months, live as though you are making $400 monthly lease payments—but make those payments to yourselves. Don’t even think about being late, just as if you were under a stern leasing contract.

At the end of a year will have two things: A good idea of your comfort zone for big lease payments and $4,800 cash. Now you’ve got options.

1) You can sell the clunker and together with the money buy a used car or 2) You can make a down payment on a newer car.

To me buying a car is far better than jumping into a lease where you will spend a fortune and have nothing, not even a car, to show for it at the end of the lease period.

Thanks for writing and for calling me “Cheapskate.” I love that because, as you may know, I used to be a world-class spendthrift and that nearly ruined my life.

Learning to live frugally turned my life around so I wear that cheapskate moniker with pride and joy.

MORE: My 22-Year Auto Lease Nightmare

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Great Tips From Great Readers

I can’t think of a better day than today to reach into the mailbag and pull out a few great tips submitted by—you guessed it—my great (loyal, faithful, awesome) readers!

Two cats on a bed

PET-FRIENDLY BEDSPREAD

As the owner of two cats, I finally found a wonderful solution to the problem of finding a bedspread fabric durable enough to withstand the constant removal of fur and chafing of paws. Outdoor Living Tablecloths makes custom outdoor tablecloths using Sunbrella® material. Following their directions for taking measurements, I ordered a custom “tablecloth” bedspread for my queen size bed and have been using it now for seven months. It has held up beautifully, cleans like a dream and for sheer hardwearing, long-lasting quality, I think the price is a great deal. ~ Robin

Previously: Best Inexpensive Stick Vacuum—Finally!

 

SAVING THE DISHWASHER

I never used a rinse aid in my dishwasher, because we live in an area that doesn’t have particularly hard water that results in water spots left on glassware. I learned the hard way that rinse aids (like Finish Jet-Dry) have another more important use—they help to keep the dishwasher’s drain line running clean. Found this out from the repairman when our dishwasher wasn’t draining. The line was completely clogged—Yuck! ~ Elizabeth

Must read: Know Thy Dishwasher

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Follow Up: Spring Clean Kitchen Challenge

Did you accept the challenge Spring Clean Kitchen Challenge? It’s been six weeks since I wrote about our big kitchen remodel and my determination to follow Cynthia Townley Ewer’s (Cut the Clutter) three rules for organizing an efficient, convenient kitchen. I invited my readers to accept the challenge and many did.

It’s time for a confession and an update.

Confession: My beautiful new kitchen is finished but it is not yet an organized and efficient kitchen.

Related: Spring Clean Kitchen Challenge

Do you recall Cynthia’s first step in creating an organized kitchen? She says we must harden our hearts and dare to dump everything that is not absolutely necessary and useful. I thought this would be easy. It’s not. There have been days I have felt like giving up and just throwing everything back in the way it was. I’ve been doing a lot of praying.

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Best Inexpensive™ Dishwasher

Just this past week I heard from my dear reader Penny who is frustrated in the face of needing to purchase a new dishwasher. She writes: 

“Our dishwasher is more than 20 years old and every time I think I have decided on a new one and read the reviews, I back out. I know that you recently purchased new appliances. What brand dishwasher did you go with? How does one filter all the reviews, good or bad?”

IKEA dishwasher

My husband and I have just completed our big kitchen remodel. It’s been nearly a year since we started planning so you can be sure I’ve been researching appliances ad nauseam. 

Here’s my conclusion based on credible evidence, product reviews and long conversations with appliance professionals: They just don’t make ‘em like they used to! 

These days you won’t find a dishwasher with an expected lifespan of 20 years. The best we should expect from new dishwashers is 8 to 10 years, which is by design. Industry insiders call this “planned obsolescence.” And we have to assume that those will not necessarily be trouble-free years. It’s sad but true. 

Nearly all appliances these days come with a one-year warranty. Most appliances pros will tell you that if an appliance is going to fail, it is most likely to do that during the first 90-days, so a one-year warranty is supposed to be sufficient. Anything beyond that is called an extended warranty, which brings up another matter, altogether. Let’s just say it gets complicated.

Related: Best Inexpensive Stick Vacuum—Finally!

There are two brands I suggest you stay away from—Samsung and LG. While their appliances are lovely when they’re in good working condition, these companies do not have a solid infrastructure for service and repair in the U.S. That means you’ll have a difficult time finding someone to repair them whether they’re under warranty or not. And when you do, you could wait weeks for parts to arrive from overseas. 

On the other hand, the Whirlpool family of appliances (Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana to name a few) are made in the U.S. Whirlpool has a reputation for making good appliances with repair, service, and parts readily available. 

With all that being said, I do have some really good news—and a solid recommendation, which may surprise you. Read more

House Rules for Cleaning Silver in the Dishwasher

I grew up being fearful of the oddest things. I wasn’t bold enough to question why, so I just did as I was told. Here’s one: Never, ever put good dishes or silver flatware in the dishwasher. Ever! I didn’t know what would happen if I did, but you can be sure that my fear of the unknown made certain I didn’t come close to finding out. Until my rebellious years.

Silver pie server on black counter

Once I had my own china and my own silver, I was reckless enough to believe I wouldn’t go to jail if I violated this particular “Thou shalt not!” I was reminded of what I’ve learned about putting silver in the dishwasher when the following question showed up in my inbox:

Dear Mary: I have a set of silver flatware that I use daily. I notice that after a few times through a normal cycle, the pieces become very tarnished. It is not a particularly good set, just a nice set of flatware for daily use. Do you think that the dishwashing detergent is tarnishing the silver? Anne

Dear Anne: Your silver plate or sterling silver pieces can go in the dishwasher and come out beautiful as long as you follow a few specific guidelines. Case in point: The small pie server in the photo above is one of my favorite things. I love it for its size and just the way it feels in my hand. I use it daily and it goes in the dishwasher every evening—by itself in its own little compartment so that it is not touching any other type of metal. Since I inherited it many years ago I have done nothing to it but use it, clean it and enjoy it. Read more