Dishwashing vs Hand-Washing: Which is Better For Your Health and the Environment?

In an effort to make your house more environmentally friendly, you may have tried several techniques including line-drying laundry, unplugging appliances or taking shorter showers.

Little changes here and there can have a major impact on both your utility bills and the environment, but if you think you’re doing Mother Earth a favor by filling up a sudsy sink and washing your dishes by hand, you may want to think again.

The question of whether or not dishwashers are an efficient green cleaning machine or a major source of wasted water is often debated, as many believe that nothing beats some good old-fashioned elbow grease.

However, a 2004 study from the University of Bonn found that those who preferred to roll up their sleeves and wash by hand were far less efficient in their use of water and posed a greater health risk for the next set of diners.

In the study, hand-washers used an average of 103 liters of water to wash 12 complete table-settings, as compared to the dishwasher which utilized a mere 15 liters to clean the same set of dirty dishes. Furthermore, the dishes cleaned with bare hands and elbow grease failed to meet “acceptable levels of cleanliness.” In fact, up to 400 times the amount of bacteria can be found on hand-washed dishes versus those run through a cycle in the dishwasher.

Part of the reason for so much water usage (or rather, water waste) is due to the fact that people often leave the faucet running as they scour pots and pans. It can also take a few moments for the hot water (which we often fail to make hot enough for a thorough cleaning anyway) to make its way to the faucet, meaning precious resources are literally flowing down the drain.

Modern dishwashers, on the other hand, are far more efficient with their use of water, but can still be a major waste of resources if not utilized properly. For example, overloading dishes, loading improperly or starting a cycle without a full load are common errors people make that cost them gallons of water.

Water usage isn’t the only concern when it comes to green cleaning. The products you clean with can pose both health and environmental hazards. Many, even the so-called “green products,” contain a number of dangerous chemicals including sodium borate, synthetic colors and dyes (yes, even controversial red #40 can be found in some products), chlorine-bleach and cocamide DEA, all of which pose numerous health risks. Even after a thorough cleaning, chemical residues can still remain on dishes and utensils.

If you want to know how safe your favorite detergent is, the Environmental Working Group rates thousands of products based on their chemical components, impact on human health and hazard to the environment.

If you’re looking to make your own quick cleaner, nothing beats white vinegar for cutting grime and grease. Combine it with lemon juice and a few drops of your favorite essential oils, and you’ve got a homemade, antibacterial, scented dish detergent that won’t break the bank or risk your health.

dishwashWhile your dishwasher has the potential to save gallons of water from flowing down the drain, how you use it can make a world of difference. Follow these tips for proper use, and save that elbow grease for another home-improvement project.

  • Scrape larger pieces of food from plates and utensils.
  • Don’t pre-rinse dishes; many dishwashers are highly efficient at removing food stains.
  • Load dishwashers properly.
  • Only run when the dishwasher is full.
  • Save energy by air-drying dishes rather than using the “heated-dry” option.
  • Purchase environmentally friendly detergents or make your own.

-The Alternative Daily


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