Sustainable Living: How To Use Less Water to Wash Dishes

In our Sustainable Living series, we look at how tenants and homeowners are changing their apartments to be more sustainable.

It can be easy to use more water than you need when you have unlimited water access, but you can always minimize unnecessary water usage in your apartment – and that’s the eco-friendly thing to do. Start by changing up your dishwashing practices, since many people (possibly including yourself) waste several gallons of water when washing their dishes. Some people say that using a dishwasher instead of handwashing your dishes saves water, but is that always true? Below, explore how you could use less water to wash your dishes.

Dishwasher vs. handwashing: Which uses less water?

Many people argue that dishwashers use less water than does handwashing. That’s because, on average, faucets release approximately 2.2 gallons of water per minute. The average dishwasher, on the other hand, can successfully wash many dishes using approximately six gallons of water. Dishwashers with a federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star certification use less water per load, approximately four gallons. 

If you need to wash a sink full of plates and utensils or you usually wash your dishes a few times a day, a dishwasher may reduce your water use. If you have to clean a few dishes once a day and you can do so in a short amount of time, you’re likely better off cleaning your dishware by hand. 

Of course, not every apartment has a dishwasher. In that case, you can still cut back on the amount of water you use for handwashing your dishes.

Sustainable Living How To Use Less Water to Wash Dishes

How to use less water while handwashing dishes

If handwashing is your only choice, washing and drying dishes doesn’t have to be a long or laborious task – but it can be eco-friendly. Properly prep your dishware for cleaning in advance and use various affordable dish drying options, such as a dish rack and dishcloths, to be more eco-friendly in your dishwashing habits.

Don’t leave the faucet running

Many people leave the faucet running when getting dish soap or grabbing a few dirty dishes, but doing so wastes a lot of water and energy. According to the federal United States Geological Survey (USGS), the average American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day, and other studies have found that handwashing dishes can require approximately 27 gallons of water. 

Soak your dishes

Some people recommend that, to reduce water usage, people who handwash dishes soak them and wash them in standing water. If you’re going to do this, then after soaking your dishes, fill your sink or basin with two inches of hot, soapy water and turn the tap off. You can clean the dishes and then rinse them in standing water.

While hot water is better at cleaning dishes, the EPA estimates that you can save three to five percent in energy costs per year for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit by which you lower your water heater. If you decide not to use scalding hot water to save energy, health organizations recommend using a sanitizing solution to disinfect dishes properly. 

How to conserve water if you’re using a dishwasher

Although you can’t control the amount of water that goes into and out of your dishwasher, you can save water by not prewashing your dishes. The enzymes in dishwasher detergents are designed to attach themselves to food particles, so pre-rinsing dishes before putting them in a dishwasher wastes additional water. 

What to do before you wash your dishes

Before handwashing your dishware or using a dishwasher, scrape food scraps off your dishware. Doing so saves the water you might otherwise use to wash food down your drain or garbage disposal. Put your solid food scraps in the trash or in your compost pile if you have one (most foods can be composted). 

You can also scrape your dishes, possibly without soaking, with a hard scrub brush or a pot scraper. Using a hard brush can be effective, and with an abrasive cleaning tool, you can skip the soaking process and save water.

What are your experiences when it comes to handwashing versus using a dishwasher? Sound off in the comments!

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