Hand Wash? Or Automatic Dishwasher? Which is better?

Hand Wash? Or Automatic Dishwasher? Which is better? How long has the debate on whether it is better to hand wash dishes or use an automatic dishwasher gone on?  Well, according to this site, in 1886, Josephine Cochran invented the first practical dishwashing machine. Though it worked, they say, only hotels and large restaurants bought her dishwashers and it was not until the 1950s that the dishwasher was sold to the general public.


I am confident that the very day the first dishwashing machine was installed in a residence, the debate began, and it continues to this day.  My dear friend Michelle and I have debated this back and forth. But who is correct?  Which is better?  I decided to find the answer once and for all.

My research began on the internet.  And what better place to begin than this 1950’s dishwasher sales training video, entitled the “Last Word in Automatic Dishwashing” ?  If you like vintage commercials and seeing how things actually looked and worked back then, I highly recommend you watch it. It’s very entertaining. It also does a great job of highlighting all of the benefits of owning and using a dishwasher, but does it address everything?

What about power usage?  Water use?  Time needed to rinse, load, and unload.   Cleaning the dishwasher itself?   Buying, maintaining, and replacing a dishwasher?    Dishwasher detergent expense?   And what about those icky germs?

For lack of any better plan, I decided to look next at the “green” aspects of dishwashing.  this article concludes that when all things are taken into account– power usage, water use, and carbon footprint, it IS possible to actually do a better job with hand washing, but it’s not easy. You have to be downright miserly with the use of water to achieve it.  And although hand-washing wins the point for being more green, does skimping on water make it a loser in the hygiene category?

I don’t think there is any debate that a dishwasher with a high temperature water setting can absolutely kill more germs than hand-washing, in most instances.   However, there are two points to make here.  One, most germs are not spread by dishes.  They are spread by hands.   And hands that are frequently washing dishes are more likely to be cleaner than hands frequently loading a dishwasher.  Would you not agree?

And, two, what if we use this method of hand washing described by Lydia Maria Gurney in her 1914 book entitled Things Mother Used to Make:

First of all, remove all refuse from the dishes.  Place them near the sink, large plates at the bottom, then the smaller ones, then saucers.  Have a large pan full of very hot water.  Make a good soap suds by using a soap shaker.  Wash the tumblers and all glassware first, and wipe at once.   Use a handle dish cloth (which can be bought for five cents), for these, as the water will be too hot for the hands.

Wash the silver next.  Have a large pan, in which to place the clean dishes, cups and bowls first.  When all are washed, pour over them boiling or very hot water, and wipe quickly.  Pans and kettles come last.  Always have a cake of sand soap or a can of cleaning powder, for scouring the pie plates and bottoms of kettles.  It is very little work to keep baking tins and kitchen utensils in good condition, if washed perfectly clean each time they are used.

Wash the dish towels, at least once every day, and never use them for anything else.    With clean hot water, clean towels, and plenty of soap dishwashing is made easy.

If you live in New England, your sink will be in front of a window.  Be sure to plant just outside of this window nasturtiums, a bed of pansies, morning glories, and for fall flowers, salvia.  These bright blossoms will add to your pleasure while washing dishes.

No doubt, hygiene with items hand washed in very hot or boiling water makes the comparison a non-issue, and in fact, thrill
when I think about how filthy the inside of a dishwasher can get compared to my kitchen sink that is cleaned several times a day, I think the hygiene point also has to go to hand-washing.  Hmm…. 2 for hand washing, zero for automatic washer.

But, let’s talk about the issue of time.  Surely the automatic washer wins in this category?   Oh…but does it?   For both methods, dishes must be scraped, rinsed, and stacked or loaded into the machine.   With hand washing, each dish takes seconds to wash and rinse adding up to maybe 10-12 minutes total each day?  A dishwasher can take 20 minutes or more to run for each load. Then there is unloading, and just like hand-washing, often drying and then, of course, putting the dishes away.  But what about the dishes that come out of the dishwasher and are still dirty?  Those need to be hand washed or reloaded (sometimes 2 or 3 times).  That’s additional time and effort.    And can you really wash those baked on pans in the dishwasher?  No.  Those will need to be hand-washed anyway.  Ultimately, I’m not at all certain that using an automatic dishwasher is quicker at all.  In fact, when I add in the time needed to clean the dishwasher itself and to maintain it, I’m going to have to give the time point to hand-washing as well.

Next, the issue of expense.  This one is also an easy clear winner for hand-washing.   We’ve already established that hand-washing wins in power use and water use. L121751  Clearly it wins in detergent expenses as well.  Anyone can plainly see that a good liquid dish soap (my favorite is Joy!) is far less expensive per load than automatic dishwasher soap.  And with hand-washing there is no need for any additional rinse agent or dishwasher cleaning materials.   We won’t even get into the expense of purchasing and maintaining the dishwasher itself.  Amy Dacyczyn writes a pretty good article on this subject in The Tightwad Gazette III (a book that no homemaker should be without!) where she address many of these expense questions and even throws in the “space” expense as well.

You do also lose space to those big machines, which space in most kitchens might be better served as additional cupboards.   And we won’t even discuss the aesthetic of an additional appliance in our already cluttered world.  This is especially true for those with kitchens decorated in period style.

Lastly, let’s talk about pleasure.   I have never found joy in loading or unloading a dishwasher.  Have you?   But I have found joy when I’ve made the effort to stop and be in the moment when washing dishes by hand.   As Lydia’s mom said above, you can make your time at the sink a pleasure if you want to.  It’s about your mindset and your surroundings.   Plant some pretty flowers.   Keep a plant by the sink (I have my aloe plant and some herbs on my window sill).  Hang some beautiful stained glass.  Play some music that you love.   And take time to feel the water on your skin (not too hot!)

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For me, the winner will always be hand washing.  I try to hand wash as the days goes by.  But, I do like to have my dishwasher for big holiday get-togethers as it is usually washing the dinner dishes while I hand-wash the pans.  Plus it’s a good excuse to call in my own personal Maytag repair man, Mr. C., when I need him.  Oh how I love to watch that man work.  🙂

Which is your preference?

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12 Replies to “Hand Wash? Or Automatic Dishwasher? Which is better?”


January 15, 2015 at 4:24 am

I combine both. So I can enjoy both. ^^
Wooden items, pans and the good knives have to be cleaned by hand and I add everything what does not fit into the dishwasher.
Particularly for glasses, I prefer the dishwasher. They seem to be much cleaner.


Jena Pellissier

January 15, 2015 at 8:30 am

I also do a combination of both. I have 2 small boys so we have sippy cups, cups, kid plates, bowl plus what my husband and I use. So we prefer to throw those in the dishwasher all day and then at night we run it while we are sleeping. But I always wash our pans, cooking utensils and knives.


The Retro Housewife

January 16, 2015 at 10:08 pm

I love this! For me it depends on how much time I have. If I have enough time I hand wash, if I’m having a busier day I put everything in the dish washer. This was a wonderful post!

– Nicole




January 27, 2015 at 7:43 pm

I LOVE this blog! Must found it and have been going through the archives but wanted to chime in here. Some of the points you make about dishwashers is not true for newer models. Mine for example cleans itself so I never have to do more than a once a month quick wipe off of the edge of the door. The dishes do not have to be pre-rinsed other than dumping bones and big food items off in the trash as you would for hand washing but my machine actually works better with super dirty stuff, you can use less soap than they call for and be fine and me detergents do not need a rinse aid either and if bought in bulk work out to be a bit more than dish soap but not much. Also I have no issues with anything coming out dirty anymore. All the issues you mention we had growing up with my mom’s dishwashers but my new one? Would never give it up! Plus when in the moment I feel very satisfied when the machine is emptied and everything is put away. 🙂



June 10, 2015 at 2:47 pm

interesting post… I wanted to point out that dishwashers are killing so many of the good bacteria we need that it is having a negative affect on our gut biome. So there’s another plus for handwashing… a bit of bacteria is healthy for you!



    June 11, 2015 at 10:02 am

    excellent point!



February 18, 2016 at 5:16 pm

I prefer handwashing. In fact, I don’t have dishwasher. When we were going to marry we go to the kitchen shop and I said that I didn’t want a dishwasher. The man of the shop get angry! He thought that I was a stupid young woman that didn’t know nothing about nothing. Eight years later I’m still happy with my decision.
My parents bought the first dishwasher when I’m therteen or fourteen. We all set on the floor and saw that wonderful machine working. But my parents are very clean, and they allways clean a bit the dishes before put them on the dishwasher. It’s a nonsense! And then you have to put all the dishes on the cupboard. You can’t to clean the pots on the machine. I think that is more easy handwashing, and more fast.



    February 19, 2016 at 9:08 am

    i agree!



June 27, 2016 at 1:21 pm

I have to disagree. With 3 kids we have had strep throat and various stomach bugs through our house more than once. I am confident that in the dishwasher, everything is sanitized. Washing by hands doesn’t give me the same assurance, nor does it clean my hands as I always use gloves.

I have gone without a dishwasher for 2 to 4 weeks at a time and I must say it is *much* more time consuming to do everything by hand. I also think kids can be trained to empty the dishwasher at a younger (shorter) age than they can learn to help significantly with the dishes.

I enjoy washing my fine china, pots and knives by hand but the dishwasher is a huge help!


Betty M. Bird Ordm

February 23, 2017 at 4:27 am

I’m so glad I have a dishwasher, mine only needs a Tablespoon of soap, that I get from the dollar tree. Mine also doesn’t require the prerinsing,but it has a rinse function in case it’s not full you can rinse and wait until the next day if need be. I also have what I need to do it by hand, in case there’s something to big for it.



October 13, 2017 at 11:42 am

Lately, I’ve been using my dishwasher as a drying rack. It washes dishes just fine, but now that our nest is empty, Hubby and I just don’t dirty dishes fast enough to do a load every day. It takes me 5-10 minutes tops to do our dishes, let them drip dry while I wipe down the table, counters and stove, then I dry them and put them away.



    January 2, 2018 at 10:15 am

    Handwashing nless its the holidays and even then the quiet time at the sink often beats out the dishwasher.


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