If you’re the lucky owner of a dishwasher, you might know what a life-saver it is when it comes to getting your dishes done quickly and easily. Even the fastest hand washers can’t compete with the blissful ease of sitting back and letting a machine do the work for you.
But if you’ve ever sat peacefully in the next room while your dishwasher chugs away in the kitchen, you may have found yourself wondering, how much water does a dishwasher use per load?
In reality, your dishwasher might use less water than you think. But the exact water usage can vary depending on several factors.
Your Dishwasher and Water Efficiency: How Much Water Does a Dishwasher Use?
Have you ever upgraded to a newer car and noticed how much its improved technology, functional air conditioning, and better gas mileage make a difference? You can’t drive your dishwasher, but just like a car, its make and model also play a big part in its water usage.
So much depends on information that’s specific to the dishwasher model you’re using, like:1
- The year it was made
- Whether it’s a full-size or compact model
- Whether it's ENERGY STAR®-labeled
Older dishwashers aren’t the most efficient machines, but luckily dishwashing technology and market standards have improved dramatically since dishwashers were first introduced to homes.
Here’s how they stack up:
- Older models could use between 10 and 15 gallons of water per wash cycle, according to the Water Research Foundation.2
- Some newer models use no more than 5 gallons per load. In 2013, the industry adopted standards that limited the amount of water a dishwasher could use to 5 gallons per load.3
- ENERGY STAR models use as little as 3 gallons per load.4 An ENERGY STAR label means the machine is certified as energy and water efficient by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Compared to the models that came before, modern dishwashers are increasingly better for the planet—and your budget.
When it comes to understanding how to wash dishes the eco-friendly way, there are a few changes you can make that will have an impact on water consumption, energy efficiency, and the planet overall.
Temperature Matters, Too: Your Dishwasher’s Hot Water Usage
To understand our dishwasher’s overall water usage and efficiency, we also have to ask, how much hot water does a dishwasher use per load these days?
In general, newer dishwashers tend to use water temperatures up to 140 degrees.5 As with the overall water usage, however, the amount of hot water your specific dishwasher uses depends on its age, size, and model.
Dishwasher Settings Make a Difference
Of course, there’s another matter that can complicate the answer to how much hot water a dishwasher uses. That’s because most modern dishwashers come with not merely one or two, but often three, four, or five options for wash settings.
Setting options might include:6
In the end, how much hot water each cycle setting uses will vary depending on the dishwasher model and the settings you choose.
That said, you can generally expect express and rinse cycles to use slightly less hot water than the other settings, while the heavy setting is likely to use far more.7
Why Dishwasher Usage Makes a Big Difference for the Planet and Human Health
Your dishwasher is the hero of your kitchen clean-up routines. The modern dishwasher has transformed the ways of washing dirty dishes. When used efficiently, your dishwasher can support the planet and your health.
Dishwashers and sustainability go hand-in-hand:
- Because of its efficient water usage, a newer dishwasher can use 75% less energy than washing dishes by hand.
- ENERGY STAR-labeled dishwashers are an even better bet for you and for the planet. Each one saves about 3,870 gallons of water in its lifetime.8
When it comes to your health, dishwashers can make a big difference:9
- Dishwashers do a better job of eliminating potentially harmful bacteria from plates and flatware than handwashing.
- Dishwashers don’t require sponges, which can be a breeding ground for unsavory characters like salmonella and E. coli.
Dishwashers offer incredible benefits for your health and the wellness of the planet—and the more efficiently you use your favorite kitchen appliance, the better.
How to Use Your Dishwasher More Efficiently
Whether your dishwasher is sparkling new or, shall we say, vintage, you might not be helping it live its best water- and energy-efficient life if you aren’t also using it efficiently. We love our dishwashers because they do most of the work for us, so why not show them we care by doing a few things in return?
When it comes to boosting your dishwasher sustainability factor, here’s what to know.
#1 Use an ENERGY STAR-Labeled Dishwasher
When an appliance comes with an ENERGY STAR label, you know it upholds a high bar for pursuing sustainability and efficient energy consumption.10 After all, that’s why the EPA developed the rating system in the first place. The ENERGY STAR label exists so that consumers like you can make informed decisions about the machines and appliances you use every day.
Thanks to certain features, an ENERGY STAR-certified dishwasher can save gallons of water in each use. These features include:
- Soil sensors
- Improved rack design
- Improved water jets and filtration11
Want to save money while saving the planet? ENERGY STAR-labeled dishwashers can also be cheaper to run than other options.12
#2 Fill It Up
When determining the water usage of a dishwasher vs. hand-washing dishes, water consumption can be easily controlled. How many dishes you load up—or how few—plays a big role in how much water you waste when running your dishwasher. Although water usage can vary slightly depending on the cycle setting, they all use more water than you need to wash only a few dishes.
Whenever you run your dishwasher, make sure you’ve given it enough to clean to make it worth the while. Keep in mind that smaller loads not only waste water but can also take a toll on your gas and electric bills over time.
#3 Load it Right
When it comes to optimizing your dishwasher’s water usage, make sure you’re loading it properly. This includes:
- Not overfilling it – Your dishwasher is built to handle a certain number of dishes at a time and no more. If your machine is packed too tightly, the water may not be able to circulate properly. If the water can’t get to the detergent dispenser, instead of sparkling dinnerware, you’ll be left with grimy dishes you just have to wash again.
- Placing dishes correctly – Paying attention to the design of your dishwasher racks goes a long way to telling you how to load your specific machine. Typically, smaller items like glasses, small bowls, and small plates should be loaded on the top rack. Stick your larger pots, pans, mixing bowls, and large plates toward the back and the sides of the bottom rack. This can help promote proper water circulation, meaning the water you do use goes where it’s most needed.13
#4 Don’t Pre-Rinse
Although this step won’t necessarily affect how much water your dishwasher uses, skipping the pre-rinse can drastically cut back the amount of water you use at home.
It’s tempting to give your dishes a rinse before loading them into the dishwasher. But the truth is, pre-rinsing is a wholly unnecessary step. The average sink faucet flows at a rate equal to 2.2 gallons of water per minute, which means you could end up using more water on the pre-rinse than on the wash itself.14
Pre-rinsing is also unnecessary if you’re using the proper detergent. A high-performance, plant-powered detergent like ECOS Wave® Dishwasher Gel can help to fight grease and break down food particles just as well as rinsing would.
#5 Keep it Clean
Spa-inspired mud baths aside, you probably wouldn’t want to wash up in a dirty bathtub. Cleaning your dishes in a dirty dishwasher can be just as counterproductive. Aside from that, keeping your unit spic-and-span can help preserve your water usage. A clean dishwasher can also eliminate the need for re-washing and help you get the most out of the water you use.
When it comes to dishwasher hygiene, you should be cleaning your dishwasher at least once a month. Here’s how:
- Remove large bits of food – Remember, we’ve given up the pre-rinse, which could mean we’ll have to deal with the ghosts of meals past. Banishing those ghosts is the first step to cleaning your dishwasher.
- Spot clean – If you notice any areas of food stains, grime, mold, or mildew, we recommend cleaning them with a soft sponge or cloth and a cleaning agent. An eco friendly dish soap can help you get the job done.
- Run a cycle with only soap – While you don’t want to run your dishwasher on empty too often, this can be an easy way to give it a good clean every once in a while. Load up an eco friendly dishwasher pack with enzymes and surfactants that can cut down grime. Without the dishes in the way, the soap will be able to clean the insides of the dishwasher instead.
#6 Keep it In Good Repair
Just as important as keeping your dishwasher clean is keeping it in good repair. Set it up for success by attending to any issues as soon as they arise. You can also take the following preliminary measures to make sure your dishwasher turns in a stellar performance every time:
- Keep the filter clean and clear
- Clean the gasket or seal
- Clean the spray arm
Make the More Sustainable Choice with ECOS
The amount of water we use for daily tasks might not seem like much on a personal scale. But when we put our efforts together to make our cleaning more efficient, we have the power to make change happen. In the fight to preserve the planet for generations to come, the accumulation of our small, personal decisions can have a huge impact.
That’s part of what powers us here at ECOS. With sustainability as our fundamental focus, we’re driven by our passion to make living green easier for families. And for over 50 years, our green and plant-powered cleaning products have made that possible.
Home Water Works. Dishwashers. https://home-water-works.org/indoor-use/dishwasher
CNET. Dishwasher vs. Hand Washing: What Saves More Water? https://www.cnet.com/home/kitchen-and-household/how-much-water-do-dishwashers-use/
National Resources Defense Council. 9 Tricks That Save Tons of Water. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/9-tricks-save-tons-water
Eco Savings. How Much Water Does a Dishwasher Use? https://ecocostsavings.com/how-much-water-does-a-dishwasher-use/#
ENERGY STAR. History & Accomplishments. https://www.energystar.gov/about/history/reports#
ENERGY STAR. Dishwashers. https://www.energystar.gov/products/dishwashers
Save Water, Save Money. How to Save Water While Using a Dishwasher. https://www.savewatersavemoney.co.uk/water-efficiency-tips-advice/view/103/how-to-save-water-while-using-a-dishwasher.html#
Home X. How Much Water Does a Faucet Use Per Minute? https://homex.com/ask/how-much-water-does-a-faucet-use-per-minute
Good Housekeeping. Easy Steps to Clean Your Dishwasher. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning/g2877/dishwasher-tricks/
The Washington Post. How and When to Clean 6 Major Appliances. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/how-and-when-to-clean-5-major-appliances/2017/01/03/f16f0152-c601-11e6-bf4b-2c064d32a4bf_story.html