25 February 2010

On Dishwashers and Being a Huge Dork

In the post Surpsisingly Easy Green Actions That Won’t Make You Cringe I mentioned that using the dishwasher is a more energy and water conscious choice than hand washing dishes. Commenter Heidi (who writes some good stuff too BTW) stated that she found it hard to believe that the long dishwasher cycle was better than a quick hand wash. I agreed entirely. It seemed very improbable that it was true. Granted, I knew I had read it in a few places and that was enough for me to gleefully justify loading that bad boy up with un-rinsed dishes, hitting the button at bed time and calling it done.

Here comes the bit where I am a huge freaking dork: I just had to know how it could be true. (Or if it even was true, since that would be a real kick in the ass if I lost the perfect excuse to be a lazy slob!) As it turn out, dishwashers do not operate at all as I had expected.

To see a great explanation check out this article at HowStuffWorks.com. In a nutshell the dishwasher does not continuously pull water into the system, but instead fills a bit of water into the unit, heats it independently of your household water heater, and swishes it around until the dishes are clean. This bit then drains, is replaced by rinse water that drains when the dishes are clean. The heater then dries them off and viola, clean dishes with two relatively small batches of water.

Once I realized that it works a lot less like a car wash and a lot more like a washing machine, how it could be more eco-friendly makes sense. Granted, certain conditions must be met:
  • Don't pre-rinse the dishes.  This uses a ton of water and most modern dishwasher don't need you to do this. 
  • The dishwasher must be full so as to maximize the dishes washed for the investment of water and energy. Between bottles, sippy cups, and the fact that we use no paper plates, cups etc, this one is easy for us.
  • The dishwasher must be loaded correctly for the same reason. Check your manual for directions on how to best utilize the sprayers.
  • Don’t use the dryer, just let them air dry by opening the door a bit.
  • Use a “green” dishwasher detergent. You can make your own by combining 2 parts Borax to 1 part Baking Soda and getting it all to do the job by putting white vinegar is the “jet dry“ dispenser. (I confess I have not tried this, but I will grab the stuff next time I see Borax and give it a whirl…)

So there you have it, your PSA for the day. Thanks to Heidi for inspiring the research. Don’t we all feel smarter now?


Heidi Maxwell said...

That's excellent info. I'm waiting on my water bill this month. I've only used the dishwasher once this past month, when we had company over. I'm wondering if there is a significant difference in my bill or not.

Another eco-tip-off that I got this month: biokleen. It's supposed to be very eco-friendly. And they make a 'kleener' for just about everything. I'm starting with the dish soap. If I love it, I'm going to try the all purpose cleaner. Should be all we need for a while around here!

Blogger verify: grodi. I just know that it's watching our every move.

Alexis said...

Cool, let me know what your bill indicates, it would be great to have some actual data...if doing them all by hand really is cheaper I would be up for it, I can probably get over the lazy if need be...

I will check out the "kleeners" I am trying to replace stuff as it runs out so those may be my next direction.

Heidi Maxwell said...

After 2 months of not using my dishwasher (well, I used it once in February when we had company) here is my conclusion: My water bill is..................................................the same as it is during the months that I DO use the dishwasher. So, it's a wash (punny!!!)! Now I will go back to my old (and some may say odd) way of dealing with the dishes: all of the plates, bowls, glasses, cups get the clumps brushed or rinsed off and go in the dishwasher. When it's full, I run it (about every third day). Cutlery, plastic baby items, plastic dishes (e.g. all of my precious GladWare and Lock n Lock), and pots and pans get washed in the sink. Yes, it's a bit odd, but let's face it, I just don't have 3 days worth of pots and pans OR cutlery, plastic smells and tastes weird when you wash it in the dishwasher, and you run the risk of plastic melting on the heating element. Yes, yes, I know that if I just put EVERYTHING in the damn dishwasher I would fill it every day and run it every day. But I just can't roll that way.

Alexis said...

Ha, well there you go, at least we now have some actual data! I suspect, that as with all things, unless you are really spending a lot of time optimizing your approach, it really doesn't make a difference. I was jazzed that my water bill went way down since I quit doing dishes by hand, but they also re-calibrated all the meters....so it may be less "the dishwasher helps" and more "we had been getting screwed by the water company for 18 months." I guess our best bet is to keep doing whatever we like to do!