April 7, 2009 To handwash or not to handwash? When it comes to saving water, it seems some people firmly believe that the dishwasher is one of those things that need to be sacrificed. Too much water and energy is the argument. A new study firmly refutes this idea and - keeping in mind that it's presented by Electrolux, a company that makes washing machines - revisits the debate on dishwashers.

According to the study, London alone could save as much as 16 billion liters (4.2 billion gallons) of fresh water a year if every household used a dishwasher instead of washing by hand, and as the dishwasher uses less water and time, it would also use less energy to heat it up.

The study is based on findings from the University of Bonn, Germany. It says that on average 10.5 liters (2.77 gallons) of water is used per person, each day, when washing the normal amount of dishes by hand, whereas Electrolux says its best dishwashers use only 2.27 liters (.59 gallons) of water to wash the same amount of dishes (per person, per day) and would require less energy to heat up the smaller amount of water. A full cycle in the dishwasher will consume about 15 liters (4 gallons) on average. According to a Greener Choices report, the most efficient water saving dishwasher per cycle uses 11.3 liters (3 gallons) of water. The Electrolux models were not included in this study, however Electrolux believe their best models, such as the Swedish model ESF68020W uses only 2.27 liters (.59 gallons) per person, which is actually 12 liters (3.1 gallons) per full cycle.

The “average” hand-washing figures are of course debatable and perhaps relative to how conscious you might be on how much water is used while washing by hand. Others have also noted the negative impact the actual construction of the dishwashers might have on the globe, and the use of embodied energy in the dishwasher may have not been taken into account.

The WaterSavings study included population data figures from 22 European countries and reflects the three types of behaviors people have when washing by hand which include: washing in a bowl (or the sink), washing under running water, or a combination of both. They believe the water savings potential of their dishwashers could actually be larger than the figures given, having based their findings on the general behavior of consumers – it seems that most people use less than half of the possible space inside their dishwasher and if they used more, would save a lot more water.

Water scarcity is very real and growing issue around the world and Electrolux presents their findings as an aid to solving this problem. The UN has warned that by the year 2025, between 2.6 and 3.1 billion people could be facing water scarcity or water-stressed conditions. “Everyone can play a role in solving the challenge of water scarcity - consumers, by adopting new technologies and making smart choices in their daily life,” says Henrik Sundström, Head of Sustainability Affairs at the Electrolux group.

Here are Electrolux' Tips on saving water when using dishwashers:

    Always wash with a full load to maximum capacity but do not pile

    Don’t rinse your dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. People still do this, although only a scrape is needed and it hasn’t been required for modern dishwasher for many years.

    Don’t use too much detergent

    Change to a modern dishwasher every few years, as appliances are made more efficient over time

Whichever path you choose - every little bit helps!

Jamilah Le