Sharp Blue: The cost of not owning a dishwasher


About This Article

comments feed

Tips Jar

Paypal Pixel


At the moment, there’s a bit of a debate going on in my house about the merits of a dishwasher (which my sister and I have offered to buy for our parents). My mum is opposed to this move, because she thinks the few hundred pounds that the dishwasher costs and an afternoon of disruption aren’t worth the benefits that it would bring. This is the sort of reasoning that people often use (and which, I suppose, I often use myself), but it’s utterly wrong. Instead, we have to compare the net effects of the various possible outcomes.

In making these sorts of decisions, it’s not enough to say “a dishwasher costs £250, lasts five years and costs £100 to run for a year to run, so its total cost to us is £750” and then decide that it’s not worth it. In this case, it’s clearer to look at the cost of not having a dishwasher. This is rather easy to compute. At the moment, something like two person hours per day is consumed washing and drying dishes (yes, we seem to generate dirty dishes at a scary rate…). This means that we’re spending around two working days washing and drying dishes a week or around a hundred working days a year. Assuming our labour is worth around £10/hour (and I would say mine is worth considerably more), this means that the total five year cost of dishwasher non-ownership is around £35,000. (We could actually get this in the form of cash by working extra overtime, or writing and selling books, or whatever.)

To put that another way, it costs us equivalent to a really nice sports car every five years to have the dubious pleasure of washing and drying dishes by hand. And I, for one, don’t value such menial work so highly. (My mother, meanwhile, seems to think it’s good for my soul in some unexplained manner…)

My sister and I often had similar discussions with our parents.

Aside from the cost (so beautifully debunked by you) they also blamed the lack of space. A dishwasher would have necesitated getting a washer-drier, meaning that the family's weekend laundry would have taken twice as long to get through (assuming that a load of laundry takes about as long to dry as to wash). And they were our parents - so there!

You seem to have missed some of the other costs of owning a dishwasher: energy, water and the environment:

  • Getting the water hot enough to blast food and grease from your used crokery uses a lot of energy - something that if you stand by your essay "Living at the Fulcrum" humankind can no longer afford to do.
  • Although we (in the UK) have been suffering from a superfluity of water these last few years, the time is not far distant when we were in the grip of droughts almost every summer.
  • Finally, the caustic chemicals used to clean dishes (without the use of a brush) and the other chemicals used to wash the previous ones from your dishes once they're clean, cannot be "good" for the environment.
The two hours a day you expend washing dishes are like the extra hours every week spent waiting for a bus or walking to the shops, rather than hopping in a car. Inconvenient, yes, but ultimately well spent.

I also dislike doing the dishes so, because of this, whenever it's my turn to cook I always try to dirty the least ammount of dishes. The "Do as you would be done by" atitude this has engendered in me has been good for the soul - maybe your mother (say hi from me) has a point...

PS Get a dish rack - there's no need to dry the dishes by hand then ;o)

Why isn't my typesetting being preserved?

It's much easier to read when there are spaces between paragraphs...

Your formatting isn't preserved because I have it set to treat comments as HTML rather than text, and HTML ignores whitespace such as blank lines. I can change this if it's annoying people. In any case, I'll edit your comment to put in the paragraph tags.

This is just testing that line breaks are now being processed properly.

If so, this should be a new paragraph.

Actually, there isn't too great a difference in marginal environmental impact between washing dishes by hand and in a dishwasher. In both cases, the main energy cost is heating the water, and in both cases the hot water is roughly comparable in temperature. I estimate that our washing up bowl contains about six to eight litres of water and we do two loads per day, so that means we use about twelve to sixteen litres of hot water washing dishes each day. Modern dishwashers use about twenty litres per load, so the difference is roughly the energy used to heat four to eight litres of water from cold to dish-washing temperature. That's not a whole load of extra energy - about a megajoule (about like leaving a light on in a room for three hours). I don't know about the chemical impact, but in both cases it's mostly detergent, and about the same quantity, I'd imagine. There's also the environmental cost of the machine itself amortised over its decade of usefulness.

A similar analysis in the case of cars decides the other way. At the moment, I walk for about ten minutes at each end of a bus journey each way each day. I spend about ten minutes a day waiting for the bus, and about 45 minutes each way travelling on the bus. During the waiting and travelling time, I read. The net result is that the wasted time is about 40 minutes a day, and even that is spent walking, which is rather pleasant. This costs me around £700 per year.

Let's consider buying a car and using that instead. I'd imagine that I'd spend at least 40 minutes driving each day, and maybe more because I wouldn't be allowed to use bus lanes. That time would be entirely wasted, and somewhat stressful considering it would be driving through a city in rush hour. The time I save by not doing the walking and waiting I spend reading at home. The net result of switching to using a car would therefore be a considerable expenditure to make my life more stressful, less healthy, and there would be no net saving of time.

(My bus ticket allows unlimited travel and passes through the main shopping district, so I don't even gain much in the way of flexibility by owning a car. The extra expense and unpleasantness would have to be compensated by "extraordinary" trips, and they wouldn't even come close to justifying it.)

I found the diswasher time-saving comparison in a Google search. I decided that the time taken stacking and unstacking a dishwasher was taking more time thast it would by hand. Nobody seems to have factored this in.

I have a fast hand dishwashing system, developed after years spent in my youth working in restaurants. The Australian desert climate does my drying: dishes in a rack above the sink is where they dry & stay

A musical about the witches from The Wizard of Oz breaks West End box office records, its producers say...

The dishwasher uses less WATER, possibly (if you're really wasteful when washing dishes) than hand washing. But this doesn’t factor in the energy and water used in mining the metals, getting the metals to the factory, pollution caused by the factory (differs across countries), energy used in manufacturing the parts of the dishwasher, pollution and energy involved in manufacturing plastic and vinyl aspects of the dishwasher, and energy involved in shipping the dishwasher to the show room, your house, running the dishwasher, and sending the dishwasher to the dump (and the environmental cost of the parts which won’t degrade for 10s of thousands of years).

When it comes to dishwasher vs washing by hand as well as owning a vehicle vs taking the bus, it tends to pretty much boil down to our health...the dishwasher would spare my back and arthritis and foot pain, and the car would help us by not... having to expose our lungs, eyes, and skin to nasty exhaust fumes (we breathe a lot of them when we walk and wait for the bus) and we could go visit family and take camping trips and such, and both would greatly reduce our stress and increase the time we could be doing other things. We've been off the grid before and hope to be again, once we have our own place. But when you do everything by hand/the hard way, it tends to sap all of your energy and time and then you never get to do much else. Since I cook and bake a ton, eventually I think I'll have to get a dishwasher, for my own well-being. That won't be for a while, though. At least, hopefully, we can get a vehicle soon.

Leave a comment