They say washing dishes in the dishwasher, especially an energy efficient model, saves water. I beg to differ. It's all in the way it's done, and especially what's done with the water afterward.
Most dishwashers use approximately 12 gallons of water and most energy saver dishwashers use approximately 4. Water estimates for handwashing dishes are much higher, often in the 15 to 25 gallon range. I'm guessing this estimate comes mainly from people who just let the water run and run and run.
I've tested this a few times. I've measured the water I used to wash and rinse an entire day's worth of dishes (as it's energy efficient to run the dishwasher with a full load, so I think it is with handwashing too. Save it up and do it all at once I say!) The total amount of water I average: 6 gallons... AND it is almost all put to a better use than simply going down the drain.
Ways to accomplish the dishes in an eco-friendly way abound on the net, no doubt. Here's my solution to added to the pot.
- A biodegradable detergent--please note that nothing but biodegradable will do here--my product of choice at the moment is Ecover. I will eventually switch to a homemade detergent, but for now it is sufficient*
- A double sink, or a single sink and a large bowl, basin or bucket
- A pair of durable gloves (helps protects your hands from hot water)
- A dish drainer (and a dish towel if you have someone willing to dry for you! But they dry just as good in the drainer without the extra help)
- A washcloth with a scrubby surface--like this-- (no matter how green some sponges may be, if they are disposable, they are not as green as a good ol' cloth that gets thrown in the wash and reused)
- A large bucket or bowl and a ladle or cup
THE STEPS (and btw... I will make this seem more complicated that it actually is... I can't help myself! Please keep that in mind):
- Fill up one sink half full with hot water and a squirt or two of your soap. Don't use a lot of soap; you are not looking for a bubble bath here. You can add a bit more soap later as needed, along with a bit more hot water if the water cools while you work. Now, add dishes, cups, whatever. You know the drill! (To keep water use and nastiness to a minimum, I do not pre-rinse the dishes, nor do I use the disposal. I scrape whatever food is on the dishes --except meat and dairy--into a large empty yogurt container, to be tossed into the compost bin later.)
- While those soak a bit, start filling up the other sink or basin halfway with cold water. This will be your rinse water (pictured below).
- The next is obvious. Wash, dip in cold rinse water (making sure your dish/glass etc isn't covered in bubbles before you dip) and place in dish drainer.
- If you finish one sink-full and you have more to wash, simply add another small squirt of soap and turn on the hot water for a couple seconds to warm it up and get a couple bubbles going.
- Unless you have a gray water recycling unit under your kitchen sink, don't drain the water just yet. :) Now here's the BEST part!
HOW THIS SAVES WATER:
You can water your plants, both indoor and out, with water from your kitchen sink. As a bonus, soapy water with a biodegradable soap can act as an eco-friendly pesticide for your garden. It is recommended that grey water not be used on anything leafy or growing in the ground that will be consumed raw (lettuce, carrots, etc.); however things like fruit trees and ornamental plants are perfectly fine.
I use a cup to fill a large bowl (pictured above) a few times with the water from both sinks and simply head outside to water whatever needs it. You could be slightly more elaborate and have a large covered basin outside to store the water, filling a watering can from the basin when you need it, or go all out and set up a more intricate above or below-ground irrigation system... and many other options in between. I prefer simple (for now!)
You can also flush a toilet with a bucket of water. The average toilet uses 1.5 to 3 gallons per flush. Quickly pour 4 cups of water into the toilet bowl and watch what happens :) If you don't have a garden, or find that you have more grey water than you can use in the garden, keep a bucket of grey water by the toilet.
A word on bacteria. Some people claim the only way to kill bacteria on dishes is with HOT water, such as in a dishwasher. And, others fear the bacteria that may reside on a washcloth. I have three things to say to that:
- Our great-grandparents (and many before them) managed somehow to survive this.
- They survived it well enough to spawn all of us... nearly 7 billion and counting
- Antibiotics, if shit from the washcloth actually hits the fan. (But seriously, lest anyone think I am pushing the use of powerful pharmaceuticals in place of safe hygiene, refer back to points 1 and 2. I think we sometimes fail to give enough credit to the thousands of generations that managed before us without all the trappings of convenience we've convinced ourselves we can't live without.)
*(Ecover rebuts greenwashing claims)