Jenny’s Take On Ditching The Dishwasher

This is a guest post from Jenny McCutcheon of ExConsumer.

A couple of weeks ago, I was inspired by Gip’s post titled, Does A Dishwasher Fit Into A Simple, Minimalist Life? I had already been considering taking a break from my two to three times per week dishwasher habit just to see how it went. Gip’s post challenged me to finally take action and ditch my dishwasher for a week to see what happens. As I write this, it’s now Thursday in the week following the dishwasher ditching challenge, and I’m surprised to say that I still haven’t used my dishwasher. And I can barely tell the difference.

Dishwasher Usage History

Before I tell you about my experiences living life dishwasher free, let me tell you more about my dishwasher usage before starting this challenge.

I live in a house with three other people — my husband and two sons (six and 18 months). We’ve made it a habit over the past year to only run our dishwasher when it’s full to the brim, which usually happens about every three days. We also use the “eco” setting on our dishwasher that’s supposed to use less water and energy than the “normal” setting. I’m not sure if it does, but it always made me feel a little better to press the perceived better-for-our-Earth button.

Dishwasher Annoyances

Before starting this challenge, these are the things that annoyed me about using our dishwasher:

  • Consistently running out of spoons and bowls because the dishwasher wasn’t full enough to run, but we had dirtied all of the spoons and bowls.
  • Having to remove the dirty spoons and bowls from the dishwasher and hand wash them so we could eat breakfast.
  • Having the dishwasher wake me up at night because it is SO LOUD and runs for several hours — even on the “eco” setting.
  • Unloading the clean dishes from the dishwasher. This is probably the most annoying to me. The problem with waiting to run the dishwasher until it’s full to the brim, is that it takes a looong time to unload. Attempting to do this as a toddler is trying to climb inside the dishwasher — before making a run for it with the knives he grabs — makes unloading the dishwasher a cause for real stress in my day.

Hand Washing Experience

Going into this challenge, I thought the mornings would be pretty stressful. Getting two kids breakfast, one ready for school and myself ready for the day can be a little overwhelming at times. Add a new chore — hand washing dishes — on top of that, and I was prepared for some rough mornings. What actually happened surprised me.

I briefed my husband about my plans to try a week dishwasher free on the Sunday before the dishwasher fast began. He rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders as he often does when I’m proposing a change that directly affects his life.

On Monday morning when I came downstairs after my shower, I was shocked to find that my husband had already fed our sons, and hand washed the bowls and spoons they used! I proceeded to eat my breakfast, and hand wash my bowl and spoon. It surprised me that it took me the same amount of time to hand wash, dry and put away my spoon and bowl as it would have to rinse them and put them in the dishwasher. Only now I wouldn’t have to unload the dishwasher.

As the days progressed, I found much of the same thing. There was no real noticeable increase in time to hand wash, dry and put the dishes away. This isn’t what I expected at all.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t any drawbacks to hand washing the dishes. Here is a brief list of the pros and cons I discovered while hand washing the dishes:

Hand Washing Pros

  • We never ran out of bowls or spoons.
  • We used less water, energy and soap.
  • We didn’t need to unload the dishwasher.

Hand Washing Cons

  • Our big Sunday breakfast dirties lots of dishes. It takes longer than I’d like to clean up after this meal.
  • When we’re tight on time, we leave dishes on a towel on the counter to air dry and I don’t like the site of dishes out in the open.
  • Hand washing all of the silverware at the end of a meal is a bit tedious.

Final Decision

We’ve decided to continue to hand wash our dishes for now. It’s amazing how little of a difference hand washing our dishes has made in both time and convenience. If anything, I feel like it has saved us both time and money overall. I’ll be interested to see what ditching the dishwasher does to our electricity and water bill in the coming months as well.

Jenny offers lots of interesting comments and advice on buying less, saving more and being free at ExConsumer.

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  1. Thank you Gip & Jenny! Just this week I have been questioning our need for a dishwasher. I prefer to hand wash some things, plus we keep running out of coffee mugs while I wait for the washer to fill up. Recently it also seems to not be doing as good a job of cleaning, so I have to rewash by hand. What a waste! I’m going to try a week long fast and see how it goes.
    Elle Dougherty recently posted The Habitual Habitude of Hackneyed Habits

    1. You’ll be surprised how well it goes. Our dishwasher hadn’t been cleaning well in a long time, so using it was getting sillier and sillier.

      I hope you’ll post about your hand washing experience and then come back here and link to it. We’d all love to know how it works out for you. You’re always welcome to write something up for this blog, too. I have an open-door policy on guest post.

      Thanks for commenting here, Elle. I hope to see you around more.

  2. I’m really glad you wrote about the pros and cons Jenny. It never occurred to me to think about it in this way. I also hate running out of stuff. It has caused us to buy way more dishes and silverware than we need. Dumb. And our dishwasher is old so I’m sure it’s not energy efficient AT ALL and on top of that, doesn’t do that good of a job.

    I have to admit though, I am really bad about doing dishes (the ones that can’t go in the dishwasher, like pots, certain wine glasses, china, etc. that the thought of having even MORE dishes to wash by hand makes me cringe.

    I don’t enjoy emptying the dishwasher either, but really at the end of the day, it takes about 4-5 minutes. So that said, I might try the challenge in the near future because I can definitely see the benefit, but I’m not quite there yet. (i know, i suck!)
    marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted People Making a Difference Series – Jo Wright &amp Mineseeker Foundation

    1. You do NOT suck Marianne! If I didn’t hate unloading the dishwasher so much, and I wasn’t already considering trying to go without the dishwasher I’m not sure that I would have taken the challenge.

      For me the dishwasher isn’t a huge time saver. And unloading it is just one more (dreaded) step for me to deal with. The more unpleasant steps I can eliminate from my life, the better!
      Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Decluttering- Minimalism &amp the Need for Control

    2. I had to admit here that we did the same thing years ago before our big move, we too bought more dishes (Jeff really had a thing for all white crate&barrel dishes), they ended up going to family before we relocated

    3. When we did our big decluttering event last year, I actually put away a large stack of dishes under the counter, and we’ve never needed them. I could probably reduce what we use on a weekly basis by another half now that we aren’t using the dishwasher. We’re still using too many dishes, but we’re getting better all the time.

  3. Jenny,
    This is so neat how many of us are recognizing there just isn’t that big a need for the dishwasher, we all must own dishwashers that need replacing soon which is funny, for us we have found we really don’t mind just getting the dishes done and over with as soon as we’ve eaten, no wondering how there isn’t a single fork to be had or mug…great post and pros and cons list too! πŸ™‚
    Gena recently posted The Ongoing Adventures of a Non-Consumerist

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  5. I grew up without a dishwasher & have watched with interest how the dishwasher moved from a luxury nice to have item to absolutely essential.

    During this time I have never owned one – my only experience is in the workplace or visiting friends, to be honest have never felt the need.

    A couple of the of the benefits that never seem to get mentioned: family/connectedness I remember growing up all of us doing the dishes together gave us time to talk, laugh etc … If you are doing them on your own it gives you that quiet moment to practice/enjoy being focussed & mindful.

    1. Alex, you’re right about the benefits. I still remember drying the dishes while my mother washed. Now it’s almost like meditation (I do them alone most of the time).

      Another downside of a dishwasher is that you can’t do older china in one. The detergent is too harsh. I guess that’s only a downside if you have older china and if you actually use it πŸ™‚

      1. I enjoy cleaning the kitchen or doing some laundry between writing projects so I can get up and move around a bit. It’s amazing how much good discussion we’re getting out of something as mundane as a dishwasher!

        1. I know Gip! Who knew something so simple could evoke such a response?

          Alex & Jo – I’ve actually been looking forward to the few minutes alone after dinner to do the dishes. My husband plays on the floor in the family room with the kids, and I feel like I’m getting a little break. It is a nice quiet and meditative moment. This experience really shocked me in that aspect. I thought it would feel much more chore-like. πŸ™‚
          Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Friday Favorites!

    1. Hey there Jo! Yes, I have been using a little more hand cream than usual. I wash my hands quite a bit with a toddler around, so I was already using hand cream several times a day. What’s once more? πŸ˜‰
      Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Friday Favorites!

    2. Skin problems run in my family, and I’m showing some signs of developing them, so that’s an issue for me. I try to use the soap wand as much as possible and keep my hands out of the dishwater whenever possible, and that helps. Everything has a downside, doesn’t it?

    3. Jo @ SBM, you’re right – I never even thought to mention that because I’ve been using gloves for thirty years now and I never notice them on. If wearing them, my tip is to make sure they fit. Too tight and they’re impossible to get off once your hands get in warm water; too loose and you’ll be inadvertantly decluttering your drinking glasses. Use the sizing measure that’s on most gloves and go smaller if you’re just over the line for a particular size.

  6. Personally I don’t like to faff around with gloves, but Ido have the whole asthma/ezcema thing going on & household chemicals are not good for that πŸ™‚ so experiment with the 1001 options in your supermarket – the green option isn’t always the best usually the one in the middle which has been around for years

    1. I use the Dawn dish soap and it seems to be pretty mild on my hands — while still getting the dishes squeaky clean. I have pretty sensitive skin, so I have to be careful what I use.

      I’m not crazy about how hot my hands get when I wear gloves. I’ll wear them if my hands start to object, but I’m putting it off for now. πŸ™‚
      Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Friday Favorites!

  7. Great post, Jenny! You made a great case for ditching the dishwasher. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on point of view, I’ve learned from experience that NOT having a dishwasher really complicates my life. Sad ’bout that.
    A few years back, our old dishwasher died, and having to do all those dishes by hand really stressed us all out.
    So, we gladly bought and installed a nice new quiet dishwasher about a year after the first one bit it. We always have it on the eco setting, and it’s always full when we start it.
    It’s one of the little conveniences I don’t think I can do without. πŸ™‚
    Nenette recently posted project 333- spring 2011 oh- and a recap of fall 2010

    1. Hi Nenette! It’s interesting how some things are more of a convenience for some people than for others. I don’t miss my dishwasher, but if I had to live without my clothes washer and dryer, I would be devastated!

      Living without something for a week really brings its importance into perspective. It sounds like for you, the benefits of using a dishwasher outweigh the inconvenience of not not using one. πŸ™‚
      Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Friday Favorites!

      1. I like my washer and dryer, too, especially since I wear only jeans. They’re hard to wash by hand, although it can be done! Shirts are no problem. Clothes dried in a dryer simply come out nicer than ones dried on a line in the hot Texas sun. I’ve often considered what I will do if my washer or dryer quits working, but that’s a post for another day.

        1. And there are places where clothes get washed by taking them to the river and beating them on rocks. I’m not going that far. πŸ™‚

          This is a weird one, but I really like taking laundry to the laundromat rather than doing it at home. We go once every 7 to 10 days. It takes an hour and a half and we sit in the car and talk while the clothes go round and round.

          What I like about it is instead of constantly doing small loads of laundry I only have to think about laundry once a week.
          Tanja from Minimalist Packrat recently posted We Have a Winner Make that Winners

          1. When we lived in an apartment, we had a laundry facility in the complex and a public laundromat in the same parking lot, so I never minded doing laundry then. I’m not sure exactly what I would do if my washer quits, but I probably would try a laundromat or washing at my mother’s place — or even hand washing to see if I could get by!

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  9. Hi Jenny! Gip, thanks for having Jenny on your blog.

    I love hand-washing dishes. Ohhh, that might be stretching the truth a little, but I do love hand-washing dishes vs. washing them in a dishwasher.

    Patrick and I each wash our own dish/silverware whenever we use some. During the day (since we work at home) this means we’re not generating a giant load for later on. It’s amazing how quick it is to do it this way.

    For dinners when we do a big cooking mess and have tons of dishes, we do them together. It’s fun to stand in the kitchen and chat while I wash and he dries. It just feels like “living” when we do it like that instead of like a “chore” that we’re trudging through.
    Tanja from Minimalist Packrat recently posted We Have a Winner Make that Winners

  10. Why do you bother to rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher? It isn’t generally necessary, and scraping them off (into the compost bucket, of course) is “greener.”

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation here, Evan. It’s good to have you here.

      I don’t use my dishwasher anymore, but when I did, it wasn’t good enough to handle stuck-on food.


      1. This is an interesting blog, Gip. I look forward to reading more about your experiences with minimalism and frugality. Two things I think the world needs more of – pun intended!

        I’m not sold on hand-washing being better than a machine dishwasher. Where’s the data to support that Jenny “used less water, energy and soap”?

        An article on ( suggests you’d have to have a really wasteful dishwasher and really good handwashing routine to get much environmental benefit from a dishwasher.

        Still, good to get people talking and questioning the accepted norms. I doubt most people have bothered to even stop to make a deliberate decision about whether to use their dishwasher.

  11. Dave’s mother used to say hand washing dishes was the only way to keep her fingernails clean. She was always gardening or painting or something.

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