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Do Dishwashers Save Water? Hmmm.

As 2010 drew to a close and everyone around the world celebrated with fireworks and noisemakers, I had just one thing on my mind: Did my dishwasher fulfill its green promise? As I reported last January, we welcomed our trusty Energy Star appliance to the family after an entire adulthood of hand washing dishes.

Oh how wonderful these last twelve months have been! No more hours hunched over a sink full of dirty dishes. Just stacks of sparkling clean plates, forks, pots, and pans. And the best part is–the dishwasher saves water and energy over even the thriftiest hand washer!

Or so I’d heard. After a year-long study (sample size: 1), we ran the numbers. Did we save water in our Year of the Dishwasher compared to the previous year? The answer: no. We used almost the exact same amount of water both years. How could this be? Were we thriftier than the thriftiest hand washer after all? Maybe the dishwasher couldn’t compete with that.

How Do You Hand Wash Dishes to Conserve Water and Dish Soap?

After writing these last three posts about eco-friendly dish soaps without coming to any great conclusions, I started examining my dishwashing method.  Whether you use an “eco-friendly” soap or some generic brand, the best thing for the environment is to use it sparingly and conserve as much water as possible.  So I started looking around for the most efficient method that claimed to leave dishes sparkling clean.

For years I’ve used the soapy sponge method.  I squirt some soap in the sponge and scrub each and every dish.  Then I rinse off the dishes under a stream of hot water.  I thought this method was pretty efficient, but I was potentially wasting water, depending on how long I left the faucet running.

Offsetting the Water Used to Wash Cloth Diapers

I often hear people say that cloth diapers are no better for the planet than disposables because of all the water used to wash them.  This argument has never made too much sense to me.  Water is a renewable resource, but the trees cut down to make disposable diapers are often harvested unsustainably.  The plastic used on each diaper is a petroleum product-definitely not a renewable resource.  Then there’s the whole landfill issue. . . .

Not to say that I don’t care about wasting water.  If you wash diapers every other day in a top loader, you’ll use a whopping 7,200 gallons water a year.  Do you use a wet pail to soak your diapers?  That’s 360 more gallons a year, for a grand total of 7,560.  The good news is, it’s not necessary to blow through that much water.  I estimate that I use under 1,200 gallons water a year washing diapers.  I have a front loader that uses 12.4 gallons per wash, and I wash diapers every four days instead of every other day.

The Best Stainless Steel Water Bottle!

best stainless steel water bottleFor the last four years I’ve been slurping my beverages from a well worn plastic bottle.  Yes, it’s made from a “safer” plastic–but it still didn’t exactly feel safe.  Still, I was loathe to toss it in the trash in the name of environmentalism.  Luckily, it failed on its own and I was free embrace stainless steel.  Still, I was convinced that the options were limited.  After all I wanted a water bottle that:

  • Fit in my car beverage slot
  • Had a wide mouth that could easily be filled with ice.

The Thrill of Cloth

Here’s something disposable diaper-using parents may not understand: I truly enjoyed cloth diapering my daughter.  I didn’t just put up with it because I wanted to save money.  Nor was I slaving over those diapers as a sacrifice for Mother Earth.  Before my daughter was born, I pored over websites on the Internet, reading all about prefolds and diaper covers and laundering techniques.  Once I got my diapers, I admired their softness and cuteness; I couldn’t wait to try them out.  I even took pleasure in laundry days–ah, the anticipation of waiting for a nice, fresh batch of diapers to emerge from the dryer!

Even More Gift Ideas for the New or Expecting Mother!

Here’s how you assemble a wonderful gift basket for a new mom. Still need ideas? Here are some more:

A Boppy pillow. Both of us managed to raise our babies with very limited baby gear—and we both had Bobby pillows. They make breastfeeding easier by propping the baby up to the right position, easing the strain on the back and arms. As baby grows older, you can use it to prop him in a sitting position.
baby sleeping on boppy nursing pillow
Note: You aren’t supposed to let your baby sleep on the Boppy! We kept our eye on her–just a week old!

Kindle. A Kindle—are we kidding? Well, a ways back we wrote this post, posing the question: Is a Kindle greener than regular old books? Sure, it saves trees and shipping fuel, but a wireless reading device uses batteries and may end up clogging a landfill one day. Still, we’d heard that it’s perfect for reading books while breastfeeding–turn the page with the click of a button! Avid readers who like to buy all their books instead of borrowing from the library claim to save money in the long run.

Green Your Dishwasher!

As a proud dishwasher owner for the last four months, I obviously qualify as an expert. I’ve even learned a few more tricks since my initial dishwasher post. According to the Energy Star website, an Energy Star dishwasher uses 5.8 gallons of water or less per load. Most studies indicate that using the dishwasher will save money and water compared to hand washing. However, remember that  this is not the case if you pre-rinse dishes (wasting up to 20 gallons of water per load!) or use the heat dry option! The estimated energy usage that you see on that Energy Star tag are based on running loads on the normal cycle and letting the dishes air dry.

When Are Disposables Greener than Washing Cloth Diapers?

It pains us to admit that cloth diapers do not always win the fight against disposables. We love cloth diapers for their cuteness, cheapness, and eco-friendliness, but the truth is, many people waste so much water and energy laundering their Fuzzibunz that they might as well switch to Huggies as far as the Earth is concerned.

So how can you tell if you’re doing more harm than good? Do a little bit of math to determine how much water you’re using laundering your diapers: multiply the gallons of water your washing machine uses by the number of loads you do per year. (If you aren’t sure, use 40 gallons for a top loader and 12 for a front loader.) Is your resulting number less than 4,000? Then you are on the right track! More than 4,000? You should probably re-evaluate your laundering habits.

How to Use Baking Soda in Place of Shampoo

Ever since Joy’s baking soda in the bathroom makes an eco-friendly shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste post, I’ve been curious about replacing shampoo with baking soda. Traditional shampoos contain sulfates and other ingredients that can be harmful to our health as well as the environment. But the bigger issue, for me, was the number of plastic bottles I was tossing in the recycling bin. Those take energy to produce and recycle.

For several months I used dry baking soda in the shower. I’d leave some in a little dish, scoop some out, form it into a paste with the shower water, then work it into my hair. It cleaned my hair really well, but it was somewhat of a mess dealing with powder in the shower. I eventually gave up this practice and started using a sulfate-free shampoo from Trader Joe’s.

Don’t Rinse Your Dishes!

We hear this tip again and again: don’t rinse your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. Still, from my observations, most people do rinse dishes, potentially wasting hundreds of gallons of water each year.

Today’s dishwashers and detergents are designed to whisk away food bits and leave your dishes sparkling clean. I have tested this with my own new dishwasher and Biokleen Dishwashing Powder. I’ve put in yogurt containers with ½ cup of expired yogurt still in there. (I know I should be better about not wasting food, so I did feel bad about this!) Pans with cheese and bits of pasta still baked on. A dish full of old whipped cream. Spoons coated in dried-up rice. Jars with the peanut butter scraped out.