This study evaluates and provides guidance on improving the life cycle environmental performance of dishwashing in the typical U.S. household. Typical user behaviors and recommended best practices for manual dishwashing as well as machine dishwasher use are evaluated. A sensitivity analysis shows the influence of varying grid carbon intensity, water heater type, regional water scarcity, and behaviors such as pre-rinsing and machine loading on overall results. Use-phase behaviors are observed through a small-scale laboratory study. Dishwashing following typical manual and machine practices produces 5,620 and 2,090 kg CO2e life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions respectively based on washing 4 loads (8 place settings per load) a week for 10 years. Avoiding typical behaviors like pre-rinsing and selecting heated dry can decrease life cycle GHG emissions for machine dishwashing by 3% and 11%, respectively. The running tap style of manual dishwashing results in the highest life cycle GHG emissions of the alternatives in the lab study. Manual dishwashing has the potential to have the lowest GHG emmisions (1,610 kg) when recommended behaviors are followed, less than the 1,960 kg CO2e for recommended machine dishwasher use. When life cycle water consumption burdens are evaluated, typical manual and machine dishwashing use 34,200 and 16,300 gallons respectively and these results are contextualized to regions with different water scarcity. A life cycle cost (LCC) analysis finds that machine dishwashing costs more than manual dishwashing over a 10-year lifetime even if best practices are followed. However, when a user’s time spent washing is valued, machine dishwashers pay for themselves within a year of use.

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