The Dishwasher versus Hand-Washing Debate Has Finally Been Solved — Sort Of

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In the debate of hand washing dishing versus using a dishwasher, Houzz explores which method is the best
Photo by Design Platform

Here’s how the dirty-dish debate stacks up around the world

Claim: Silverware handles should point down in a dishwasher Answer: True and false

Most people are torn on this one. In Houzz polls conducted in the U.K., Australia, and the U.S., preferences were pretty much split down the middle. Half the people out there prefer to load silverware handles-down. “I have a feeling they get cleaned better if [the handles are] down,” says U.S. user armipeg. The other half load the handles up so they can grab the pieces better when unloading and not touch the parts of the utensils that go in people’s mouths. Most people agree that sharp knives should be washed by hand, laid flat in a silverware drawer or be loaded with the handles up to prevent pokes and, in rare cases, death. In 2003, according to The Guardian newspaper, a 31-year-old woman in the U.K. died in a freak accident after slipping and falling on a knife that was pointing upward in the dishwasher. Six years before that, a 12-year-old boy was killed in a similar accident, the paper reported.

Related: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Dishwasher in Tip-Top Shape

Claim: Dishwashers are noisy Answer: Depends on the machine

Older machines can be annoyingly loud. If you’re trying to watch a movie or have a quiet conversation with friends, you might want to hold off on starting the cycle. Newer machines are quieter, almost to the point where you might not even know the machine is on, which can be viewed as a plus or a minus.

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Claim: Hand-washing creates community. Answer: True, but so can the time freed up by dishwashers

We heard from some people who gave up on their dishwashers because they prefer the moments they share with their spouse, family or friends while doing the dishes together. They talk, chat, play, dance and listen to music while washing dishes. “The washing-up, drying and putting away used to be a family affair,” says Houzz Australia user sjp777, “a time to have a family working together to get the task finished after the meal. Sadly this ‘rite’ seems to have disappeared, but we still do it.” Houzz U.S. user Mark agrees: “We own a lovely home and have the space and good fortune to be able to have top-of-the-line appliances, but you will never see a dishwasher in our kitchen. It may sound crazy, but we actually like to be together and chat about our day while we wash and dry the dishes and put them away. It’s a time carved out of our busy day that we look forward to. Snapping wet tea towels at each other like we were teenagers never grows old. Can’t do that with a dishwasher.” But many people find other uses for the time saved by using a dishwasher. “We’ve got two very small children and the time savings delivered by a dishwasher is extra time we can spend with them, and tidying up the rooms they’ve trashed,” says Houzz U.K. user Michael Morton. Houzz Australia user mcxu8 agrees: “After I started working, I found it tedious to stand there for at least half an hour cleaning the dishes. I found I had more time to relax after a hard day’s work.”

Claim: It’s best to wash dishes after each meal Answer: True, for the majority of people

As for when to wash those dishes, whether it’s by hand or in a machine, most people say they prefer to tackle the task after each meal. In Houzz polls conducted in Italy and the U.S., the majority of people who voted said they take care of the dishes after each meal. “Why leave them stacking?” says Houzz Italy user Erica Bagnasco of Erica Bagnasco Architetto. “Better to deal with them right after the meal.” The only time this wasn’t true was when it came to after-holiday meals and dinner parties. In those cases, many people said it was better to clear the table, put some coffee on and relax and converse with guests rather than hustle to get the dishes done as soon as everyone put their silverware down.

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Claim: Hand-washing dishes is therapeutic. Answer: True, for some people

We’ve written about how working with your hands can have psychological benefits, and this goes for hand-washing dishes. Many people say hand-washing is cathartic and pleasurable. “While washing the dishes by hand, you can really think a lot and untangle many issues,” says Houzz Italy user Laura Tallarida. Houzz Germany employee Robert Hergeth agrees. “It’s totally calming doing it on your own,” he says. Houzz U.S. user mirador echoes these sentiments: “I actually enjoy hand-washing, and find it easy, satisfying and rather contemplative.” A Florida State University study published in the October 2015 issue of the journal Mindfulness suggests that washing dishes mindfully — focusing on the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water and the shape and feel of the dishes — can help stimulate the mind and reduce anxiety.

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