Why I Stopped Using a Dishwasher

You can probably just chalk it up to a life habit that I never gave opportunity… but I have always washed my dishes in a dishwasher. In fact, nearly every day of my life I have used a dishwasher. Go figure. My parents used one. My grandparents used one. It’s been in every home I have lived in…. and when it wasn’t available (broken or kitchen remodelings), it was a source of great stress. Dishwashers get loaded, started, and emptied. End of story. Or so I thought.

Recently, I have begun washing dishes by hand immediately following every meal. Months ago, I read a famous zen story titled, “Wash Your Bowl” (via Leo Babauta) and have considered its meaning ever since.

As a result, I decided to give the mindful practice of “washing my bowl” a literal shot in my life. I began washing every dish following every meal. And since then, I have almost completely stopped using the dishwasher.

I love it. Here are the practical benefits I have seen:

  1. Less Physical Clutter. How often were dirty plates, bowls, and glassware left on my kitchen counter following a meal just waiting to be loaded in the dishwasher? Far more often than I would like to admit, that’s for sure. Each time, physical clutter was left on my kitchen counter, table, and sink.
  2. Less Mental Clutter. An unfinished project clutters the mind… always. Even when we were not in the kitchen, the pending responsibility of needing to clean the dishes was always hanging over our evening events. And we were specifically reminded every time we walked into (or even past) our kitchen.
  3. Seamlessly Transition Between Activities. Once the mind clutter of dirty dishes has been removed, we are freed to move from activity to activity, event to event, and room to room. We are allowed to be fully engaged in the present… however we choose to spend our evenings. There is no need to return to the past and finish the duties of our meal.
  4. Dishes are Always Clean. Ever need that one mixing bowl, pot, or cooking utensil, only to find out that it’s still dirty sitting in the dishwasher? Yeah, me too. Washing dishes after every meal means the dishes and cooking utensils are always clean and in their drawer.
  5. Dishes get Cleaner. Perhaps, the age of my built-in dishwasher has something to do with it, but I always hated pulling a bowl or plate out of the dishwasher that didn’t quite get all the way clean. And now I never do. Dishes are cleaned fully, everytime.
  6. It Takes Less Time. It came as a surprise, but I truly believe that washing our dishes after every meal has taken less time than loading/running/unloading the dishwasher. After most meals, it takes only 2-3 minutes to handwash each item. Cups are a snap. And most plates are a breeze to clean immediately following a meal.
  7. Example for My Kids. My kids see parents who finish what they start, aren’t afraid to put in a little effort, and leave a room cleaner than they found it. And those are life disciplines that I hope they embrace every day of their lives as they get older.
  8. It Brings Personal Satisfaction. There is a level of satisfaction in life that accompanies working with our hands and accomplishing a task without the need for mechanical intervention. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against machines. In many ways, they allow us to accomplish and create more than we could without them. I’m just saying there is a simple satisfaction in reminding ourselves that we can still live joyfully without them.

To accomplish the task of washing dishes immediately after every meal, I use three items: a dish wand, a sink rack, and a towel. I wash, dry, and put away. And with every practice in life, I own it – not the other way around. When we entertain or have a large meal that uses a number of cooking pots and pans, we still use the dishwasher.

It’s been a practical step of living intentionally. It’s been a process of choosing to question my life assumptions and live mindfully in all facets. And in that way, maybe it’s more than I just never gave it an opportunity… maybe it’s more honest to say that I never chose to live this intentionally ever before.

Image: Photonoumi

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

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  2. says

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  3. IrocE says

    Thank you! I’m happy I came across this article in my journey on the internet to find motivation. I’m going to try this…after I clean the house.

  4. says

    Thanks for the added insight. Personal satisfaction is key, not to mention time. I’ll be applying these factors more into my daily habits. Thanks again!

    • says

      The past few years our dishwasher was getting too old to do it’s job and I was shopping for a great sale on a new dishwasher when one day it occurred to me what a pain it was for me to have a dishwasher. I had to own more dishes because with just two of us it took about 5 days to fill the dishwasher. The mixing bowls and pots took up too much room so I did those by hand anyway. So those were in my sink dirty a whole lot. Too many times my sink had dishes in it because I needed to unload the dishwasher to put more in. One day I said no to a new dishwasher and hired someone to remove the old one. My husband made a couple of shelves in the open cabinet and we put the microwave oven and the dish pan and drainer on those shelves. Now my kitchen is more clean more often than not.

      • Theresa says

        With just two of us in the house, now, I find using the dishwasher to be frustrating and sometimes ludicrous. We always use all the cereal bowls and spoons before the thing is ready to run. I’m forever opening the dishwasher to get something out and washing it by hand.
        When we had four kids at home, it was a different story. It was full after every evening meal. Now, that isn’t the case and I find this idea of hand washing to be very appealing.

  5. Dacia Reid says

    My friend’s dishwasher broke and it was a terrible thing for her family until she started asking one of her teenagers each night to dry the dishes while she washed. She talked with them about their day and began to enjoy this one on one time so much she decided to never get it fixed. Having a broken dishwasher allowed her to get to know her children a bit better.

  6. Martin Helstein says

    Different strokes for different folks, per usual. Arguments have been made for and against the dishwasher. It certainly isn’t the device the clothes washer is in terms of what it can do, but these days they are quieter, more energy efficient and think they have a brain. Mine works pretty good at cleaning and takes forever to think things through. Try selling your house without one if you are thinking about eliminating it. Like everything else there are trades to be made on both sides.

  7. Ursula says

    Here’s my problems with dishwashers: They are very hard on dishes! Maybe it’s the extremely hot heat that dries them, but after a while all the clear glasses are cloudy and ugly. I’ve read that washing them in TSP occasionally fixes this, but that’s an extra step in dish maintenance. I have a few dish pieces that are old (40s and 50s), and they have maintained their good look, and it’s possibly because they haven’t been through countless dishwasher cycles.

  8. Howie says

    We have never owned a dishwasher, nor will we. After large meals with family & friends, we pause and take the 30 minutes to wash the large pans by hand. It is something our friends have come to expect. We are a couple in our late 30s, with two children, but entertain frequently.

  9. says

    I don’t own a dishwasher but I do know that doing dishes by hand wastes lots of water. I would also rather spend time with my family rather than standing in front of the sink scrubbing place settings for 6 people in addition to cookware.

    • Wei says

      I agree with you. This article might apply to those who have older kids or have no kids, I have 2 young children, when we finish our meals, I barely have any time to put away the dirty dishes…Also another reason we use dishwasher is, it cleans better with the water pressure and high heat. My mother-in-law does what this article says, and her dishes are not clean at all.

  10. Carla says

    You don’t waste water by washing dishes. You have an option to use a basin while washing dishes and rinsing it. By this way, the water is not running to the sink.

    This blog is so true. I rarely see Filipino households own a dishwasher because we do it by our hands. :) Nice blog Sir.

  11. Elizabeth says

    I’m glad I came across this article because I have been debating whether to replace my old, very rarely used dishwasher with a new one. I plan on doing a full kitchen remodel in my small kitchen. I have been told by a realtor that my house will be hard to sell without one, but I figure when I do sell my home, the plumbing is there and a dishwasher can be installed for a potential new owner. when or if I ever sell it, I’ll install one. Until then, I’m dishwasher-free.

  12. says

    This is very tempting…especially since now that I have minimized our dishes, I often find myself having to wash a plate or two or some silverware by hand to use for the next meal..why not do it all? ;)

  13. me says

    OCD much? washing up after every meal or after using a cup every time is just ridiculous. Much easier to wait till you have a few things to wash up.. fillup the sink and just do the lot. You dont mention about saucepans every time you use one .. what about if you have guests.. do you make them clean theirs too? Personally I have better things to do than be washing up every time i use something out of the cupboard. I dont see how this would save water as you are washing up all day.

  14. Renata says

    In this matter I’m in the opposite path. I’ve lived my entire life WITHOUT a dishwasher and the obligation to hand wash the dishes was often overwhelming. Most times I couldn’t do it right after eating or they were too many after a single meal. Now, it’s just like you described: load the machine, start and unload. I can’t think of any hand process simpler than that. Of course I hand wash things that should be handwashed and other items that I know will be needed before the dishwashing process, but the machine has saved me so much time already that I can’t simple imagine just let it sit there unused. I do load the dishes as soon as I use them so the sink remains uncluttered and clean, and by the end of the day everything is ready and I just need to press “start”.

    I’ve tried hand-doing things that machines could do a couple of times before. The result is always the same: the feeling of accomplishment and freedom lasts only until I realize how much time I’m spending in repetitive tasks that I could just “delegate”.

  15. LizzyO says

    I’ve just started doing this recently too. I figured if I did it I could reduce down the things I own in my kitchen cupboards and drawers. I was so surprised how quickly it can be done if it’s every meal and because there are so few dishes, I only use a little water. My water bills have most recently been reduced by at least £240 a year! I now get a jumpy feeling when I know there are dishes in the sink! I love that!

  16. says

    I never had a dishwasher in my life. My parents neither had one in their childhood. It’s considered a life skill in our home. We also take turns in cleaning, cooking and washing the clothes by hand.

  17. Christine says

    I really like your many suggestions and the first place i started was my kitchen! I managed to clear down my benches , and I have also eliminated my excess plates/saucepans etc as per your previous blogs – my kitchen looks great now. I have never used a dishwasher in 30 years of my marriage because my husband said I didn’t need one. The strange thing is , after my marriage ended my children decided to buy me one. I used to stand over the sink every night for about one hour or so after I came home from work and it just seemed like a waste of time. Now, everything for the day goes in the dishwasher on a 35 minute cycle and I can spend the time with my children and relax. It has actually become part of my minimalist life style I am trying to achieve from reading your wonderful information you are sharing. It is interesting how you can look at this from two perspectives.
    By the way, I started on my bedroom and got rid of 75 articles of clothing!

  18. Julie Kenward says

    I started reading your columns a few months ago and have been transitioning into a Minimalist lifestyle. When I first read about people not using an automatic dishwasher I blew it off – why would anyone want to do dishes by hand in this day and age? (I did enough of them as a child helping my mom in the kitchen each evening.)

    But then my dishwasher gave out last month and I decided that instead of running down to the local appliance store, I’d pull out the old dish rack and give it a try. I am happy to say you have made a convert out of me.

    Not only has it become a task I rather enjoy because of the sense of accomplishment, it has also made me think twice about creating elaborate multi-pan meals. I’m streamlining my food choices and choosing fast and nutritious over the latest calorie-laden item to hit the front page of Pinterest. I’m not sure I’d want to wash dishes for a family of six again like I had to do as a child but I don’t mind at all cleaning up after my own meals and seeing that clean kitchen each night before heading off to bed.

  19. Marcy says

    My mother set this example for all of her children, as did, no doubt, her own mother and so on. We had a large family and owned no dishwasher until I was in junior high. Even with the dishwasher, we children did dishes after dinner every night. It was where the best conversations and best heated arguments took place. It was another slot in our day where we did our part as a member of the family. I enjoy washing dishes now, as it is a simple task with a lot of umph. For me, it feels good to accomplish the task, keep the kitchen clean, have access to clean dishes all day and know that they are cleaned well, by hand. We still use the dishwasher, too, but hand washing is our main method.

  20. aj says

    After 42 years without a dishwasher, (no one in my family ever had one) I bought a house with one. It has been a joy-bringing, time saving miracle and I had no idea how much I would love it! 4 years later, it is something I am consistently thankful for. But we’ve made habits of never letting dishes pile in the sink or on counter, and we load it promptly as dishes dirty, run it once a day under normal circumstances and everyone in the family pitches in. The magic of turning it on to work while we go play is wonderful. I am thankful I never had one before so I can appreciate it this much now.

    • Linda Stradley says

      I, too, grew up without a dishwasher, because I grew up without electricity, and in a home with five children, I always wanted one. I taught my children how to wash and dry dishes by hand before they were EVER allowed to usecond the dishwasher when I finally bought a used portable one. To this day, I pre-rinse before loading them in the machine, and I NEVER wash my pots and pans in it.

  21. Christina says

    I appreciate what you are saying but this absolutely the wrong thing to promote in California right now. Use of dishwashers save precious water. It is a fact and this is being promoted by the water agencies here. Fill your washer all the way and then use it. Also, dishwashers allow water to reach temps that hand washing doesn’t and sanitizes much better. If things weren’t getting clean in your dishwasher it was either a bad dishwasher or you were loading things incorrectly. Please don’t tell people in a severe drought not to use dishwashers. Thank You!

  22. Amy says

    I hand wash dishes. I respect the comments about the drought, but I wash/rinse in ‘batches’ to minimize water use. I also use my hot soapy water for more than the dishes – I use it to clean my kitchen and lots of other surfaces to minimize the use of other cleaners. My dishwasher is a drying rack to tuck the dishes out of the way. I run it about 1x/week to keep it clean. Regarding sanitation, recent studies have shown that hand-washing dishes is actually MORE healthy for families – 40% fewer allergies resulting from more exposure to the germs around us. See this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/23/hand-washing-dishes-benefits_n_6736636.html

  23. Amy says

    I would also add that one of the reasons I started hand washing dishes many years ago was that I had many items (like teflon-coated pans) that required hand-washing. I used to run the dishwasher AND hand wash dishes – a total waste of water. I decided since I already had hot soapy water I would just finish the job and not run the dishwasher, too!

    • liesl says

      I just can’t get on board with this one. A dishwasher is a wonderful time, energy and I would add space saving device. I live in paris where the kitchens are mini, and we would never be able to cook like we do if we didn’t have the dishwasher to immediately put our dirty dishes in and get them off our limited counter/sink space. But the key is to load the dish right away and not let them pile up on the sink like so many people do. Put everything in, andcrun it when its full. We have a small one andcrun it often. It’s also worth getting a high quality brand.

  24. Toni says

    I totally agree w/this article! I’m a ‘clean as you go’ kinda person when it comes to cooking, baking, food prep etc. And I agree with the satisfaction and transition points this article states – can’t really put it into words but I’ve been doing this for years and it’s not a biggie for me – I actually enjoy it. Chatting with family, teasing the kitties w/the bubbles (LOL) and getting the dogs going too. :)

  25. Cheryl says

    The only negative I can think of about doing dishes by hand for each meal of the day is the amount of water used. Our faucet takes takes over a minute to heat up, thus wasting water. (I guess we could save it in a tub and use on plants, but…) Anyway, multiply by 3, and that’s a few gallons of water down the drain. I will do pots by hand (usually at night), but I’ll wait until we have a full load of dishes and run the dishwasher (usually once or twice per week)–it’s high efficiency, so I think that uses less water. Good article though.

  26. Laura says

    A play cubbie has replaced the spot where our useless dishwasher used to sit. A coat of paint, multicolored lights, a recycled slab of granite for a smooth floor, a few toys, and a crisp white curtain keeps our three littles thoroughly entertained and playing peek-a-boo while I work in the kitchen. Bonus: they are right there, but not underfoot. My husband is a diy genius! Great article.

  27. says

    Joshua, I have noticed pretty much the same results. This is where our stories differ.

    I grew up without a dishwasher. I was the dishwasher along with my siblings.

    I wanted to have a dishwasher, but I noticed that I was used to washing by hand disregarding the dishwasher.

    It saved me time and stress because once I finished my job was done.

    I wrote about my experience if you care to read more, however you covered it well.

    Best Regards

    Simplify Life Blog

  28. says

    I do not use a dishwasher too and I am really happy about that fact! You are right, the dishes are always clean because every time we eat something we do the dishes after that. This is so simple. :)

  29. Erin says

    We decided to experiment with not using our dishwasher a couple weeks ago. I was surprised to realize that my children didn’t know how to wash dishes by hand. We had always used the dishwasher. The very first night my 9 y.o. son was thrilled to have his hands in the water and was looking for other dishes to wash. Yesterday, my 13 y.o. daughter told me how much she is enjoying hand washing our dishes and having everything clean and put away after every meal. It feels less like a chore now.

  30. Melissa Saaranen says

    We are dishwasher free! We had one for eight years and used it maybe 30 times. Well, we are minimalist by accident. When We had to remodel the kitchen and we opted out of replacing the dishwasher we never used. We now limit the amount of dishes we use throughout the day, making this once dreaded chore not so terrible. And now no clutter or piles of dirty dishes. :)

  31. sue says

    What I noticed the most during a hand washing episode with a broken dishwasher was a much cleaner kitchen. The sink was cleaner because it often was full of hot soapy water rather than just rinsing food into it. The counters, faucet and cupboard doors cleaner because it was easy to continue wiping down with hot soapy water while doing dishes rather than it being a separate chore because no one naturally did that when loading and unloading the dishwasher.

  32. sharon says

    I have a dishwasher now, but for most of my life I didn’t have one. I use it as a big dish draining rack, and have to remember to run it from time to time so it doesn’t get mildy or the drains don’t dry out. Washing dishes by hand is one of those mindless household tasks that lets me listen to the radio or just enjoy some silence. It’s almost meditative.

    • ren says

      To each their own…but I’ve worked as dishwasher and didn’t have one growing up…I thank God and the persons who invented the dishwasher. automatic washer and dryer and central ac. Every time I push start.

  33. Lalita says

    Errr you mean this is new? I am from Malaysia and we always wash our dishes with our hands and mostly right after we used them. I for once grew up to not leave the dishes unwashed before we go to sleep as it will attract cockroaches and ants (pest control is not so big in Asian countries, we usually use prevention method for these type of pest ). I never seen any dishwasher before other than in American TV shows or movies and until I went to Europe in my adult years. Despite of appreciating the use of dishwasher during big house party (which I learnt when I was staying with a host in france). I don’t think I will get one as I am so used to washing my own dishes.

  34. Ivy says

    As I prepare dinner I wash as many pots/pans/bowls as I can and put away food used to prepare dinner. We eat in our breakfast room and from where we sit I don’t want to look at a dirty kitchen. Plus after dinner clean up is a breeze.

  35. De by says

    One suggestion: instead of a dish wand under running water, run warm/hot soapy water into the sink and wash with a dish cloth. They get cleaner and you use less water and dishes are soaking in the water waiting to be washed, hence less scrubbing. Just sayin’. I, too, love to wash dishes. 😊

    • Kathryn says

      This is where I’m a 180 degrees from you Josh. First there are very few things I use in the kitchen that I don’t put in the dishwasher. I think it uses less water and certainly the hot water in a dishwasher does a better job destroying germs. We use the dishwasher to sterilize toothbrushes, clean cat toys etc. The kitchen isn’t cluttered because most of the things I use go right into the dishwasher. I feel so passionate about my dishwasher I think I could be a salesperson.😃

  36. Natasha Brekke says

    After living for the past 2 1/2 years without running water. The last year and a half of whích we have been carry water in from town I can truly say that dirty dishes are the number one stress facter in our lives. The root of almost every argumant is that there are still dirty dishes. With limited water and water that requires heating before use dishes become a very inconvoniant and time consuming project! We just had a well drilled in the past 3 weeks which means that we now have all the water we need! Before the well it just want practical to wash after each meal. If you did you would use so much water that you wouldn’t have enough for drinking, cooking or bathing. With the well and limitless water I can’t wait to start washing after each meal! Thank you for your post!

    • joshua becker says

      Yes Natasha, I imagine no running water would certainly complicate the dish-washing. It is hard to fully grasp how much we have that we take for granted everyday.

  37. Grateful granny says

    My adult son and wife bought a dishwasher for their 100 year old farmhouse because their double sinks and counters were always full of dirty dishes, cutlery and pots and pans. They now have had it for 18 months. Guess what? They finish eating and put their DIRTY DISHES IN THE SINK!!! IT’S TOO HARD TO LOAD THE DAMN DISHWASHER and when they do, they toss stuff in there willy nilly so lots of items aren’t clean by the time the cycle is over and they use the “normal” cycle which takes almost 4 hrs. to wash and dry. When I am there, I use a one hour cycle (believe me, I pack the dishwasher) and then open the door to let the dishes air dry. Never had one, never will. I washed Thanksgiving dishes by hand at their home and was done (washed and dried and put away) before my DOL and her mother had put away the leftovers. I give my 26 month old granddaughter a towel and she “helps” by drying spoons and her sippy cups. When she comes to my house she says “dishes, dishes”. She loves helping.

  38. Deirdre says

    I like your blog but have to disagree on this one. Unlike you I have spent most of my life without a dishwasher. Having a dishwasher has been a great timesaver, I estimate at least an hour a day for my family. Also, hand washing never got the dishes as clean, especially depending on who the washer was, and it was never worth the comments… I used to think I didn’t need one but having one has been a very useful part of our attempt at minimalism.

  39. says

    I’m somewhere in the middle. We have a dishwasher, but only because the house came with it. If we had a home that didn’t come with it, we would never think of having one put in.

    However, we handwash all the pots and pans and a fair amount of the other stuff. I’d be just as happy handwashing everything (as I did for the 20 years I didn’t have a dishwasher) because I find it relaxing. Plus, I loathe unloading the dishwasher.

    But the kiddo does load his own dishes into the dishwasher without too many reminders, and I suspect that if we didn’t have a dishwasher, they’d always be stacked in the sink.

    Also, I read that if you don’t use dishwashers fairly regularly, they break (gaskets dry out or something), so if you have one, it’s a good idea to use it once every week or two.

  40. Vikram Rathore says

    I accomplish BOTH the objectives. I wash dishes afer every meal by hand and put them in the dishwasher. So there is no clutter. Weekly once I run the diswasher for a more thorough cleaning. Win-win.

  41. bb says

    I had a broken dishwasher for two years. It was the best dish rack in the world. No wet counters or sink racks full of clean dishes that I didn’t have time to dry or put away. :)

  42. Susie Brown says

    Good article!
    I decided to not use my dishwasher to save money. My dishwasher runs for at least 1.5 hours from beginning to end, all the time using electricity to run and more electricity to heat the water.
    My method: I fill a tub with about 2-3 inches of warm water. I then rinse in cold water which is in a second bin. I let the dishes air dry.
    I find that using liquid dish soap instead of the dishwasher tabs saves money as well.
    My electric bill has gone down and I find my kitchen is clean all the time. I find it meditative and relaxing to hand wash. I will be reducing the amount of kitchenware we own, since the dishes are clean all the time we don’t need as many plates, cutlery, etc.
    That said, we are a family of two people. A dishwasher would be a must have for families with children.

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. How to Clean Up After Dinner | November 25, 2010
  2. Wash your dishes | we live simply | November 29, 2010

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