How to wash dishes: Beyond frugality

So one of us grew up in a strictly frugal home with Environmentalist Leanings.

Every drop of water was precious.  Every electron to be saved from use.

We didn’t have a dishwasher.  (Or a dryer, or a microwave… and so on.)

We did have a double sink.

If you have a double sink, there’s a frugal way to wash dishes and an inefficient non-frugal way to wash dishes.  My mother did the latter, my father trained us in the former.  Interestingly, my father’s method appeared in Cheaper by the Dozen , by the children of the Galbraith efficiency experts.  I assume my father discovered it independently.

Step 1:

Empty out the left sink.  Make sure it is clean.  Stack all the plates in the right sink.  Run a little water.  Turn it off.

With a soapy scrubber thingy, scrub a dish, move it to the left sink once scrubbed.  Use water as needed to remove junk (over the right sink), but turn off when not using.  When removing water from the top plate, make sure it lands on the plate underneath (unless the water is super disgusting, then try to get it in the side of the right sink).  Continue until all of the dishes are scrubbed and stacked in the left sink.  Rinse out your scrubber thingy.

Step 2:

Rinse all of the dishes in the left sink.  Again, be careful to conserve the clean soapy water by dumping on the plate underneath rather than in the sink.  Rinse a dish, then place said dish in the drying rack to drain.  (No need for hand drying– drip dry!)

Step 3:

Cups and silverware.  Place all cups in the right sink (but not fancy breakable glasses!  Only sturdy stuff.).  Put silverware in the cups in the right sink.  Fill the cups with water (or just fill some of the cups with water, and pour the leftover water in the unfilled cups as you go along.  Your choice, unless my father is micromanaging, in which case you do it the save water method.)

Scrub one cup.  Stick it in the left sink.  Scrub silverware one at a time and place in the cup in the left sink.  Fill cup with water.  Continue with remaining cups and silverware as dirty cups are emptied of their dirty silverware and scrubbed cups fill up with scrubbed silverware.  Continue until all cups and silverware are scrubbed.  Rinse out scrubby thing.

Step 4:

Rinse all the silverware and glasses, pouring out clean water into scrubbed cups as you go along.  Put in drying rack as you go along.

Step 5:

Pots and pans.  Hopefully these have been soaking a bit in a soapy water solution as you’ve been doing step 1-4.

I hated pots and pans.  But basically the idea is the same as for plates, only with pots, pans, and a lot more grease and scrubbing.  You may need to rinse out your scrubby thing and resoap multiple times.

Step 6:

Fine glassware.  Put a little water in the bottom of each to soak any dried beverages out.  Do these separately after all the other dishes have dried and been put away.  These you do one at a time and inefficiently.  Wash then rinse then dry.  Wash then rinse then dry.  This is because clumsy little hands tend to break them when they’re put in the sink together.

So there you have it.  The efficient way of washing dishes without a dishwasher.  And why I will hopefully always have a dishwasher now that I’m a grown-up.  (Especially now that supposedly dishwashers conserve water better than sink washing!)

How do you wash dishes when you’re sans dishwasher?

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46 Responses to “How to wash dishes: Beyond frugality”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I have vivid memories of a sink full of floating scum and dishware. Presoaking was a must in our household and the dirty dishwater was always so nasty. I Love my dishwasher.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Pre-soaking. There’s a right way (fill each fillable dish with water). And there’s a wrong way (fill a nice, large but greasy pot or bowl with water and put everything else in there; now every single dish is covered in a layer of grease). Most things don’t need to soak that long–you can start them soaking while washing other things and usually be okay.

  2. Linda Says:

    I have a dishwasher and I still hand wash some things every day, like my preferred coffee mug. I do this because I don’t run the dishwasher every day but I do use my mug every day. When washing just one or two items by hand, I rinse them out, clean them with a soapy sponge, rinse them and put them in the dish strainer.

    I was taught to wash dishes by filling the sink half full with water and soap to do all the soaking/scrubbing. But the actual steps will vary depending on the sink type. Is it a single bowl sink? If so, then a separate dish pan helps a lot so you can have the dirty dishes in the soapy water and pile them in the bit of sink not taken up by the dish pan for rinsing. If it’s a double sink then you use one sink to wash and one sink to rinse.

    I actually prefer to rinse over the sink bowl with soapy water. I start with the smallest amount of water/soap as possible since I know I’ll be adding to it as I rinse the dishes. This leaves the second sink for stacking the clean dishes, and then they can be added to a drying rack or rinsed/washed again if an item looks not clean enough. If the sinks are the older shallow types then you may have to drain some of the soapy water during the washing up because it can get filled pretty fast. Same thing with a dish pan.

    My current kitchen sink is a double bowl and it’s deep. I love this for washing by hand because it can hold all the wash and rinse water in one sink and the dish drainer in the other. It’s also great for washing pots and pans. I hate washing pots and pans in those older shallow sinks, especially when the faucet isn’t very tall, either.

    I can’t believe I just thought and wrote about washing dishes!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I used to dream about washing dishes. And then I’d wake up and there would still be dishes to do. Why couldn’t I dream about eating pizza and ice cream, I would ask myself.

  3. Debbie M Says:

    I actually have the water running the whole time, but it’s just a tiny trickle.

    1) Scrape solids into trash and start dishes soaking.
    2) Squirt dish soap on a sponge and wash something. If it’s a glass, set it under the trickling water unless there’s already a glass under there that is not yet full. If it’s silverware, set it on the counter. Otherwise, try to do a basic rinse.
    3) Continue with each thing. When the first glass fills with water, pour that into the second glass, and the trickling water will let the second glass overflow (rinsing the sides). When out of glasses, pour the extra water into larger and larger containers. If you have a big bowl, just leave it there to use for rinsing out other things. At the end, swoosh around the silverware.
    4) Then rinse everything again in a big pot of very hot water and put it in the strainer.

    I think I use about 2 gallons of water (one for washing and one for rinsing) but I certainly might be underestimating.

    5) Then wash the counters, the stove, any drips down the sides of the cabinets and oven, and the dining room table with the rinse water.
    6) Then microwave the sponge for 2 minutes to kill germs.
    7) If being very fancy, dry the counter tops and table.

    I used to fantasize about getting a dishwasher and a clothes dryer (both of which would require remodeling). Now I fantasize only about the dishwasher.

  4. chacha1 Says:

    Your father would put me in water jail. :-) I let it run while washing. I do not fill either bowl of my sink, though.

    I scrape any solids into the trash, then rinse each item, and leave them in the sink until I can be bothered to either “pre-wash” (I always do this; don’t really trust our 30-yr-old dishwasher to do more than sanitize) or hand wash. I do quite a lot of handwash because we are constantly using stemware and cooking utensils that can’t go in the DW.

    I have very little grease to contend with, despite my lavish applications of fat while cooking, because I wipe out the greasy prep things with a paper towel (into the trash) before rinsing. (Not a believer in washing grease down the drain. I’ve seen it wash back up on the beach in Santa Monica. Gross.) I also have very little scrubbing to do because I routinely soak a wiped & rinsed thing for an evening or overnight.

    I guess my definition of efficiency relates to minimal time spent over the sink, not to low water use!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m surprised you have a 30 year old dishwasher! One of the first things to die after we bought our house was the dishwasher (and the guy said… the damage is so bad that it’ll cost the same to repair it as to get a new one, plus this one is not water or energy efficient). Of course, the engine on our new one went out after a few years (they don’t make things like they used to… on purpose), but partner was able to replace it himself.

  5. bogart Says:

    My major water-saving hack is this: after cooking something on our electric range, put about
    a half inch of water in the now dirty skillet or pot and stick it back on the (turned off but
    still warm) burner. Do other stuff for 5 minutes or so. Now grab cookpot, add dish soap, and
    use the warmed water in it to scrub it clean. This won’t work (isn’t enough) if it’s gross,
    but if it was used e.g. to fry eggs, you’re done (after rinsing), and as our hot water heater
    is far from our kitchen (bad design) saves lots of water. OTOH if I need to run ’til water
    gets hot I try either to wait ’til I’m running the dishwasher anyway or to fill stuff (e.g.
    dog’s water bowls) that I don’t mind filling with the cold-water-running-to-get-hot. Or I use the electric kettle as an on-demand water heater though I’m not actually sure of the tradeoff there, financially or environmentally. Or I walk down the hall to the bathroom nearest the hot water heater with a small pitcher (I am not kidding), or some winters (not the most recent one) I keep a kettle on top of the woodstove.

    I totally use the dishwasher as much as possible (our cookware isn’t supposed to go in it),
    but am not 100% convinced of the efficiency claim considering the prewash issue or, as I like to put it, for heaven’s sake don’t put dirty dishes in the dishwasher (you fool).

    Our water bill runs either $20 or $30 per month, so the potential savings (other than environmental) is, shall we say, neglible.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We don’t prewash and it turns out great. We also have a relatively new dishwasher (the highest rated on consumer reports that we could afford– so a Kenmore rather than a Bosch).

      If you really want to save water on pans– cast iron skillet– those get washed with paper towels and salt. Of course, it takes water and energy to manufacture paper towels and salt so who knows what that environmental cost is.

      Our lawn bill is what really drinks up the water. In the winter our usage is comparatively negligible.

      • bogart Says:

        Ours is a Kitchenaid but our dishwasher is otherwise the same as yours, and actually it does reasonably well, though of late I’ve gotten frustrated (I may be being truly derelict).

        I’ve never been able fully to get my head around the iron skillet thing though I have owned and used them. Seems … dirty. I know, I know!

        We have no lawn. A yard, but no lawn. We are trying square-foot gardening and using some water for that (and almost certainly more as the summer goes on); will see if it affects things (but it’s <16sqft, so can't be too bad I don't think. And if it results in good tomatoes will be worth it).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        If it weren’t for a powerful HOA, we would have no lawn.

  6. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    You guys seriously posted about how to wash dishes. How about pizza and ice cream, instead?

  7. Liz Says:

    After growing up in a house with a dishwasher and a double sink, I clearly got spoiled. Now, in my apartment with a single sink and no dishwasher, I do sometimes base my cooking decisions around how few dishes will be dirtied. To be honest, dish washing is not something where I worry about my environmental impact from water usage. I take quick showers, don’t have a lawn, and have a high efficiency toilet, so I figure I’m doing ok on the whole (and water costs are included in my rent so there is no monetary incentive there)

  8. mareserinitatis Says:

    Scrape dishes thoroughly. Put a very small amount of soapy water on one side of sink and throw silverware. Rinse over side with soapy water with super hot water to increase volume of water in washing side. Next do glasses. Do plates. Finally do pots and pans. If no kids are available for slave labor…erm…drying, let drip dry in sink.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Btw… I could totally do one of these posts on the most space, drying, and clothespin efficient way to hang clothing on a clothesline too (in short: alternated long and short clothing, use same clothespin for clothes next to each other, put socks in between pants legs)… but that’s another thing as an adult I do not have to do. Along with keeping the a/c off in the summer and the heat off in the winter even though my room was over the garage. I channel Scarlett O’Hara when I proclaim, “I will never be at an uncomfortable temperature again!” (And that is why I make the big bucks.)

      I try to keep my environmental footprint smaller in other, less unpleasant and less time-consuming, ways.

      • mareserinitatis Says:

        I really hate clotheslines. They aren’t designed for short people. That’s why I bought drying racks. :-)

        I spent two years driving every weekend between Fargo and Minneapolis. That’s a Paul Bunyan-sized environmental footprint, so I have excess guilt and try to make up for it every way I can.

      • mareserinitatis Says:

        And, incidentally, I have a dishwasher that I use for 90% of my dishes now. It’s actually better on water usage as long as you don’t rinse the dishes first. :-)

  9. rented life Says:

    Now I use a dishwasher…but for 7 years at our last house I handwashed. (love having a dishwasher, especially when company is over!). I wash how my mom did: water running. (Your dad would freak.) But I have also trained myself over the years to wash dishes in as little time possible–I play a little “game” with myself of needing to finish cleaning the kitchen in X minutes (depends on how bad it is). Weird, yes, but it works. I can clean a really bad kitchen in under 10 and it looks fantastic. My MIL however doesn’t always have water running during dishwashing, re-using water per your post, but she doesn’t use much soap (like things are still greasy) and doesn’t always bother with hot water. So gross.

  10. Anandi Raman Creath (@anandi) Says:

    I don’t wash dishes by hand if dishwasher is broken. We went out and bought a new dishwasher the night ours died and it was delivered a day or two later. Handwashing clothes and dishes is something I don’t do. Except for the occasional nonstick pot, or our good knives. But nothing that involves a whole sink full of things :)

  11. Cloud Says:

    Hmmm. Whenever I’ve been without a dishwasher, I’ve also been without a double sink. So, our routine was: scrap off stuff, rinse off stuff, half fill sink with soapy water, wash dishes, rinse as completed, and stack in drainer to dry. Or, pre-kids, the one not washing would stans there drying and we’d talk. Ah, we had so much time then. Funny how we didn’t realize that.

    Now we have a fancy schmancy Bose dishwasher that is super water and energy efficient and unbelievably quiet. I actually posted about how much I love that thing back when we first got it. I’m too lazy to go find that post. But I still love the dishwasher.

  12. addvodka Says:

    That.. is VERY detailed. And impressive! I definitely don’t wash the dishes the frugal way, I’m always trying to do it as fast as possible so as to get back to watching trash tv.

  13. Leah Says:

    I wrote a comment, but it got lost. I think all my comments are getting lost. I just wanted to say that I do the same as you, usually, but I start with my cleanest thing first. That way, I don’t have a greasy sponge. It does make the stacking more interesting on the other side, but I work it out.

  14. Louise Says:

    oh gosh thats way to complex for me! we don’t use a dishwasher. Just fill the sink with hot soapy water, wash the dishes and put them in the drainer. I use the KISS principle :)

  15. Helio Says:

    ??? Too complicated. You need a double sink for this process:

    1. Scrape the dishes as clean as possible over the garbage can.
    2. Drain any grease from pans (e.g., bacon grease) into a throwaway container. With a paper towel, wipe as much of the remaining grease off the pan as possible,
    3. Stack the dirty dishes on the counter nearest the sink in which you will wash.
    4. Put on a pair of rubber gloves. Get out the clean sponge or dishrag.
    5. Place a dishrack atop a plastic/rubber dish drainer on the counter next to the sink in which you will rinse dishes, in such a way that water will run off the drainer into the sink.
    6. Fill a pot or teakettle with water and place over high heat on the stove, so that the water will come to a boil while you’re working on the dishes..
    5. Squirt one squirt of dish detergent into one of your sinks. Fill the sink with the hottest water you can get out of your tap.
    6. Fill the other sink with cold water.
    7. Wash each item, one piece at a time, in this order:
    a. Glasses
    b. Silverware
    c. Nongreasy plates and pans
    d. Greasy plates
    e. Frying pans and any other pots with a greasy film.
    6. As each item is washed, place it in the sinkful of cold water. After several pieces have accumulated in this sink, lift them out and place them in the dish rack so that water will drain off them.
    7. When all the dishes are stacked in the rack, take the boiling water from the stove and CAREFULLY pour it over the clean dishes by way of sanitizing them. Do not do this to your fine crystal and china, of course.

    If you have a lot of dishes, you may have to wipe dishes dry rather than, as more sanitary, allowing them to air-dry. Use a clean towel. Do not use the towel that people wipe their hands on.

    You also may have to drain and refill one or both of the sinks, depending on the number of dishes you’re coping with.

    I. hate. washing. dishes. by. hand. This is the most time-efficient and least germy method I’ve been able to come up with.

    • Canadian Doomer (@CanadianDoomer) Says:

      Helio’s method is almost exactly how my mother taught us to wash dishes, except that both sinks were filled with water almost too hot to handle. If you were washing, your hands were red at the end! Dipping dishes into very hot water after they’re washed rinses them and makes sure they dry quickly. And since the rinse sink had hot water, we didn’t pour boiling water over anything. I don’t think Mom was *that* worried about germs.

      Running/trickling water was never allowed. The water was emptied and refilled when it was dirty and/or cooled off.

      I’ve only had a dishwasher for short periods of my life. Definitely not something I grew up taking for granted.

  16. oilandgarlic Says:

    Late to the conversation but like Cloud, I also wrote and “ode to my dishwasher”. It’s 10 years old and somehow functioning. I love my dishwasher..

  17. Carnival of Personal Finance #361 Says:

    [...] Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured: How to wash dishes: Beyond Frugality [...]

  18. Barb Says:

    I spent a total of twelve years in germany with no dishwasher (as a teenager in a family of four kids and as an adult. Sometimes with only one sink. Unless its for a few people, (we are now three): Get at least one extra dishpan and put the stuff that needs to soak in that. Use an extremely large drying rack with a plastic “pan” underneath and a sprayer thing to rinse. Wash all items and put em in the rack, then rinse all at once (the glasses start upright and get held over.

  19. taylor Says:

    I fill any fillable dishes with hot water first to soak. Then I put a small amount of hot water in the sink and use a scrubbing brush to scrub all the food particles from the dishes and cutlery, including anything that was soaking. I then drain this water and refill the sink with hot soapy water.
    I wash glasses first, then plates, cutlery and lastly pots and pans. Because I have already scrubbed all food particles away there is no gunk in the water. When everything is washed, I use the cloth to wipe down my benches. This is the best and most efficient method for me :)

  20. Marcia Holiday (@TheHolidayWay) Says:

    I recently moved in with my mother and we are in a tiff over how best to wash dishes. Her dishwasher is not working, so we wash by hand. I’m used to taking a clean sponge, putting fresh detergent on it and under running water, wash each dish, rinse and place in a dish rack to dry. She however fills the sink with hot water, detergent, washes every dish in that water, rinses under running warm water and place in the rack to dry. She insists that my way is not properly sanitizing the dishes, I insist that my way is more sanitary because none of my dishes end up in soiled water as hers do, as those that are washed last. I understand that probably the majority wash dishes as she does, but is my way not sanitary is our question…I’ll give in to her way if my way is not a good way to wash dishes.

    Thanks for your help
    MarciaM.


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