How to clean dishes using very little unheated water, and without requiring a rinse?
January 18, 2011 10:10 AM   Subscribe

How to clean dishes using very little water, and without requiring a rinse?. The less water the better. And even better would be if the water is not heated beyond say.. room temp. Suggestions?

How to clean dishes using very little water, and without requiring a rinse?. The less water the better. And even better would be if the water is not heated beyond say.. room temp. Suggestions?

For some context: I live in my 18wheeler. I do carry some water, but I try to keep the weight down on my truck; and so I don't have lots of water on hand. I also don't *always have a means to heat the water. (This may be due to time or other factors, I won't get into why.. just take it as a condition to contend with.)

I clean myself some days with a "rinseless" soap. It requires some water for dilution, but you don't have to rinse anything off when you're done. I assume I could manage something similar with my dishes, cutlery, etc.

I have tried putting some household salt in a dishpan with some room-temp water. That seems to help remove "gunk" from the dishes. Then I just wipe them down with paper towels. They Look clean.... are they ok to use? Is there something wrong about not rinsing the salt water off? Are these dishes unhealthy? (Its safe to assume I won't be sharing these dishes with others.)

Is there other things I could do to improve things? I've heard of others also using baking soda, bleach, vinegar... What are the benefits and disadvantages of each? What is each best for? Should I combine a few of these ingredients together, or apply them in different stages? Will I always need to have a plain water rinse before drying?

The more scientific explanations, of WHY or HOW each ingredient or step is important would be much appreciated! (I prefer to understand things and not just have an answer.)

Thanks for any help!
posted by herox to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just to clarify: are we talking about food-preparation and food-cooking dishes here, or just the plate and silverware you use to eat with?
posted by Bardolph at 10:21 AM on January 18, 2011

If you can get ahold of some British dish soap, you won't have to rinse it off your dishes (see the discussion in this thread).
posted by Gordafarin at 10:44 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think people who live in the desert use sand. This option would be usable only if you're driving through an area with a desert landscape or are at a beach.
posted by Paquda at 10:49 AM on January 18, 2011

Keep a bucketful of water and dishwasher detergent with a grit guard, and use the little water to do a quick rinse. You can reuse the soap mixture for a while before having to change it out.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:52 AM on January 18, 2011

Assuming we're just talking about your single plate and silverware here, not salmonella-covered cutting boards and casseroles with baked-on sauce... have you considered just licking the plate when you're done? Your tongue is actually a pretty efficient scrubber, and you could use the water you've saved in cleaning to give them a proper sanitizing wipe-down afterwards with a wet, soapy dishrag.
posted by Bardolph at 10:53 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Desert camping trick: Use a spray bottle or one of those small garden sprayers to minimize water usage.
posted by donovan at 10:54 AM on January 18, 2011

When backpacking I just scrub the dishes clean with a green scrubby pad and wipe with a bandanna. Maybe a tablespoon of water per dish is all you need, if any. This is assuming these are your personal dishes, they're not coming into contact with any raw meat, and you're not serving food to others.

In winter I'll just scrub 'em with a handful of snow and call it a day.

Mugs I'll just swish a little water around in them if they don't need to be scrubbed.
posted by bondcliff at 11:02 AM on January 18, 2011

I think castile soap may do the trick. I use it for body and dishes when camping.
posted by rabidsegue at 11:42 AM on January 18, 2011

Read this about British dish washing customs. You really should rinse if you use dish soap.

As for a low water situation, how about a wet wipe, the kind you use on your hands? I have used them to clean utensils and cups. You would want to scrape any food residue off first.
posted by fifilaru at 11:44 AM on January 18, 2011

Response by poster: Hi, ok, yes these dishes would at times also be used in the business of food prep -- cutting board and knife mainly, so I am interested in knowing how to handle that. Good to know I may only need an extra step when handling raw meats and maybe egg/shells too.

I do enjoy licking sharp knives while sporting an evil grin, but I was more willing to do that when my home had a foundation. In the truck, someone could bump me and I might lose my precious tongue.

fifilaru: yes, I'd prefer not to use dish soap (the sudsy, Dawn type), due to the ned to rinse that stuff off.. (although, I do keep some around.. its handy for other things) I'll take a look at those British dish washing customs later tonight, thanks.
posted by herox at 12:17 PM on January 18, 2011

I'm not in your situation, but my formative years were spent in California during (one of) the infamous droughts, so I have deeply ingrained habits from my parents about not wasting water; in other words, I know where you're coming from. The trick with dish washing is to keep anything "contaminated" with raw meat, eggs, or any other thing that can cause food poisoning (unrinsed salad, green onions, or any other produce or edibles that may have come in contact with bacterial, viral, or fecal matter along its journey to your tabletop) away from your actual eating plates and utensils. This will minimize your risk to diseases like trichinosis, e coli, listeria, salmonella, etc.

In your particular situation, you may want to try using specific plates, or cutting board and utensils for handling your raw meats and completely different plates for your actual eating. Most of these diseases can be eliminated by cooking at high temperatures, so if you're diligent about keeping them separate, you'll only have to use (hot) water on the ones that were exposed to possible contaminants.

Your current method of salt and water washing your dishes should be okay to use unless they've had raw meat or other contaminants on them; if they've been used for cutting raw meat and stuff, you'd be much better off familiarizing yourself with different methods of sterilization and choosing which one will work best for you in your particular circumstance.

Good luck!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 12:30 PM on January 18, 2011

I've found that pressure sprayers work really well. At my camp at a Burning Man-like event, our camp kitchen was set up with one sprayer filled with soapy water, another with rinse water. Scrape plate, spray with soapy water, scrub, spray with rinse water. Done. These pressure sprayers produce a very fine mist that seems to be the key this system's effectiveness.

We used regular dish soap for this. Before we came up with this system we had tried to be as parsimonious with water as possible (because we need to pack in all the water we're going to use for 5 days), but even so, this method used vastly less water (I'm guessing about 10% as much) and still produced clean dishes.

The really obsessively clean thing to do would be to have a third sanitizing rinse stage (with very very dilute bleach).
posted by adamrice at 12:33 PM on January 18, 2011

Zen monks doing their meal ritual, oryoki, clean their (eating, not prep) bowls with hot tea and a pickle (usually a pickled radish, but a pickled cucumber works too). Of course they then eat the pickle and drink the dirty tea but that's not required if it puts you off, but it makes it very low-waste.

Having done this, my bowl was still very clean by the end of a 7-day retreat.
posted by mendel at 12:35 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Came in here to tell you what Gordafarin said - when I lived in NZ, we didn't rinse either!

That said, you want to sanitize cutting boards and the like after you scrub them and apply a quick rinse... so sanitize by putting a splash of bleach into a spray bottle with water and spritz down surfaces.

By the time the water/bleach evaporates, the germs are dead. Restaurants do this all the time. Make sure you use an appropriate-type spray bottle, not all plastics are food grade or safe to use with bleach.
posted by jbenben at 1:15 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

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