What is the best wash/rinse method?
January 13, 2012 7:09 AM   Subscribe

What is the best method for washing dishes in a single sink?

My wife and I just moved in to a wonderful new apartment. The only slight downside that I can see is the fact that the kitchen only has a single sink. It has been many years since I have had a kitchen without a double sink. I am interested in the best method for washing dishes in a single sink.
posted by vansly to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
We use a brush with a scrubber (and soap) attached and scrub the dish, and immediately rinse it with the running water. We don't fill the sink up with water anymore - mostly because we have a wide sink with an elevated part to dry the dishes on.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:11 AM on January 13, 2012

I keep the faucet running with a low scream, then scrub/soap and rinse every dish as they come. It is certainly not the most efficient use of water, but it reduces the clattering and stacking of soapy dishes.
posted by Think_Long at 7:13 AM on January 13, 2012

Best answer: If the single sink is wide, you can simulate a double sink with two big containers of water.
posted by Night_owl at 7:14 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

For years, I used one of these drain boards with a dish rack on top, right next to the sink.

Fill sink with soap and water, wash stuff and place in rack. I would run the tap for a second or two for each item to rinse soap off, though I often only bothered with certain things, like glasses, and would skip it if I had someone immediately drying them off.
posted by utsutsu at 7:17 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

If they are not very dirty, I first wipe/scrub them down with one of those palm scubbers with soap dispensers, stacking them back down in the same sink, then rinse them all, then either hanging them or putting them in a drying rack immediately. This works best if you only have like 2 forks, 2 plates and a glass and you do it as soon as you are done.

If they need any extra attention at all. I scrape off anything big, then let the whole pile soak in warm water for a bit. Then I drain the sink and set the whole mess on a towel beside the sink, then wipe/scrub/stack the whole lot, then rinse them all.
posted by stormygrey at 7:18 AM on January 13, 2012

I use one of the pots/bowls I'm going to wash as either the soapy water or clean water basin, and the sink is the other one. Bigger dishes will get rinsed by the tap into the clean water section, but the smaller things can just get rinsed in the clean water I've already got in the sink.
posted by lizbunny at 7:25 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I use a washing up bowl in the sink. Wash stuff in the bowl, rinse with hot water to the side, place somewhere to dry (drying rack, dishwasher).
posted by carter at 7:25 AM on January 13, 2012

Also, ideally, a draining board has to be inclined to allow run-off. I don't know why built in inclined draining boards are not a common feature in US kitchens.
posted by carter at 7:26 AM on January 13, 2012

Best answer: So, you want some dishwashing tips? I have some dishwashing tips for ya. I do all this in a single sink.

My tools

Notice how there are no gloves. I didn't use them tonight, but I do have them. They are elsewhere. I have a huge bottle of dishwashing liquid. Yours might be smaller (with a bigger inferiority complex), which is fine. And powdered bleach. This is for cleaning the sink and the occasional very moldy leftover container that was evicted from the back of the refrigerator.

My tools, up close

The tools. The small round brush is for the actual cleaning. It has a container that hold soap, and the soap can be ejected into the brush portion by pushing on the top. I use this brush ONLY on superficially "clean" dishes. Note how clean it looks compared to the larger brush.

That brush formerly functioned as the small brush does, but it is broken. That's how it became the "gunk brush". Aptly named, I use this brush to clean off the gunk from pots/pans/bakeware before washing them, and I also use it to get the food off dishes before putting it in the dishwasher. No soap for this brush. Pre-cleaning only.

The road neon green scrub sponge was invented by the most perfect human on Earth. It is useful for so many things (you should also be cleaning your bath tub with a sponge like this), and although I am calling it a sponge because I am dumb, it doesn't actually absorb water. It's more intense than the gunk brush. You would use this on any stuck on gunk that the brush can't handle. It can has soap, because anything the gunk brush can't get off will probably need soap to help with its removal.

The copper scrubber is for stainless steel ONLY. Do not use it on dishes, ceramic, plastic, non-stick pans, or any other soft, delicate surface, even glass. It will pwn those surfaces real hard, and you will be sad. Pots love this brush, and so does your sink. Use it before the round cleaner brush on pots, and in conjunction with the powdered bleach to clean the sink.

The white brush is for glasses. As well as all of my other tools, it does not absorb water. It looks like it does, doesn't it? It doesn't. I swear! This one should be used with soap. I use it primarily for fancy wine glasses that can't go in the dishwasher, but it functions well on regular glasses, too. It's much firmer than most glass brushes I've used, and the fact that it doesn't absorb water (I SWEAR) make me happy.

Sponges and brushes that absorb water are disgusting. Throw them away. Go do it now. Right now. They have so much bacteria in them, they take FOREVER to dry, and last 1% of the time a nice bristle brush will. And you need to MANUALLY pour soap into them, which is a huge waste of soap, AMIRITE? You know you are always putting way too much soap on that sponge! GAAH! Have you ever LOOKED at a sponge in the eye? NO. NEVER.

Some other things that have helped me:

- Don't dry the dishes with your hands and a towel unless you absolutely have to. It's stupid and lame and more water + towel on clean dishes and bacteria and ew ew ew. Just put them on the rack and walk away.

- Get an extra dish-drying rack, preferably one of the collapsable wooden ones that Ikea sells. Yes, you do have room for it and it will save your sanity if you ever have more dishes than can fit in your one dish rack. It's bad enough you had to psych yourself up to do the dishes the first time, but to stop mid-way to dry the dishes or wait for them to dry? That's awful, because know you are going to hate that second batch much more than the first.

- Take a little of the powdered bleach and the cooper scrubbie or gunk brush (with the gloves on!) and scrub away any gunk left in the sink after each dishwashing. I know it's a pain, but it will make the area less gross looking and smelling, and you'll be much happier the next time you go to wash dishes. Also clean up any water that has accumulated around the sink from doing dishes. You don't want to be cooking or grabbing a bowl of ice cream afterward and end up plopping your spoon/bowl down on the gross wet countertop. Yuuuuck.

- Soak things! Don't just put your cereal bowl in or around the sink and let it SIT THERE. That would get you murder eyes in my house, because cleaning up dried milk is gross. Same goes for pretty much any other food, and it also takes more time to scrub the crap off. Pots especially are helpful to soak.

This got pretty epic, sorry. I worded it as "you are doing this", but obviously you should tailor it to your needs. Hope this helps!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:27 AM on January 13, 2012 [45 favorites]

I'm pretty much an adherent to ThinkLong's method. The idea of washing all dishes in a big communal sink of soapy water grosses me out no end--I can't imagine that anything could actually get clean that way--so all my dishes have to get washed/rinsed in their own personal stream of water.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:34 AM on January 13, 2012

Yup, I understand the concern about not wanting to waste water, but the way I think of it, all of the soapy and clean water that is falling on the dishes remaining in the sink is affecting them to some degree and therefore as you progress, each dish takes exponentially less (that is the wrong mathematical term, apologies, I am on Sudafed) time to clean. If nothing is too gross then sometimes I run water over everything, turn off the water, soap and scrub everything and then rinse each item individually. Basins are also an option.
posted by Polyhymnia at 7:53 AM on January 13, 2012

The way to wash dishes in a single sink is frequently. Depending on the size of your sink, you may have space for a small container of water. I've never had a dishwasher and am a fan of sink-washing dishes. My method is a little different from tlats' in that I have fewer tools and just want to get things done. So, an alternate approach.

My tools
- folding dish drainer with an inclined drainboard that drains into the sink, goes on counter
- regular old sponge with a scrubby side [I am not afraid of bacteria]
- more serious scrubbit with no soap for cast iron pans
- soap, maybe cleanser

My process
- all dishes go in the sink when they need washing and anything that needs to soak gets full of water when it goes into the sink, if the sink is full it's time to do dishes. Otherwise I do them all once a day and it takes less than 15 minutes, usually five. Put silverware in a glass of water to soak.
- run hot water, soap up sponge, start with silverware and scrub and rinse each thing one at a time. Start with bigger items and work down to smaller items [exception: silverware that isn't really dirty can be done first and can declutter the sink really quickly]. Breakables and treasured items can dry on the counter not in the dish drainer. Shake items off before you put them in the dish drainer otherwise over time it can fill with slime if it's not draining right.
- scrub pots and pans and leave on the oven to dry if it's nearby, don't fill up the dish drainer with them.
- when you are done, do a once-over cleaning out the sink and the drain strainer thing if you have one. You can do a once-over scrub with cleanser to keep it smelling fresh. Wipe all rogue liquids off of the countertop. Leave sponge to dry in the dish drainer. Empty dish drainer at some later point, don't just use it as the place to store dishes.
- Over time you can sort of figure out where your sweet spot is in terms of keeping things balanced in the dish drainer and also how full the sink can get before you really need to do the dishes. If you're feeling companionable you can just do the "I wash you dry and put away" thing which means no dishes standing out drying and then you can fold up the dish drainer and put it away someplace.
posted by jessamyn at 8:05 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I fill the sink with super hot soapy water and run the tap to rinse as I go.

Process is really important.

Certain things need to be soaked or washed promptly. Pots should be filled with water to wait to be washed or just washed promptly after putting the food on dishes or in tupperware.

Start with glassware - it will be next to impossible to properly clean a glass in water that has cleaned a dirty pot.

Next is silverware - Less dirty than the rest of the dishes and uses a different place in the dry rack. Glassware will mostly dry as you do the cutlery, especially if you use super hot water. (gloves help with this)

Now I need to take a break, take off my gloves and dry the cups. This makes room for the rest of the dishes on the rack.

Last is dishes, then pots and pans.

I also agree that the more often you do this often to make it manageable.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:26 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I forgot to add - in my house growing up, doing dishes was really cleaning the kitchen. As the sink fills, you should be gathering dishes, and wiping down counters and stove. If you are splitting the duties, the drier is also responsible for sweeping the floor. Don't sweep the floor until you are done wiping down the counters, bc you'll just knock more dirt on the floor.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the optimal thing to do would be to have a tub of soapy water that sits on the counter (as needed) so as to simulate the double sink method.

However, living in New York no kitchen ever seems to have adequate counter space for the task, so I waste water by just washing everything individually under the faucet.
posted by Sara C. at 10:23 AM on January 13, 2012

My wife (and me, less often) uses just one plastic tub inside the sink. We have a very small house and kitchen, and my wife can't stand dirty dishes, so she washes dishes probably three times a day. You can put the dirty dishes next to the tub while you wash them in the soapy water in the tub. Voila.
posted by resurrexit at 10:24 AM on January 13, 2012

- regular old sponge with a scrubby side [I am not afraid of bacteria]

I am somewhat afraid of bacteria, but I use one of these, too, and it certainly does become a bit of a Petri dish over a few weeks, yet I have never been able to find one that doesn't come out of the wrapper impregnated with biocides of some kind, though I've also never seen that specified on any package.

However, there does tend to be a tell: "Not for use on aquariums."
posted by jamjam at 10:42 AM on January 13, 2012

I leave the tools up to you, let's discuss water usage and process.

All the dirty dishes are in the sink. Anything crazy dirty is already filled with water, since I did that the moment I put it in there.

So, to begin, I don't fill the sink. I just run the water until it is hot, then soak the sponge with the hot water and soap it up a bit. Then I turn the water off. Note: I keep the soap pretty watered down, to avoid waste. It's easier to regulate how much soap you are using when it is dilute.

Ok, I have a hot soapy sponge, and there is a little bit of water is on some of the top dishes now. I soapy scrub about two or three items, leaving them under the faucet once sufficiently scrubbed (water is still off). Then I rinse them one at a time with hot water, allowing the excess water to pre-rinse the other already-scrubbed dishes below. Every time I am done a dish, I stop the water to put the dish in the rack. Expert level users may be able to quickly rinse three mugs in a row without turning the water off. Notice that during the rinsing phase, warm water gets splashed onto other items, making it easier to scrub when it is their turn.

Repeat until finished. Allow to air dry.

I think (although cannot prove) that is the most efficient water usage for washing dishes, since you are only using rinse-water plus a little extra. I suspect it uses less hot water, and less water period than two-full-sink method.
posted by molecicco at 10:46 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

My method when I was cursed with a single sink--which truly sucks--was to fill the sink with soapy water, wash all the dishes, stack them in the rack soapy, then when I was done, empty the sink and put the dish rack IN the sink and rinse them all at once. For this you obviously need a dish rack that fits in your sink. One of those spray gun thingers also helps. I have this one, although my real life isn't nearly as well art directed as these photos are.
posted by looli at 10:57 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Great googly moogly! I grew up with a double sink; however, many of you seem to have knowledge of a "standard" way of doing dishes in a double sink that is much different from mine. I blame my parents, but it's not their fault since they're not from the US.

Anyway, my wife and I are in a place that has a single sink. My one tool of choice is also a regular sponge with a scrubby side.

I first take ALL of the dishes out of the sink and put them on the counter next to the sink. I then put the dishes back in the sink based on their stackability and size. (Don't get me started on how annoyed I get when my wife uses a square plate that doesn't stack.) Large plates go in first, then small plates on top of them, and then bowls nest inside each other on top of all of the plates. Yes, this order matters. I'll squirt some dish soap in the most nested bowl and then run hot water in it, making a soapy-water fountain in which the soapy water cascades all over and in-between the dishes.

As that happens, I'll choose one of the larger dirty items to fill with soapy water to throw in all of the silverware to soak. All other pots, pans, casseroles, etc, will be filled with soapy water as well. I'll also stack glassware if it's possible (we don't have a lot of counter space).

After a good soak, I'll start scrubbing the dishes - bowls first, then small plates, then large plates. It'll make an upside-down pyramid of sorts. It doesn't work out perfectly all the time, but you get the idea. The important thing is that large plates are available to be rinsed off first so that they can "stack" in the dish drain. Then it's rinse time - large plates, small plates, then bowls.

I'll then attack the silverware. I'll take them out one-by-one from their soaking vessel to scrub, then toss in the (now empty) sink. Sharp knives, mixing spoons, other utensils first, then regular ol' spoons/forks/knives. They'll all get rinsed in that order as well.

Glasses come next. I'll unstack them and then put them in the sink in rows. A drop of soap goes into each one and then they get filled half-way with water. They get a good scrubbing inside and out, mostly using the water that is in the glass. After I'm done with each glass I dump out all of the water so that I know I've cleaned it. The glasses all get rinsed and then put into the dish drain.

Lastly are those items that don't fit nicely into the dish drain. Pots, pans, cutting boards, cookie sheets, casseroles, etc. They get cleaned in order of stackability/nestability. After rinsing, flatter items will be put in the dish drain in the long-wise position, leaned up against the dishes. Items that are nestable will be stacked on top of the dishes perpendicularly. This is often turns into a game of reverse Jenga in which I use the physical characteristics of each item, the wall next to the dish drain, and a makeshift wall of silverware to make sure that everything stays put.

When I'm all done, the sink gets scrubbed and rinsed, then the sponge gets squeezed.

Good luck in finding your own way!
posted by photovox at 2:01 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

We do dishes as we dirty them. We've never had the luxury of a double sink!

That said, here's how it we do it:

Tools: Pump dispenser of dishwashing liquid, baking soda, dishrag, dish drainer.

Process: Dirty dishes are put in the sink as dirtied after each meal, and washed when the meal is over. Largest item may serve as a soapy water-filled receptacle for smaller items. Items are washed inside and out, top and bottom, with the soapy dishrag and rinsed under a continuous low stream of water, then placed in the drainer. Soap on dishrag is replenished as needed.

Items requiring scouring get soaked and hit with a good scrubbing using baking soda, maybe using a rind from half a juiced lemon. (We don't cook meat or cheesy things, so we don't need much elbow grease beyond that. YMMV.)

At the end of the day, the dishrag and damp dish towel (the latter being used only for hands) is hung on a hook near the closet to dry before being tossed in the laundry hamper, and a fresh rag is hung on the faucet (and a fresh towel on the rack).

The only things that might not get washed immediately are water glasses.
posted by metarkest at 2:12 PM on January 13, 2012

The hazard to filling your sink with soapy water and scrubbing all the dishes together is, in a word: impalement. One broken glass, one wrong-pointing steak knife, and you've got yourself a trip to the ER for stitches.

I don't recommend it.

I am a fan of hand-knit dishcloths. I knit them myself out of cotton yarn. You don't seem to be able to buy these in stores, which is a pity. I have about 20, and I use a fresh one every day.

I'm also an efficiency nut. I have actually clocked the various factors, and determined that this method is the most efficient:

1. Sort dishes (if only mentally) into shapes. I stack all the plates together, all the bowls, all the glasses. I may set them on the counter briefly if I need to clear working room.

Because of my dish drainer configuration, I wash plates first, then bowls, then glasses, and finally silverware.

2. Squirt soap on dishcloth (or sponge), give it a good splash of water. Do a quick rinse of the working stack (e.g. all the plates). Turn tap off.

3. Soap up the working stack. As you soap each dish, spill a bit of the soap froth onto the next one to get it prepped.

4. Set the next stack in the sink. As you rinse off your working stack, let the rinse water pour onto the next stack. This gets them pre-warmed and pre-soaped.

5. I usually set aside the biggest bowl or Tupperware container for silverware. I soap up each item, then set it in the bowl. Then I rinse them all at once.

By this method I can wash an entire sink of dishes in about 10 minutes. It also uses far less water than other methods, because for the most part, the tap is off.
posted by ErikaB at 4:26 PM on January 13, 2012

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