Best way to wash dishes by hand?
October 30, 2012 10:37 AM   Subscribe

What's the best method for washing dishes by hand? Tips, tricks and product suggestions for the dishwashing process using a double sink (and no dishwasher in sight).

I have a suspicion that there is a more efficient way of washing dishes than I currently do it. I've seen this question but I have a double-sink and the question was specific to single, so the answers don't really seem to apply to my situation.

My current method:
Generally the dishes will be soaking in one side of the sink in hot soapy water, then I'll scrub each dish with a soap-dispensing brush and put them in the other, empty side of the sink, doing them in order of how they'll stack in the dish rack. I'll rinse after my pile of scrubbed dishes gets unwieldy and stack in this fancy dishrack here (I have a drying mat if there's overflow), then move on to the rest of the dishes in same way based on what stacks where in the dish rack. I don't rinse each and every item and leave the water running because it seems wasteful, hence why I do them in batches (I do rinse the brush frequently). I have a bottle brush and a sponge with an abrasive side, and I use baking soda on my pots and pans to remove gunk. I dry big items like my pots/pans and all knives right away with a microfiber towel instead of taking up space on the dish rack. I also scrub the sink out with baking soda and soap at least once a day so it stays relatively clean.

Other background info, we cook a lot so we end up with a lot of dirty dishes despite our best efforts; we've limited the amount of dishes we own to prevent our lazy selves from the temptation to not wash anything until the cupboards are empty and we do re-use glasses for awhile before declaring them ready to be washed. We're great at soaking dishes so nothing gets dried on. A dishwasher isn't an option for us.

I'm not looking for pre-dishwashing tips, but tips from folks who wash lots of dishes by hands on what the fastest methods are and tools you like. Maybe there isn't a better method than what I've got, but since I dread this task I hope there is!
posted by thesocietyfor to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Does the dish rack fit in the 2nd sink? If so, put the clean dishes in the dishrack and rinse there, which is easier if you have a hose attachment.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:41 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've always washed and rinsed under running water. You know, not wanting to get pot grease on my glasses.

My mom was a stickler for drying and putting away so one person uses a sponge and washes the dish under running hot water. Then hands it to the person with a schmatte who dries and puts away.

Then you sweep the floor.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:45 AM on October 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

I like a dedicated pan or bowl (the largest in the current to-be-washed collection) filled with warm soapy water, and washing with the scrubby side of a yellow sponge, then rinsing them in the same sink, away from the bowl of soapy water*, and then resting them in sink #2 to dry, piled onto a washcloth to cushion them somewhat.

I do this because I find the sink filled with increasingly dirty/greasy water to be kind of gross, and if you actually do the rinsing in sink #2 it carries water over into the drying rack, and drying rack water is a sure path to grossness. So I wash and rinse in one sink, then dry in the other.

*Soapy water bowl rests in right side sink, right hand corner closest to me. Rinsing area is diagonally positioned under the faucet -- upper left side corner.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:00 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use dish cloths (something like this -- basically knit/crochet) for everything but pots and pans. Save the scrubby soap-dispensing thing for the pots and pans that need more scrubbing.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:03 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here is how I do it. I put dirty dishes in the left side with the disposal which also is the side that has the drying rack. I fill bowls and pots with water if they have stuff that might crust on, but I don't really soak dishes. Basically I pre-rinse dishes immediately after use and wash the dishes soon after meals so they don't have time to get too crusty.

The right side gets soapy water and I use a soapy sponge. You should wash cleanest dishes to dirtiest, so usually that is glasses -> bowls/plates -> silverware/utensils -> pots/pans. I rinse and wash with running water while the right side of the sink is filling with soapy water and place the washed and rinsed dishes directly into the drying rack. When the right side is full enough, I switch over to rinsing on the left side. It isn't difficult to wash a dish, turn water on to rinse, turn water off, set clean dish in drying rack.

This will at least save you the step of piling dishes into one side of the sink, piling them into the second side to rinse and then finally piling them all into the drainer to dry.
posted by ephemerista at 11:05 AM on October 30, 2012

The only thing I did when I didn't have a dishwasher to make it easier was to get in the habit of washing the dishes every. Single. Day. Making it a habit after dinner meant it was a 15 minute chore instead of an hour and a half. Also I always rinse off pots and pans as soon as they're cool enough to touch so they don't need to be soaked.
posted by girih knot at 11:07 AM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have been living without a dishwasher for the last six years or so. Although I have a double sink, yours is basically the method I use. Batch processing, basically.

You don't specify, but one thing I do is, as I'm rinsing one dish, I make sure the rinse water is splashing on the next thing to be rinsed. I rinse in batches, leaving the water on, just rinsing one dish after the next. You get pretty good at rinsing with one hand while stacking with the other, if everything is in arm's reach.

If it makes you feel any better, I truly don't believe that a dishwasher saves that much time. Given the amount of time you have to spend loading and unloading it, the fact that everything has to be rinsed pretty well to begin with, and so forth.

I also find that my perception of time is way off, when it comes to dishes. I will look at the sink and think, "That's going to take me forever! Half an hour at least! Okay - I'll only wash dishes for 10 minutes then I'll go do something else." I set the kitchen timer, and inevitably I finish washing all the dishes long before the timer rings.

Time yourself next time - you might be surprised how quickly it is really going!
posted by ErikaB at 11:21 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

The best hand-wash method -- from a food safety standpoint -- is something like this:

1. "Rough clean" everything: using a trickle of water and a sponge/scrubber, get the visible food residue off of everything. If you need to scrub pots, do it at this stage. Stack all the rough-cleaned items up to one side of the sink. Now, you've gotten the dishes/pots 95% clean, and all you're worrying about in subsequent steps is getting rid of the residual grease and sanitizing the dishes.

2. Clean both sinks so that they are sanitary (e.g. using a sponge and cleanser).

3. Fill both sinks with hot water. In one sink, add dishwashing detergent; this is your "wash" sink. The other sink is your clear-water "rinse" sink.

4. Wash each rough-cleaned item in the "wash" sink, then drop into the "rinse" sink.

5. If the "rinse" sink fills up, stack rinsed item to the side.

6. Once all items are washed and rinsed, drain "wash" sink, rinse it to remove suds, and refill with hot water. When full, add one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to each gallon of water in the sink; this is your "sanitize" sink.

7. Dip each rinsed item into the "sanitize" sink, then put onto rack/mat to air dry.

This procedure minimizes your use of "running" water while keeping the "wash" water fairly clean, and -- via the second "sanitize" rinse and air-drying -- also minimizes the risk of spreading disease among diners. It's my go-to method for hand-wash jobs.
posted by Dimpy at 11:21 AM on October 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

This may sound like crazy-talk, but...

If you have a dishes-order-of-operations like ephemerista suggests, then filling the sink where you stack the dishes with clean water gives you rinse-water that's not running (so quicker). So you can wash, dunk to rinse, then stick the item on your drying rack in one move. You can add a bit of bleach to the rinse sink too, if you like things super-sanitary.

Um, on preview, this is basically a shortened version of Dimpy's system.
posted by Cracky at 11:23 AM on October 30, 2012

I put soap in the sink and run the water very slowly. As I wash each piece, I rinse it in the water stream and put it on the rack. If I have a large pot to wash, I wash smaller items in the pot and wash the pot last. As the sink slowly fills, I can wash larger and larger items. If I have pots to wash at the end, I'll speed the water up a bit to rinse them.

By the time I'm finished, the sink is usually 1/2 to 3/4 full. I can't do anything with the water in the sink once it's there (it's understandably filthy) but it gives me a good idea of how much water I've actually used.

Of course, this is the dishwashing equivalent of hypermiling.
posted by klanawa at 11:24 AM on October 30, 2012

My boyfriend does the two sink method Dimpy explained above and has mentioned how fast I wash dishes. I haven't told him my method yet, but I will tell you. I've been washing dishes by hand for almost 30 years (my parents started us young) and will now choose washing by hand to a dishwasher (I hate that squeaky feeling they get, plus you have to do so much pre-washing prep it's easier to just wash them already).

Tools: dish cloth, dish soap, plastic scrubber thingy (like an SOS pad but no soap), plastic flat scraper (for cast iron), rubber gloves (optional), bottle brush (optional)

Pre-pre-washing: After you use them, rinse out glasses and mugs that are going to sit around with liquids that stain or solidify (milk or coffee, for me).

Pre-washing: Put hot water and liquid dish soap in dirty pans and put aside to soak.

1. Turn on the hot water and only the hot water and get it really really hot (you may need gloves depending on how hot your water is).
2. With about an inch or two of water in the sink, put all the utensils, except cutting knives, in the sink.
3. Put the glasses and mugs in and turn off the water. Your sink will have a couple of inches of water in it but less than half full.
4. Wash all the glasses and mugs using the dish cloth but leave them in the hot soapy water.
5. Once they are all scrubbed (usually just wiped around the rim for lip prints, because you've already soaked them you're not going to have gross stuff in them - if there is, use a bottle brush), rinse them using hot water into the sink you already have half filled with hot soapy water (saving water! making sure it stays hot!).
6. The sink will now hopefully be about half full so you still have a little room for rinsing and dishes. Put all the bowls and plates in. If there isn't room, start with the bowls. Walk away for like 5 minutes. Drink some wine. Twiddle with the radio.
7. Go back to the sink, scrub all the dishes and keep them in the soapy water.
8. Rinse as many dishes as possible while filling up the soapy side.
9. If you run out of room, which you probably will, scrub in the soap side, rinse in your free sink.
10. Wash and rinse the cutting knives. Tip - use a cutting board in the water to brace the knives against and don't let the knives ever be fully submerged in the water (you'll be washing them one by one).
10. Move on to mixing bowls, non-greasy pots and pans, etc. (that have been soaking with soap and hot water all this time!), and finish with the greasiest stuff (bacon fat, etc.). Use scrubbby things as needed.

Utensils can be retrieved at any point and washed in the soapy water, and rinsed over the soapy water or in the free sink. I usually wait until after the plates and bowls unless there are too many utensils for things to sit flat in the sink.

Once the sink is drained, wash the cash iron (without soap) and dry on the stove (make sure you don't forget or you will set off the fire alarm, sorry neighbours).

Wipe down the counters and the stove.

posted by hydrobatidae at 11:57 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Plokent, that's basically my method, so I guess I'm not off by much!

In fact, I just did a load of dishes and you're right, ErikaB, it never takes as long as I think. (Yup, I do let the stuff being rinsed wash over the stuff underneath.)

I never end up with grease or food floating around in the stuff soaking—it's just for dishes that got a quick rinse or a quick scrub before I put them in until I can wash them. I'm not even sure what would be that greasy (we're infrequent meat eaters, maybe that's it?), but I don't like oil to harden on my pots/pans so they're attended to quickly if they're greasy. (Or I let them simmer with detergent on the stove if I've burned something on.) Sanitation wise, I wear gloves and use the hottest water possible.

Growing up we had a dishwasher and we put everything in it, and I've also had a dishwasher for the most part up until now so I kind of assumed there was some secret I was missing—a dozen answers in, I feel I've basically got it down already. It was probably wishful thinking on my part that there was some magical way to make dishwashing go faster! (At the very least, I'm at least twice as fast as my SO when washing dishes, maybe I'll mention this thread to her!) Thanks, everyone!
posted by thesocietyfor at 12:13 PM on October 30, 2012

Fill anything that might need to soak with hot soapy water and put to one side.
Run a 3/4s full of hot soapy water.
Run a second sink full of hot water only.
Wash the stuff in the soapy water rinse in the second sink put on a drainer to dry. If your rinse water is hot enough it will dry drain pretty much completely and only need a quick wipe with a teatowel before putting away if that. I am lazy and air dry until morning and put stuff away while my coffee is making.

Wear rubber gloves so you can get the water hot enough.
Use good quality scrubbers, dishcloths or brushes.
Start with the cleanest stuff first like glasswear, then cutlery, plates and finally pans. That way you are not washing grease and gunk onto things.
If the water gets really dirty or soapy let it out and run some more.
Putting detergent in the water after it has run eliminates all the bubbly build up and works just as well. Squirt and squish it around a bit.
Big dirty pots are washed with both sinks empty under running water as they usually need a few water changes to get all the gunk out.

This is the method I was taught as a kid helping out my father in his catering business when we catered places without dishwashers I made pocket money on weekends washing up for him. I have washed up to 150 place settings at time this way in a tiny domestic kitchen after a function, I earned my pocket money that weekend.
posted by wwax at 12:17 PM on October 30, 2012

You wash dishes like I do and I tend to do things the most streamlined/make sense way (IMO), so I think you're doing just fine. My only suggestion would be to wash drinking glasses first in the cleanest water because they're clear and most likely to show any spots, etc. Pots and pans are washed last.
posted by deborah at 2:38 PM on October 30, 2012

Looks like all the basics have been covered. I will add that I do basically hydrobatidae's method, but I have my dish drying rack in the second sink.

So wash dishes in the first, rinse over top of that into the same sink, and transfer to the rack so they can drip dry into the sink drain. This way I don't have to have dish towels or dry the counter later. My girlfriend with a single sink manages a similar method by bolting the rack to the wall above the sink.

I don't believe in towel drying the dishes (mostly I am lazy but theoretically it increases the risk of bug transfer from dish to dish). So instead I play dish reverse jenga and see how high I can make the stack before it topples. (the regular jenga comes later when I put the dishes away).

Other tips, give all your pots and stuff a quick rinse right after you serve the food, that way nothing cakes on. If something is really stuck add an inch of water to the pot and boil it on the stove for a bit, loosens damn near everything.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 9:10 PM on October 30, 2012

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