Is there a better way to handwash dishes effectively?
January 13, 2018 8:43 PM   Subscribe

We do not have a dishwasher, and doing the dishes takes a ton of time. Someone recently insisted I'm doing it wrong, but I can't see what could make the process faster. Do you have a trick for getting sparkling clean dishes with less effort, or is that a sad fantasy?

I was recently complaining about how long it takes to wash dishes (prompted by the sight of a dishwasher), and the person I was with said their handwashing method was better than mine.

I wash dishes by getting a sponge all soapy and, you know, scrubbing everything one by one and rinsing it off under running water. No no, this person said, that's all wrong. What you do is fill the sink with soapy water, scrub stuff a little, then let it drain and rinse everything off one by one.

Personally, I think that seems somehow less sanitary. I tried it the other night, and I don't think it actually saved me any time, either.

If we had a triple sink, we could do the standard food service three sink method. If we had a double sink we could, I don't know, do it some other way. But we only have one sink.

I fantasize about there being some perfect method involving, I don't know, bleach or something. Sparkling clean in half the time! I suspect that the reality is much less exciting, and that I've wasted an AskMe question just to find out that, yeah, handwashing dishes sucks and it takes forever. But if I never ask, I'll never know...
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If someone has that ONE TRICK THEY JUST DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW, I'm all ears, because I also don't have a dishwasher. That being said, one thing that I do is make sure that no food ever gets dried onto my dishes. Everything gets rinsed off with the sprayer so that it's basically "clean" immediately after I'm done with it. Then, once I finally get around to doing dishes, I don't really have to scrub anything.
posted by Weeping_angel at 8:46 PM on January 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

Before I had a dishwasher, I had a wash basin half the size of the sink. I'd soak everything in hot soapy water for 10 mins while I cleaned the rest of the kitchen. Then I'd pick each dish out of the basin, scrub briefly, rinse under running water, rack.
posted by clone boulevard at 8:47 PM on January 13, 2018 [16 favorites]

I also only have one (very shallow) sink, and sometimes I'll use a plastic basin or two (placed on one or two of my tall stools because I have zero counter space) to act as a second or third sink. So I'll scrub each dish really well, then stack everything in the basin, then rinse off one by one. For a big pile of dishes, it does seem faster than washing them one at a time.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:49 PM on January 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

My in-laws don't have a dishwasher, and what they do that seems faster than what I do when I have to hand wash (which is pretty much just what you describe) - they scrub all the dishes with soap and leave them in a pile on the side of the sink until everything is soaped clean, then rinse everything in a row. There's less picking up and putting down of sponges and soap, which maybe makes up some time there?
posted by Mchelly at 8:52 PM on January 13, 2018 [12 favorites]

Yeah, soaking is the closest I get to a secret. Don't even bother with anything that has dried on -- just get water on it and leave it to soak for awhile. (Or, better, make sure nothing dries in the first place.) This results in little effort being put forth and much faster scrubbing.

My kitchen is literally in a closet, so I've only got a tiny single sink. I push the dish rack over until it's only half on the metal dish-thingy next to the sink and half on the counter. Everything gets scrubbed with a soapy sponge and then placed on the metal thing, and then it's all rinsed under hot water once there's room in the sink, and put on the rack. Admittedly it's just me, but I can empty a sink in a few minutes with this system.
posted by kalimac at 8:53 PM on January 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

There's value in the soaking method, but it takes more discipline than I have (since dishwashing then becomes a two-part chore) and I get perfectly good results with your soapy sponge scrub method. I'm kinda nerdy about this as an inveterate hand-dishwasher, and I've been thinking about these issues for years, if not decades, so my support of the sponge counts double.
posted by rhizome at 8:59 PM on January 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I had one sink and no dishwasher:

1. Scrape dishes
2. Fill sink with soapy water
3. Submerge dishes in water
4. Pick items out and scrub individually
5. Stack in drainer
6. Pour hot clean water over drainer to rinse

Some variations - roughly pre-rinse plates if v dirty. Rinse glasses individually.

Also, dishes to be washed in following order: glassware, cutlery, crockery, pots

Once you get into a system, it’s pretty quick. But any way you slice it, one sink and no rinsing sink = pain in arse.
posted by Salamander at 9:06 PM on January 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Not sure if this counts as a hack, but I get grossed out letting dishes marinate in soapy food water, so I scrub them under ultra-hot running water while wearing gloves to protect my hands. The stuff seems to come off easier the hotter the water is.
posted by space snail at 9:08 PM on January 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I put a basin of hot soapy water into my sink, with the dishes piled around it and on the counter. I scrub each dish in the basin and stack it again, changing the basin water if necessary. Then I draw a basin of hot water without soap, and rinse each dish by dunking it in the basin. Saves water and time.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:19 PM on January 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Whatever order you do the washing, squeegee everything off plates immediately before it dries with a silicone spatula or dish scraper. You can get most of the muck and grease off before you even wash.
posted by notquitemaryann at 9:19 PM on January 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm another non-dishwasher-haver. I'd love one but it would be a difficult retrofit in our annoying yet charming 1950s house.

Mr hgg does the cooking, so I wash the dishes. I rinse off any really goody dishes first while the sink is empty, then I half fill one sink with soapy water, put a bunch of dishes in to soak for a few minutes, then wash and rinse and put in the dish drainer in the right hand sink. I refill the soapy sink with more dishes as needed. Glasses get washed first. That's it really.

I never thought about it being gross to let the dishes marinate in soapy food water D:

However, I'm prob not gonna stop doing it because it works for me and we haven't died from it yet. I do rinse in very very hot water though (I wear gloves, always).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:23 PM on January 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

The use of dish wands (with the soap in the handle) has been a revelation in optimizing my dishwashing and removing most of the gross factor.

1) Wash dishes immediately after use (or just a quick rinse to buy extra time)
2) Use a dish wand to dispense soap and scrub each item individually
3) Rinse as you go or rinse everything at the end depending on how much space you have to work with
4) Dry in a rack or on a clean towel on the counter
posted by jason and the garlic knots at 9:42 PM on January 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a double sink.
1. Put plastic wash basin on floor or counter.
2. Stack dry dirty dishes in basin until full or I feel like washing dishes.
3. Put basin in right hand sink. Fill with hot water and dish soap.
4. Soak for 30 minutes or longer.
5. Scrub with sponge and put in left hand sink.
6. Rinse with hot water.
7. Put in drainer rack on left hand counter.
8. Empty basin and put back on floor or counter.

This works for me. The dirty dishes stay dry until washed, so you don't have to deal with pond scum. You can leave water in basin for hours if you want, to wash the stray dish as needed.
If you leave the basin with water and dishes overnight (it happens), just pour out old water and refill with hot water and dish soap.
posted by H21 at 10:29 PM on January 13, 2018

I use your wash and rinse one-by-one method - the key for me is for the water has to be very very hot, will-scald-your-hands-if-you-don't-wear-gloves hot (except if there's cheese because it'll melt and gunk up your sponge). If there's stuff with caked-on food that I forgot to soak, I'll leave it in the sink for last and let the hot water run-off do a mini soak while I do everything else first.
posted by btfreek at 11:20 PM on January 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't have a dishwasher and find it hard to use them at other people's houses. The best advice? MOVE FAST and do them the second you finish eating. More than four people? Buy paper plates. Do not put soap in the pint glasses, just a ton of hot water. Let air dry.

I love doing the dishes.
posted by markbrendanawitzmissesus at 12:02 AM on January 14, 2018

I hate washing dishes so much that I regularly consider switching to paper plates (not entirely sure why I haven't). I was hoping to find some game changing hacks in this thread - but, unfortunately, nothing really new above.

Are you aware of countertop dishwashers? They're a bit larger than a microwave, hold ~6 place-settings, and retail for ~$300. I just recently learned these things exist and I'm hoping to find one a craigslist.
posted by she's not there at 1:20 AM on January 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

This was my system.

I kept a plastic bin on the counter for accumulating dirty dishes throughout the day. So everything would get wiped into the compost and then given a quick prerinse immediately before being put into the bin (if bin was full then piled up on the counter).

Dishes were roughly sorted into: eating utensils, cooking utensils, cups, dishes, and pans and stacked in the bin.

Anything touching raw meat gets washed in hot soapy water immediately and then put into the bin for a second wash later.

Anything really dirty gets put into the sink for a soak and scrub and either put away or put back into the bin for a second rinse.

The key here for me was always having a clear sink so that I could use it for draining pasta or whatever without having to mess with dirty dishes first.

Ok washing. I had a double sink (if I'd only had one I would've recreated the double by using two bins). One side got filled with hot soapy water for washing. In the other side I put a plastic wash bin with clean water for rinsing. The bin was key because it kept access to a drain open-there's always a half drunk mug of tea that turns up midwash and you need to be able to dump it out somewhere.

Washing order goes least dirty to most. Glasses, eating utensils, bowls, plates, serving dishes, cooking utensils, pans. Sometimes I would change the hot soapy water out midway if it was getting oily or if I'd been less diligent about prerinsing. Sometimes my dish drainer would fill up and I'd have to pause to dry with a cloth and put away.

Sometimes I'd leave the glasses or mugs in the counter bin for another day until more of that type had accumulated and do a wash of just those types of items.

Usually washing would take about 30 minutes and listening to a podcast really helped with making the time go by pleasantly.

There's an episode of "going deep with David Rees" (s02e08) about washing dishes that confirms this method though they didn't specify a counter bin for holding items throughout the day so I think mine is even better.

I think the key here is trusting that the hot soapy water is enough to get dishes clean. That's why it's important to prerinse (which should take two seconds if everyone does it) and washing from least dirty to dirtiest.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 1:36 AM on January 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

MFK Fisher talks about washing dishes somewhere, I think in _How to Cook a Wolf_. All I remember of her recommendations is a thin stream of the hottest water possible. Also, I think, a dishpan, which would have been standard when all dishwashers were human.
posted by clew at 1:54 AM on January 14, 2018

There is a faster way to do the soap-up-and-rinse method. Stack all the dishes in the sink neatly, so the the water can pool in all concave surfaces. Soak the cutlery in whatever dish is being washed and is big enough to hold them (like a pot or a pint glass) The dishes can be stacked that way as they are cleared off the table, so that they go straight from being used to being soaked. Once you get into the habit of doing this it takes up no more time than you'd spend clearing the table normally. Before you are about to wash them, give them a good spraying down and let them sit wet for a few minutes. After they have had a few minutes for the water to soften up anything sticking to them, start washing. Get a good soapy wet sponge and soap each dish and utensil down, moving the soaped dishes to a stack on the counter. Continue until all the dishes are on the counter soapy. Then turn the water back on and rinse each dish and put it on the dishrack. The way this saves time is that you are grouping all of the similar motions together. You don't waste time putting the soapy sponge down in between soaping and rinsing each dish, and you don't waste a bunch of water letting it run while you are soaping each dish. Also, that extra few minutes the dishes have to sit with soap on them gets them extra clean without extra scrubbing.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:57 AM on January 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

My method:

1. Dishes get rinsed of food scraps immediately after use, then piled on counter on side of sink. Baking dishes with baked-on food get partially filled with (sometimes soapy, usually not) water to soak while less dirty dishes are being washed.

2(a). If I have access to a double basin sink, I fill (actually, half to three quarters full) one side with soapy water. If only a single basin sink, I obtain a rectangular plastic dish tub and fill it with soapy water.
2(b). Prep the other sink or remaining space in the one sink by wiping it down with soapy dish cloth/sponge.

3(a). Take dish from stack in counter, wash in soapy water, place in clean sink area. Repeat until clean sink area is full. (Start with glasses, progress from least greasy/dirty dishes to most greasy/dirty dishes as someone else suggested above).
3(b). Rinse all clean-but-soapy dishes and place in drying rack/on towels on counter (on opposite side of sink from the stack of dirty dishes).

4(a). Repeat steps 3 until all dishes are clean. A very large pile of exceptionally dirt or poorly-pre-rinsed dishes may necessitate changing the soapy dish water partway through.
4(b). After the last batch of regular dishes has been rinsed, drain water from any baking dishes that had been set to soak into the sink for dishes waiting to be rinsed (which should be empty of clean but soapy dishes at this point), give them an extra rinse to get food particles out, and stack them in the dirty dishes area. Then wash them as above.

(Personally, I use a washable cotton dish rag (not like a soft buffing cloth, something with enough texture to be useful, and that easily absorbs soapy water), not a sponge. Then I have a plastic scrubby (for non-stick pans and plates that have stuck-on food) and a steel wool scrubby (for all other metal pots and pans, stuck-on food or no; and for utensils with stuck-on food).)

This general method can be altered to avoid filling a sink with water and just use a soapy sponge. The main ideas are:
1. rinse dishes right away to deal with food particles;
2. have separate areas for dirty dishes, the washing process, soapy dishes waiting to be rinsed, and clean dishes, and prep these before washing dishes;
3. work in batches rather than taking individual dishes through the whole cleaning process one by one.
posted by eviemath at 4:23 AM on January 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Same as eviemath. It's the mis en place approach to dishwashing with zones, batching of like with like, and equipment prepped ahead of time and done the same sequence every time. Immediate pre-soaking of cooking equipment is key.
posted by Elsie at 6:53 AM on January 14, 2018

I'm a huge cheapskate and buy off-brands of nearly everything. Not dish soap. Dawn is worth the extra money. Not exactly a hack, but it improved my outcomes with the same (or less) effort.
posted by workerant at 9:49 AM on January 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

Are you scrubbing and rinsing each item individually? Like, scrub plate, rinse plate, scrub cup, rinse cup? Scrubbing everything and then rinsing everything is much faster.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:00 AM on January 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

> workerant:
"I'm a huge cheapskate and buy off-brands of nearly everything. Not dish soap. Dawn is worth the extra money. Not exactly a hack, but it improved my outcomes with the same (or less) effort."

QFT. Store-brand dishsoap is half as strong, if that.
posted by rhizome at 11:20 AM on January 14, 2018

How I do this:

1. fill sink with a squirt of soap and the HOTTEST temp out of the tap. Put dishes in. Soak just until I can put my hands in without burning them.
2. Wash each item with soapy sponge and put in empty sink till that sink is full, then rinse and put in dish drainer.

One more thing-I use the extra strength dish soap.

Finally, do all this right after eating. Try not to let dishes sit around and harden up. In fact, washing pots and pans right after use if possible while cooking-cleaning as you go.

For just a few items, I do it your way but again. just for a few.

My last suggestion-put on music or have some company. The only reason I hate dishwashing is I get bored and if I fix that it is no big deal.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:29 AM on January 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Fill sink?" Next you're going to suggest using gloves!
posted by rhizome at 11:33 AM on January 14, 2018

I too, have a system.

- Empty everything that's been soaking, and give the truly gross stuff a quick rinse to reduce the need for new washing up water.
- Turn on the hot tap and wait till it's hot.
- Stick in plug, put in some detergent and pile in the glasses. As the sink fills with water, wash and rinse the glasses, and put them to drain. If the sink has enough water before the glasses are done, turn it off and give each glass a quick blast from the tap to rinse.

From now on, I generally don't rinse. It's fine so long as I haven't put in too much detergent.

- Dump in the cutlery and let it soak.
- Whilst the cultery soaks, wash any plasticware etc that is essentially clean already, and just needs a quick swish.
- Start on the plates/bowls. If there's a stack that'll fit under the water, I'll pile the whole thing in, and wash them from the top down, otherwise, one by one.
- Then, the large pots. Which are irritating, but should have been soaked and/or rinsed already.
- Then pull out and do a quick scrub of the cutlery. Hopefully by now all the gunk will have loosened up. If the water's getting mucky, I'll give them a quick rinse under the tap.
- Finally, the truly grimy gross stuff that'll mean that the water won't be able to be reused. This may also need a rinse, depending on how gross the water got.

I can generally wash about a draining boards worth of dishes in the time it takes to boil the kettle and make a pot of tea. It really doesn't take that long. I then let it dry in the rack.

Oh, and when I'm cooking, I generally fill the sink ready to wash anything that I use as I go. It can be irritating when draining pasta for example, but getting the bulk of the cooking washing up down before eating means that the pile isn't quite so demoralising after dinner.
posted by kjs4 at 3:56 PM on January 14, 2018

I have never heard of using running water to rinse dishes with! It seems wasteful to me. I have a dishwasher and a single sink for stuff that can’t go in the dishwasher. When I hand wash I use the same method I have since I was a child and dishwashers were luxury items for the richest families only.

I fill my sink with hot soapy water and scrub the dishes in there. If the water gets gross I empty and re-fill with more hot soapy water. As each dish is finished I put it on the dish drain beside the sink, positioned to drop the suds if possible. When everything is washed, I pour a small, steady stream of clean hot water over the draining rack to rinse off any remaining suds.

I’ve never had any problems caused by a lack of cleanliness, like animals in the cupboard, food poisoning,etc. Only once did a guest complain about her glass tasting like soap - turns out I completely forgot to rinse that entire load, and that was many years ago.
posted by harriet vane at 4:12 AM on January 15, 2018

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