What is the right way to hand wash dishes?
August 5, 2021 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Recently it has come to my attention that in households without a dishwasher, people's approach to washing dishes really differs. How do you wash a sink full of dishes?

Some random considerations:

-- Obviously some apartments have a divided sink and some have a single basin; maybe methods differ here?

-- I guess the major distinction is whether people fill up a sink full of dish water or just sort of . . . sponge away.

-- Is there an approach that uses less water, quantifiably?

-- Is there an approach that is more sanitary?

-- Is there an approach that uses more or less soap?

-- Is there an approach that is better for some other reason I'm not considering?
posted by kensington314 to Home & Garden (45 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Methods where the tap is not left running will use less water.

I fill up a washing up bowl with hot water and washing up liquid, and then using a scrubby sponge, cloth or brush clean the dishes (glasses first, then less soiled to most soiled) and put the clean items on the drainer to dry. If the water gets too dirty or too cold, I change it.
posted by plonkee at 9:08 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Something I think about a lot when I'm washing dishes is that a lot of people lived a long time with no sanitary dishwashing at all, so I use that to cut myself some slack sometimes. My opinion is that the best way to do it is whatever way makes you comfortable both in physically getting it done and to your personal level of acceptable cleanliness.

What I do is put some soap & water in all the bowls/cups/dishes to soak, then I just do a dish at a time with one of those sponges with the soap in the handle and then set it to dry.
posted by bleep at 9:08 AM on August 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

I do the 2 sink method, with one sink full of water and the 2nd to rinse, rack, and then towel dry. A sink holds only about 9 gallons of water, and the average household uses 245 gallons daily, so 9/245 = 3% of daily use of water to fill a sink. If you double that for rinsing, it's still less than 10%. That's pretty efficient. A dishwasher is only marginally more efficient at about 5 gallons of water vs 20 for handwashing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:12 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I use plonkee's method even though I have a split sink (the washing-up bowl saves water). I have a dishwasher, but grew up without one, so I never use it, except for drying and short-term storage. And now I'm using a separate rinsing bowl in the other sink, which I pour into a bucket on the floor as it fills. This bucket water is for watering the plants, as I'm in the drought zone.
posted by Rash at 9:15 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh! For folks who are filling up a basin of soap and water, are you putting all the dishes in there, or just washing one at a time?
posted by kensington314 at 9:19 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Soapy water in the left side of the sink, rinse water on the right, scrape plates well before embarking on washing, pots usually last since they might need soak time. All the other dishes go in the soapy water at once if they fit, it's just faster/easier that way.

Grateful to have a dishwasher in my day-to-day life but when I don't, that's the schtick.
posted by february at 9:19 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Back in my pre-dishwasher days, which was basically most of my childhood through early 30s, dishes were hand-washed thusly:

Fill up one half of the divided sink with hot water and a couple squirts of dish soap, which is where dishes get scrubbed with a double-sided sponge that has a scratch pad on one side.

The other half of the sink is empty, and we ran a stream of water from the tap continuously to rinse each dish prior to putting it in the drying rack, which sat on the counter next to the rinse sink. (We never lived in a drought area and in those days it was common to just run as much water as you wanted, for any purpose at any time.)

If I didn't have a double sink I would use a plastic dish pan for the hot water/dish soap, and run the tap into the sink itself for rinsing.

Clearly none of this is water-efficient. If I were doing this today I might fill up the second sink with hot clear water for rinsing rather than run the tap. Not rinsing is not an option I'd be comfortable with.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:19 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh! For folks who are filling up a basin of soap and water, are you putting all the dishes in there, or just washing one at a time?

I usually have a few dishes in the basin at a time, to give them a short soak to loosen any food residue. Anything really grody would be filled with hot water and soap and set aside for a longer soak.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:22 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Remove any crumbs or other detritus first, brushing or wiping them into the food waste caddy. Fill the washing-up bowl with hot water and washing-up liquid. Wash items one at a time, glasses then cutlery then crockery then pots & pans, with a dishwashing sponge. Empty and refill the water in the bowl when it gets visibly dirty.

I have a half-sink so can rinse items off under the tap before putting them in the drying rack if I want to, but I'm only likely to bother if I can see suds on something; I'm British, lots of us are weird like this.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:23 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Pretty much what Serene Empress Dork says. I no longer have a dishwasher, so this is my daily method. I put all the flatware and utensils in the left hand side of the sink, then fill it with hot soapy water. Then I add the glasses and cups. I wash those and the flatware/utensils, put them in the right hand side as I go, then I add the plates and bowls to the soapy water on the left, then rinse the glasses, cups & utensils. After the plates and bowls are done, mixing bowls and other glass/plastic containers go in. Pots and pans are last.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:24 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I seldom have more than a handful of dirty dishes, and I only have one basin. I fill dishes with water/soap if needed when I put them in the sink, to soak. At the end of the day I use a sponge with dish soap to wash them out and rinse with running water, then put them in the rack to dry.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:25 AM on August 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

I am still using my day zero water crisis method.
Big plastic bowl in the sink, and one next to it (we have only one sink). Fill bowl in sink with soapy hot water, bowl next to sink with clean hot water.
Scrape off all excess food. When I had a dog, the dog did this part of the duty.
I mostly wash one item at a time, but might put two or three plates in at once and wash them together. Wash least greasy things first, which in practice is glasses, mugs and cups. Wash them in the soapy water, one at a time, rinse in the clean water, stack on dryrack to dry. Also cutlery usually gets washed at this stage.
Wash dishes and bowls next, putting a little bit of hot soapy water in each, rinsing it, and letting that dirty water go down the drain, instead of back in the bowl of soapy water. Then I wash the now cleaner item in the hot soapy water bowl. This means the soapy water stays clean enough to be useful for longer.
Then I wash pots and pans and lunchboxes, as they tend to be a bit more oily. We don't eat meat so that keeps the amount of grease lower, I think.
Right at the end I wash tins for recycling. Those are often oily and by the time they are washed the soapy water is too dirty to be used for anything more.
The bowl of soapy dirty water gets poured over some part of my garden, or down the drain if that's not practical. The bowl of water I was rinsing with goes into a bucket for toilet flushing.
posted by Zumbador at 9:26 AM on August 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

Oh! For folks who are filling up a basin of soap and water, are you putting all the dishes in there, or just washing one at a time?

They are already in there before the water and soap, the sink is where dirty dishes go.
posted by rodlymight at 9:39 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Single basin sink. Only have a few dishes in there at a time, soak in water if needed. Otherwise just sponge with soap on it rinsing with running water.
posted by greta simone at 9:41 AM on August 5, 2021

In an industrial kitchen in a place with extremely limited water run by professional chefs, I was trained to use a basin of soapy water to scrub, briefly shake off the big drips from each item, then dip in a basin of clean-ish water with a cap full of bleach, then air dry. We usually threw stuff directly into the wash basin to soak before scrubbing unless there were so many they got in the way of the scrubbing. (At home, in a place with abundant water and limited space, I use a flowing stream of water and a sponge with a few drops of detergent followed by a rinse in the same stream. I doubt that is ideal.)
posted by eotvos at 9:44 AM on August 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

I wash the dishes AS I'M SLOWLY FILLING UP THE SINK. This allows me to save a little bit of water, rinse as I go, and do everything more quickly.

I love my partner and especially so for doing the bulk of the dishwork, but I do wonder what the logic is there when he turns on the tap and walks away from the kitchen until the sink is completely full and he's ready to start doing the dishes.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:46 AM on August 5, 2021 [14 favorites]

I wash the dishes AS I'M SLOWLY FILLING UP THE SINK. This allows me to save a little bit of water, rinse

This, I can normally get through all the glasses and cups before it’s full. I do not feel any need to rinse anything else.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:49 AM on August 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have a dishwasher, which I dislike (came with the house), and use only for heavy-duty or machine-made things -- mixing bowls and Ikea-quality cooking utensils and food storage, that sort of thing. I can't speak to whether my handwashing system is the best at minimising resource consumption, but with a septic tank it is something I think about. Having lived in places where there was no hot tap, or any tap at all, I think has made me pretty efficient with water usage. Less soap also results in less water, and most people use far more dish soap than necessary. I can't say where I land on the sanitary spectrum, but my glasses are sparkly and nobody's got sick off anything in my house, so even without a dishwasher's 'autoclave' setting it seems fine.

Anyway, my method:
As I live alone I usually only do the washing up once a day, again to conserve water. I have a double sink and a washing-up bowl in one half. I'll let the dishes accumulate over the course of the day, reusing coffee cups/water glasses/&c. At the end of the day I'll fill the washing-up bowl with hot water and, using a spray bottle of dilute dish soap solution and handheld sponges of different textures, clean progressively from least to most dirty, letting some things soak for a bit if necessary. Each scrubbed thing gets a cursory rinse in the bowl of water then goes in the unused half of the sink until all is scrubbed clean. Then a fresh bowl of hot water to rinse everything, at which point it all goes in the dish drainer over the sink. Every few washings the washing-up bowl itself gets either scrubbed out or popped in the dishwasher.

Exceptions for bigger pots and pans, which are scrubbed by hand in the sink and rinsed under a running tap, then left to dry on the gas hob, and chef's knives and such which get washed separately from the rest of the dishes, also in very hot water but usually without the separate rinse, then dried immediately and returned to the magnetic rack.

FWIW I spent some time in a mountaintop monastery in Syria which, due to its situation, had to be very conservative with water. When helping out in the kitchen the washing-up process consisted of scrubbing with soap and a sponge, and then two successive rinsing pans of water, which were used for all the dishes. One could argue that the dishes at the end of the line were rinsed in significantly dirtier -- or at least, soapier -- water than the ones at the start, but it never seemed to cause an issue and I was never uncomfortable using them. This is probably the winning method for resource conservation, as they would feed anywhere from 10-100 people at a meal.
posted by myotahapea at 9:49 AM on August 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

I hate dirty dishes so I just don't let it happen. I never have a full sink because everything gets washed or set to soak while I'm cooking or as soon as I'm done eating and drinking. Dab of soap on a wet sponge and away we go. Suds everything, turn the faucet on and rinse, set to dry.

For big house parties and such I'll enlist guests to help at the end of the night. Turn on pop music, fill the sink with hot soapy water. One person passes stuff to clean, one person scrubs, one person dries, one person puts away. There are always folks around who wish they had a job to do!
posted by lloquat at 9:51 AM on August 5, 2021

Having grown up with no dishwasher/no dish disposal/a two-basin sink, the way that we did dishes was to first scrape any remains of foods or sauces into the garbage assiduously. Then we put some soap on the bottom of the sink and filled it up about 1/3 of the way, starting to add a stack of dishes to soak once the soap on the bottom of the sink had been dissolved into the water. Then, as we washed, we ran the water as a trickle in the washing sink to rinse each dish as we moved it to the rack in the other sink. Sometimes I would need to let a little bit of water out of the washing sink, but generally less than if we had run water more freely or if we had filled a second sink to rinse.

As a side note, I've noticed that as compared to Partner of Past Unusual who had a dishwasher and disposal, I have the tendency to eat every minuscule scrap of food and sauce off my plate. The plate is nearly clean before it goes into the wash. I suspect that is a behavior stems from this way of doing dishes.
posted by past unusual at 9:53 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

GREAT question and one I've wondered myself for years! I live alone and have a dishwasher but I use it for storage since hand washing is easier. I have a divided sink and keep a drainer in one side. I got this one at Goodwill and I love it..

I used Dawn Platinum Foam. One squirt on a sponge lasts the entire wash BUT I wash as I go so there are rarely more than a few things that need doing at a time.

BUT, having read through all these great answers, I'm now rethinking so thanks for the question!!
posted by susandennis at 10:02 AM on August 5, 2021

When I worked in a kitchen, we manually removed debris in a sink with scrub pads, with the water running very slowly in the sink. Then, we rinsed the dishes in that slowly running water. At that point, the dishes had no soap, were rinsed with running water, and we would quickly dip in a small bowl of diluted bleach.

At home, I follow a similar pattern without a dishwasher. A slow running hot water sink. Remove visible debris with a scrubby pad. Rinse with hot water. You can tell if a plate is clean or not with just water - if it's a greasy plate or contacted meat, I give it a small squirt of soap before cleaning. I usually use much less than a full sink of water in total.

Why I'm VERY AGAINST the "stack the dishes in the sink" method:
1: the bottoms of dishes get dirty, whereas otherwise they'd be mostly clean from food bacteria. Twice the dishes to do!
2: The sink can't be used while it's full of dishes! (I.e. you can't put a colander in there, fill up a pitcher, etc).
3: Even if you soap the water, the soap dilutes so much it doesn't really seem as useful as putting a small squirt on the one dirty plate.
4: if you had like, a raw meat plate, now it's raw meat juice is making all the other dishes have raw meat bacteria on them too, and all of a sudden if you don't clean everything really well, all plates are ruined, even the outside of the measuring cup you just measured some salt in.
5: You have to fish around in gross boiling water with your hands to try to find knives.
6: My problem with almost every method listed above, is that the "rinse" water gets dirty/sudsy. Then the "rinse" water is no longer "rinsing" things as effectively as I'd like. Just use that same water stream you used to clean in!

Dishes on the counter. Wash with slow hot water over the sink. Set out to dry. Use soap on the greasy ones. Done. Half the time, half the water, half the effort.

Guests - I know you think you're being helpful, but please stop putting your dishes in the sink especially that unused plate that had half a slice of bread on it!!
posted by bbqturtle at 10:03 AM on August 5, 2021 [18 favorites]

We live remote with a septic tank and drain field. Moi le plongeur is scrupulous about minimising fats and oils going down there. A neighbour had to dig up his drive and the pipework to deal with their fatberg. Two sheets of TP will absorb a lot and make good firelighters after. We have a double sink.
1. I start running hot water into a plastic wup bowl containing a squirt of dish-soap; glasses get washed first because they get a hot-water rinse in the hot tap water.
2. Cutlery gets dumped in next to soak
3. Cups & sideplates get dumped on top and washed with a brush and fingers
4. They get rinsed in cold water in the other sink [I grew up in England where this step was omitted - eeeew]
5. Left to dry on a double-decker wire drainer
[Hereabouts B&B's are forbidden to use tea-towels to dry dishes if they want Tourist Board approval]
6. Cutlery next
7. Dinner & dessert plates next
8. Pans last.
9. Wup basin water, esp if potentially fatty, gets fired out the kitchen door in a satisfyingly medieval way.
If we have company, I stop when the drainer is full and have another session later.
Never, no matter how drunk, leave the dishes till morning
There is no way I use 20 gallons / 90 lt of water.
posted by BobTheScientist at 10:05 AM on August 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

One thing I was taught to do, which saves time and water, is to pile items ready for rinsing in the right side of the sink and then rinse a bunch at once, instead of rinsing them one at a time as I wash them. So dirty things are soaking in soapy water on the left, and as I get them scrubbed off to the point where they look clean, i pile them on the right, then once the right side is getting full (or my partner who's on drying duty is getting caught up to me) then I turn the water on, rinse a bunch of things quickly all in a row, and transfer to the drying rack as I go, then turn the water off and go back to scrubbing the next batch.

It occurs to me that I could put a stopper in the right side as I do this and end up with a sink full of mostly-clean water which could be used for scrubbing once the side with the scrubbing water gets too dirty. That would cut water usage in half for big meals or parties where the sink needs to get emptied and refilled multiple times to get everything done. I would just have to get used to going right-to-left half the time.
posted by beandip at 10:21 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

1. Fill the washing up bowl about half way with dishes and hot water. Start with lighter items (glasses and cutlery).
2. Leave the tap running very slowly.
3. Add detergent and start washing/rinsing.
4. When the bowl is full turn the tap off.
5. Finish with the heavier items (pots and pans).
If theres a lot to do, or if the washing water gets particularly dirty, I empty it and start again, but this is rare.

Something I find makes a difference is the Dish soap/Washing up liquid, I use Ecover which produces far fewer bubbles than the petrochemical alternatives - you can SEE what you are doing and it feels like everything needs much less rinsing. One large 1L bottle lasts about 1 year. I have a dishwasher but I never use it.
posted by Lanark at 10:28 AM on August 5, 2021

Seconding bbqturtle: dirty dishes go BESIDE the sink, not in it, until you begin washing

Seconding plonkee on washing order: glasses first, then less soiled to most soiled

I use a paper towel (UK: kitchen roll) to wipe off any easily removable food residue before washing. My current pipes are good, but my last flat had a wastepipe that clogged REALLY easily, so I do my best to avoid food residue going down the drain. (we generally don't have sink disposals in the UK)
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:47 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

As a side note, I've noticed that as compared to Partner of Past Unusual who had a dishwasher and disposal, I have the tendency to eat every minuscule scrap of food and sauce off my plate.

Yea, this too. I have on occasion been accused of using a spatula to gather the tasty bits of yoghurt, almond butter and porridge, various delicious stews, &c, not only out of their storage containers but from my own plates and bowls at the end of a meal as well.
I admit nothing, but concede that if one were to do this, one's dishes would likely be trivially easy to clean afterward.

(The spatula is a criminally underrated invention with myriad uses, another of which being to keep grease and other food remnants out of the septic system as alluded to by BobTheScientist — swill your dregs in the compost so they stay out of the drain. Bonus is not having the rest of your dishes marinating in the vile soup of a dinner party’s worth of leavings.)
posted by myotahapea at 10:48 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

And, while the question was 'what is the right way to hand wash dishes', I feel I need to take the opportunity for a PSA to say please don't wash your dishes the Icelandic way, otherwise known as the canonically wrong way: turning the sink tap on full blast at the start of the process and leaving it running throughout the postprandial cleanup period*. This likely influences my desire to be as efficient as possible when washing up, in the hopes I can offset *some* of the water crimes committed by my older relatives and others of their generation. Whenever I'm back to visit I usually have to either take control of the washing up or leave the room entirely, as my compulsive shutting off of the tap invariably irritates the person who was 'using it'. While wiping the dining table, and taking out the trash.

*Ranging anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. No, that's not hyperbole.
posted by myotahapea at 11:05 AM on August 5, 2021

Putting dishes in soapy water allows the detergent to do its work loosening food, dissolving fats. I hand wash certain things that I don't like to put in the dishwasher. I am a person who lets the hot water run, at a low trickle, into either a washbasin or dirty pot, adds some detergent to the pot and also add detergent to the sponge, as needed.
posted by theora55 at 11:27 AM on August 5, 2021

The most resource-efficient way is to run the water for the least possible amount of time, which means no constantly running water. For a few items I will just modulate the water off and on: wet the item to be washed, TURN OFF THE WATER, scrub the item, rinse it, and TURN OFF THE WATER AGAIN. If I have many items I'll put a dishpan in the sink, fill it with soapy water, and wash items from least to most soiled, collecting items that need to be rinsed in the space next to the dishpan. Once that space is full I'll fill the dishpan with more dirty dishes and rinse the scrubbed items as quickly as possible with running water and then turn the water off again (having had soapy food served to me by someone who never rinsed, I will ALWAYS RINSE). If I had a two basin sink I'd have a wash side and a rinse side as described above; if I had more room to stack clean-but-not-rinsed items I'd stack them all, refill the dishpan with clean water, and rinse them all at once in that, but I don't have the room. I probably run a bit more water rinsing the way I do than I'd use with a two-basin method, but not, say, twice as much.

The commercial kitchen method I had to learn for a food handler's permit used three basins: one for soapy water, one for rinse water, and one for sterilizing water (a capful of bleach in a full basin of water). Assuming you don't have a three basin sink and you're not required by your local health department to meet those rules, two basins should be enough.

Also, if you're using a dishpan or basin, never put knives in it (so you don't reach in and cut yourself), and if you have delicate stemware you shouldn't put that in either. It shouldn't need to soak, so you can dip, scrub as needed, dip again to remove loose soil, and then rinse to remove soap. Putting stemware in the basin risks breakage.
posted by fedward at 11:38 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

My landlord installed a faucet that had a flip-lever at the nozzle of the faucet that turns the flow on and off in a temporary way. It’s wonderful for hand washing dishes, since you can quickly flip it with any part of your hand, even when you’re holding other things.

I do things slightly differently with different amounts of dishes, but right now I rarely have more than 2 bowls, 1 plate, and 2 utensils to wash. It used to be even less, when I didn’t have a sink, just a microwave, a jug of clean water, and a jug of dirty water. But that’s a different story.

Hand washing in a normal kitchen—

Sharp knives are washed, DRIED, and put away first thing.

Food scraps are scraped into trash. (No garbage disposal, narrow drain pipe)

Put hot soapy water in a large bowl or pot, based on what’s dirty/dirtiest. On the rare occasion I only have plates, I’ll use a glass. Anything that needs to be soaked gets put in the hot soapy thing. If it won’t fit, it gets a very wet scrub/sponge and set aside to wait, in the splash zone where I’ll be pouring out other dirty soapy hot water.

Sometimes there are stages of wiping/scrubbing/pouring hot soapy water back and forth between 2 or 3 bowls so all the crud gets rehydrated.

Dishes that are clean but soapy are set aside in the sink until they’re all scrubbed or I run out of stacking space.

Rinse clean soapy dishes, hopefully with hot water, put in drying rack.

If I’m washing for a 4+ person meal, plus cooking tools, I’ll almost certainly use the full sink for the hot soapy water, but I always try to scrub and set aside as much as possible before running hot water for the rinse.

Part of me is very fond of group/camp kitchens that have the wash line of basins lines up for soap/scrub -> sanitize -> rinse, and they get rotated over time. No running water used. But at home there’s no volume to justify that.
posted by itesser at 12:31 PM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Use brush & water to get rid of food debris on all items.
Use sponge (thin green 3M kind) to soap up all items.
Wash all items and put in dish drainer.
For my small 1 sink, I work in batches.
I wish I could learn other ways, but I'm too inflexible!
posted by ColdIcedT at 12:51 PM on August 5, 2021

My approach is to wash every item as soon as I can (often in the middle of cooking), so that I rarely have a big pile of dishes in the first place. This necessarily puts me in the "just sponge away" camp; it doesn't make sense to fill a basin when you're washing 6 things in 5 bouts instead of 30 things at once. I don't know how water usage compares, but I feel like I save water (and effort) by getting to most dishes before the food on them can dry out or congeal. Except for pots and pans with burned-on food, soaking is rarely required. I also find cleaning as I go to be far less of a mental burden than making a separate chore of dishwashing, but YMMV.
posted by aws17576 at 1:04 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Reading these answers with interest! For us this plate scraper has been a wonderful $7 investment—more effective and less grating than using forks or knives to scrape, and more eco friendly than paper towels or rinsing. YMMV!
posted by stellaluna at 1:12 PM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I wash as I go, and by the time I am eating a meal, the only dish I have is the plate and utensil I am using with my meal. I wash my cast iron instantly because the pans are hot, therefore sterile, anyway, and I just whisk them out, and rinse, and put them back on the stove, often they are steaming under the faucet.
posted by Oyéah at 1:28 PM on August 5, 2021

I have very limited counter space and a double sink. As they get used, dishes get scraped and rinsed and put in one side of the sink. Fragile glasses and tea cups (we only have a couple) sit on the counter. Utensils all go in a mason jar of soapy water to soak.

I do dishes once a day in the afternoon. First I put everything in the dish rack away. Dirty dishes now get stacked on the counter and I scrub out the sink itself. Half the sink gets a couple inches of soapy water, half with clean. I wash things one at a time, except for silverware, which gets vigorously swished and checked as one handful and put back in the jar. Any that need extra attention get scrubbed solo. Scrubbed dishes go into the clean water for a rinse, then get arranged in the dish rack.

Pots and pans, and anything else too big for the rack gets set aside, then hand dried and put away.

I actually have a dishwasher, it's old and hasnt been used in at least 8 years (since before I moved in). I'm a bit scared to try it, as flooding ones kitchen isnt all that fun.
posted by ananci at 1:33 PM on August 5, 2021

I hauled wash water by hand for 10 years and now stretch 1000 gallons for 3-4 months of dry season. My method:

Dirty dishes in one half of the divided sink presoak a bit on whatever water reaches them before washing. Then a shallow wash bowl gets slowly filled as I'm washing and rinsing glasses etc above it. Plates and silverware are then soaked in it, and rinsed above it until it's near to overflowing. Then rinsing switches to the other side of the divided sink, or if there are enough dishes left, I'll dump out the the wash bowl and repeat.

The wash bowl holds 1.25 gallons, so general water use with this method is under 2 gallons, for one entire sink full of dirty dishes. The faucet has a spray button, which also makes rinsing more efficient, including quick "spray as you go" rinsing for some of the larger cooking implements.
posted by joeyh at 1:55 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

My dishwashing methods over the years have been shaped by the size and arrangement of where I lived, and my own brain issues.

I get the "put dishes beside the sink for the love of god!" perspective, but since leaving my childhood home I've never lived anywhere that would be possible? Most places I've lived, including my current apartment which is the biggest I've ever lived in, don't have the space for that.

I have sensory issues, so even though I grew up with a split sink and did the fill one side with water and dishes, rinse off on the other side thing, I cannot emphasize how much I loathed putting my hands in a sink full of water and dirty dishes--no matter what temperature the water is (though it's so much worse lukewarm or cold).

I'm also prone to letting the dishes pile up because of life getting in the way and hating doing the dishes, and I'm likely to lose focus or energy halfway through, so no method that is best done in a single uninterrupted session works.

With all that as a preface, my method is: Put dishes in the sink as they get dirty. Maybe fill a gunky pot with water to let it soak. When it's time to do the dishes, put on a podcast or music playlist I really like, wash and rinse the dishes under running water with a soap-filled dish brush (sponges are gross to me because of aforementioned sensory issues), and put the clean ones in a dish drainer next to the sink to dry. (People who dry their dishes immediately and put them away impress me, but I am just not that person.)

May not be the most water-conserving, but it means there are clean dishes to eat off of, and I conserve water in other ways (and anyway, I'm not a megacorp or growing almonds, so my contributions are not huge either way).

Awhile back Dawn put out a dish spray (which is still available), and the attendant marketing message was something like "Because Millennials don't do dishes the same way their parents did", and the idea is honestly pretty sound: you spray the dishes, let 'em sit a bit, then wipe and rinse off. Easy to clean one or two at a time, or a sinkful. I've tried it, and if it weren't for the fact that the spray makes the dishes too slippery to hold while rinsing (I lost a few beloved dishes), I'd still be using it.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:35 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Definitely clean as I go when I’m cooking. And yet I always have a few dishes in the sink? I always like to leave room for improvement, imperfection calms me.

I kind of stack things to soak instead of filling the basin? So like the biggest pot/bowl, filled with the smaller things. Then running hot water with sponge and soap and rinsing in the same step. Drying rack in the second basin. I used to always do the dishes while water for tea or coffee boiled in the morning, and that was the perfect amount of time and the perfect time of day. Now I have a thing that keeps tea-temperature water and honestly my routine has never recovered, I still miss doing dishes while the water boils.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 2:56 PM on August 5, 2021

I live in California, which is a state of "megadrought"/aridification. I've spent my life with an awareness of the need to conserve water.

My dishwashing technique at this point: Put the dishes to be washed into a dishtub and fill it 2/3 full with hot water and a bit of dishwashing detergent. Pots probably don't fit in the dishtub, so they're on the counter next to the dishtub (possibly after having been previously in the sink full of hot water and detergent).

Wet a freshly-washed reusable sponge, add a dash of detergent, and start washing things by pulling them out of the dishtub, rubbing thoroughly with the soapy sponge, then putting them into the sink. Once the sink is full enough for it to be impeding progress, turn the water back on at a relatively low flow (it doesn't need to be full force), rinse things, and put them into the drying rack.

I start with glasses and work through dishes to utensils to pots and pans.
posted by Lexica at 3:03 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm well into my 30s and have never used a dishwasher. I would probably break one if I tried. My dishwasher is just used to store baking dishes or pots I don't use as often.

Method I learned as a child in a double-sink household:
1. All dirty dishes on right-hand side of sink
2. Pick up dish with right hand, rinse under a running hot faucet
3. Switch dish to left hand and place on left-hand side of sink
4. Turn off water. Now all dishes are wetted and on the left-hand side of sink.
5. Scrub with a soapy sponge until all dishes are soaped up.
6. Turn on water again, rinse soap off all dishes
7. Place in drainer to air-dry.

I now live in a place with a single-sink household, and I still do this except now there's only one giant deep sink.

This is also the way I shower (get wet, turn off water, apply soap, turn water back on to rinse), and thinking of it as a dish spa is way more fun than "I have to do the dishes AGAIN."
posted by basalganglia at 3:46 PM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

One thing to note, in the UK (where dishwashers are common but not universal) a substantial number of people who handwash do not rinse their dishes and conversely a substantial number do rinse. So far as I can tell both rinsers and non-rinsers think that their method is universal and correct. As my description indicated, I am a non-rinser although I will begrudgingly admit that this is not universally held behaviour. I have chosen to never watch my husband wash up so I will always assume he is also a non-rinser. (Dishwasher pre-rinsers have been discussed before.)
posted by plonkee at 5:19 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have limited counter space, a single sink, and conserve water in a bunch of other ways (showers are ten minutes a few times a week, laundry is quarterly except for basin-washed items monthly, other than drinking water that is all I do besides wetting a toothbrush, flushing, and washing hands) so my dish plan isn't intended to be the absolute lowest water-using but rather the way that works for me. I live alone, do the dishes pretty much every day or every other because I have a mouse problem otherwise.

A lot of it is prep work. The first glass or pot that goes into the sink becomes the soaking space for all other silverware. Any drinking cup/mug has a spray of water put in the bottom when I leave it by the sink so it's easier to wash. Food is scraped into trash or compost and then dishes are all stacked in or next to the sink. I listen to podcasts while I do the dishes so I know it takes me about 5-10 minutes. I run the hot water, I get a sponge soapy, I wash, scrub, and rinse everything and leave it in the drainer, pots I leave on the stove, pans I leave IN the stove. Scrub out the cast iron pans. Wipe down wet countertops. Empty strainer in sink drain into compost or trash. Rinse and squeeze out sponge and leave to dry (it's amazing how mildewy a sponge can get if you don't do this). Put sponge in dish drainer. Empty dish drainer when I'm making coffee the next morning.
posted by jessamyn at 5:49 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I use the dishwasher for as many dishes as possible. But for anything which can't go in the dishwasher:

* Dirty dishes wait to the left of the sink.

* it's a double sink but I generally only use the left side when washing dishes.

* Put plug in, add a very decent squirt of dishwashing liquid, fill sink only partway (1/6th?)

* Start washing dishes one at a time, starting with the least dirty.

* After washing the item, rinse with running water over the left sink. Turn tap off when not in use!

* Place the clean item on the dish rack which is on the right hand side of the sink.

* By the time the sink is full and/or the water is too dirty to really be cleaning the dishes anymore and/or the dish rack is full, I stop washing dishes.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:38 PM on August 5, 2021

Elaborate but this is what I was taught:

1) scrape dishes and do a quick clean of the sink;
2) stack the dishes neatly within the sink and make sure that they are holding water and doing a shallow soak. This includes placing utensils in such a way that they too would be soaking;
3) Squirt of soap in the scrubber and then the order of cleaning was glasses, plates, bowls, utensils then pans;
4) the dishes were reverse stacked after the soaping in preparation for the rinse;
5) rinse of water and because of precious stacking the washed stacking is orderly for rack drying;
6) final clean of the sink bowl and dumping of sink strainer.

To be honest, I really like having a dishwasher because washing for a household of 5 with perpetual snackers is an exercise in bad sink surprises.
posted by jadepearl at 11:13 PM on August 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

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