I've had a couple of emails lately asking about washing up. I've written about this in the past but its over a year now since we got rid of our dishwasher so I thought it would be interesting to write about going back to washing up by hand.
In November 2009, I decided I no longer needed, nor wanted, a dishwasher and asked Hanno to remove it from the kitchen. Today, I wanted to give an evaluation of the water and electricity saved by not having a dishwasher but we've changed both our electric and water companies in the past year and with price fluctuations and different pricing structures, it was too difficult to calculate. Suffice to say we're saving electricity but probably use about the same amount of water. I know there is a common belief now that hand washing uses more water than machine washing. I have seen figures of 63 litres mentioned for washing up by hand. That is a lot of water! My washing up sink holds about 15 litres, my rinsing sink holds about 10 litres. Even if I filled them both to their capacity I'd use 25 litres. As it happens, I use less than 10 litres, twice a day. I explain how below.
But water and electricity aren't as much of a concern to me as the chemicals used in dishwashers are. Not only are they very expensive, they're highly toxic and corrosive. Before I gave up my dishwasher, I tried a couple of homemade versions of dishwasher detergent but was never happy with the result. I realised I could not continue using them and still say I cared for the environment. And please, I am not accusing anyone of anything here, I'm just relaying my feelings. The last day I used those chemicals in my home was a happy one. When we sold our machine, we gave the lady all our dishwasher detergent too. I was really glad to see it go.
Another cost that's often overlooked in the hand versus machine washing debate is the cost of the machine's manufacture, freight from the place of manufacture to where you buy it, and then to home. Add to that the waste they become when they break down or wear out. All these costs have to be weighed up and considered. If you have a large family, work outside the home and have little home time, you'll probably decide you're willing to pay the various costs. If, like me, you're in a small family with occasional large family groups, you might think the cost is too high and hand wash. Either way though, it's a private decision for all of us. As always I don't expect you to follow what we do here; I expect you to do what suits you and the way you work and be proud of that.
For me, there is nothing like hand washing dishes. It is a homemaker's task that hasn't changed in many a long year. What I do is what my grandma did, and her grandma before her. It's so simple and gentle on the dishes, it's relaxing, quiet and satisfying. Just me and a sink of hot water with either liquid soap or dish detergent, a dishcloth, dish mop, stainless steel scourer and brushes, and a sink of warm water for rinsing. I don't dry, I set the plates and cups on the drainer and let them air dry. Hanno wanders along later and puts everything neatly back in its place.
There is a line of thought that says the dishwasher washes cleaner, and I believe that is true. Dishwasher water is so hot and the detergent so corrosive, you'd not be able to put your hands into it. I have found that hot water you can put your hands into, cleans effectively, and easily, and we've never had an instance of food poisoning in our home. I've written about over-cleaning before. Cutlery and crockery you use every day needs to be clean, it doesn't need to be sterile.
This is how I wash up. After breakfast the plates are scraped, but not rinsed, unless we've had eggs. Eggs stick and will need scrubbing later if you don't pre-rinse it. The plates and cups are stacked in the sink. The morning tea cups and a plate are added and I wash up after we've had lunch - usually another couple of plates and glasses or cups. If I do any cooking or preserving/canning, this is an extra and will be washed up as soon as I'm finished. As I prepare dinner, I wash up as I go, so I add hot water to the sink, wash graters, paring knives, measuring jugs, strainers etc as I use them and leave the water in the sink ready for the dinner plates. After dinner, all I have to do is finish off our two plates, cutlery, water jug and glasses and I'm finished. Everything sits in the drainer to dry. I fill my sink with about seven litres/quarts of hot water, and in a second smaller sink, about two litres to rinse, twice a day. The soap, brushes, scourers, dishcloths, are mostly handmade and used repeatedly, with time out for cleaning or soaking in oxybleach or peroxide.
There is one small part of the dishwasher that I do miss - the ability to stack the dishes out of sight until they're washed. But it's not enough of a reason for me to put up with the downsides. In the space the dishwasher once stood, I now have extra storage for recycled jars and bottles and my spare dish drainers. I don't have a door there, it's a red and white check curtain. I'm very happy with this arrangement, it suits my kitchen and the way I work and I'm pleased the dishwasher has gone. It's nothing fancy, but neither am I. All I need is an effective method that suits the way I work, and after shuffling around I finally have it.