3 February 2008

Washing dishes

I'm the first to admit that I'm not consistent with my washing up methods. I swing between using the dishwasher and washing up in the sink. I do this because I can't make up my mind which is the best way. I believe the dishwasher does a better job of cleaning, but I think I do a better job of looking after my kitchen ware if I'm actually touching it and cleaning it myself.

Of course there's also the issue of water, electricity and chemical usage. My dishwasher uses 68 litres of water per wash and I use it once a day. When I wash up in the sink, I do that after each meal, so to improve on the dishwasher I have to use less than 22.6 litres of water each time for washing and rinsing. Generally I can do that, but I don't save much. I think I'm coming in at around 18 litres, three times a day, in the sink, and a couple of litres to pre-rinse the plates. I'm probably saving about 8 litres a day by washing up in the sink. I'm going to see how I go washing up twice a day - breakfast and lunch combined and then dinner. I think I could store the breakfast dishes in the sink so they're not sitting on the sink waiting to be washed.

There haven't been very many studies done on dishwashers versus hand washing. There is a famous one that found washing in the sink used much more water, but the people they studied didn't put a plug in the sink and kept the water tap running over the dishes! How strange. I've never known anyone to wash up like that.

This is what I do. I pre-rinse the plates, removing as much food as I can. Sometimes I use a spatula to do this. I put the soap in the water as I'm filling the sink, then add enough hot water (usually around 14 litres) to suit the amount of dishes I have in the main sink. About four litres of coolish water goes in the rinse sink. I use my own homemade soap because it lathers and gives a better wash than the yellow laundry soap. I used to use one of the "green" detergents but think homemade soap is better. It makes the water look milky - that's okay.

My tools include a dish mop, handmade dishcloth, long handle brush, scrubbing brush and a steel scourer. I don't use rubber gloves. If the soap is left in the hot water while the sink fills, it becomes a bit soft. I rub the soap on the dishcloth and dish mop and use them for the glasses, cups, plates, bowls and cutlery. The soap is then put in the soap rack. The dish mop allows me to use hotter water than I could with just the dishcloth. The dish mop, and sometimes the long handled brush, are used for jars and anything that needs scrubbing inside. The steel scourer is used on pots and pans. BTW, a plastic handled scrubbing brush was almost ten dollars at the store. I bought this shoe brush instead for $2.45, it's just as good.

I wash up in this order: glasses and jars, cups, saucers, plates, bowls, cutlery, pots, pans. Everything is washed thoroughly and inspected for cracks and damage, everything is rinsed and left to dry. I only dry wine glasses because I want them to shine.

When I wash up in the dishwasher, I pre-rinse some plates, but usually just pack everything in after use. After dinner at night, I start the dishwasher up, it's unpacked the next morning. I use Finish powder every second wash and alternate it with washing soda. I don't use a rinse aid and I don't use dishwasher "fresheners". I use vinegar to clean the dishwasher every month.

On the days I work, we use the dishwasher because Hanno doesn't like washing up. I like washing in the sink so I do that on the days I spend at home. I would like to find an alternative to using my regular dishwashing powder so if you have any ideas, let me know. At the moment I use it one day and washing soda the next. I have also used half and half dishwashing powder and washing soda. It works well but using what I am now is easier and uses the same amount of both. I'm sure there would be a healthier alternative. I wonder what you're all using.

Just like everything else we look after, we also care for our cleaning tools. On the day I clean the dishwasher with vinegar, I make up a bowl of weak strength liquid bleach - about 2 litres water with ½ cup of bleach added - and I soak the brushes, scourer and dish mop in that solution for a couple of hours. They're all rinse and dried. After every wash, I shake out the dish mop so it dries out between uses. The dishcloths and tea towels are changed every day and washed with the general laundry. If the dishcloths are very dirty or greasy, I soak them in oxygen bleach (nappy soaker) before washing.

I'm sure there are many different way to clean dishes. If you've worked out a great way to save resources while cleaning effectively, please let us all know about it.


  1. I recollect that the Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn had an article on the pros and cons of the dishwasher. I think her conclusion was that while washing by hand did not save much money or water, she still preferred the handwashing method. It helped her to slow things down and went with her old fashioned kitchen.

  2. I have a preference of handwashing the dishes. Over the years we have had a dishwasher, I just came to the conclusion as the vecchio family commented, it slows down my life and gives me a moment to look out the window and watch the roadrunners and quail.

  3. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    A few years back my dishwasher pump stopped working and as my youngest was unemployed at the time, deciced to make her responsible for the hand washing up. It was great experience for her (a chore for me, as I had to inpect every dish afterwards and get her to re-do the rejects!) Now all the dishes are done by hand and by me because I really like doing dishes.

    I use velvet soap and dry up all glass and metal items, only because I think they look nicer. I also have nearly given up using steel wool or any type of scourer. My pots and pans I soak beforehand, wash in the soapy sink water, wipe most of the water out, spray the inside with vinegar, which instantaniously removes that blue coloured tarnishing that stainless steel gets, and if there is anything left to get off I use a little soda bic. Works like a charm. It's substituting one product for another but I figured it to be greener than steel wool. I also bought some good quality pots which you shouldn't use scourers on and this keeps them in excellent condition.

    I wash once a day to conserve water, just before the main meal preparation so the benches are clear for action.

    Regards, Marilyn

  4. Rhonda,

    I have an aversion to doing dishes. In fact, a week's worth of dirty dishes are staring at me from the kitchen -- bet you didn't' need to know that!

    Part of my aversion is that I only have 1 sink and a small one at that. Rinsing dishes is difficult. I have tried having a small tub of rinse water on the counter to use, but the counter tops are quite small, and presently covered by dishes.

    I will say this, I do the dishes more often in the warmer months just to avoid science experiments from happening.

    I use a lemon scented dish soap, phosphorous free. I do pre-soak pots if they're really bad, otherwise I rinse them after use and then wash them with the rest of the dishes. I do wear rubber gloves -- my skin is quite sensitive to most soap products, plus I don't like immersing my hands in hot water.

    When I first started dating my bf he would come over and do the dishes for me. Ahh, love at first sight! He'll still at times do my dishes for me.

    In my next place I either want a) a double sink or b) a dishwasher -- at least with a dishwasher I can 'hide' dirty dishes out of sight and run it once it's full, I suspect about every couple of days.

  5. In the UK some "green" housewives use soapnuts in the dishwasher and swear by them. (With white vinegar in the rinse aid space.)
    Here is a link to Soapnuts and the advice they give.
    I haven't tried it, but some have on the iVillage.uk green living message board and swear by them.

  6. Excellent post, thanks Rhonda and I like Marilyn's suggestions too. This was just what I was pondering about a couple of days ago. I have never had a dishwasher, so am happy with handwashing as never known any different. I do the dishes once every 1-2 days as there is only the two of us (+ the doggies of course), depending on the pile up and whether or not it is a working day or weekend and my mood! I'm using a liquid dishwashing detergent, a bright blue scourer/sponge both from Aldis, a yellow Jiff cloth and I always wear gloves. I'd like to make this process kinder to the environment. Next time I make some soap I shall save some for dishwashing, this never crossed my mind before, as I use all my handmade soap for washing skin in the shower(hehe) and giving away as presents. How do your hands go without gloves ? - (I guess they are okay because handmade soap would be much gentler than detergent). And Maggie, I have been a Maggie in the past, as there is ALWAYS something else I'd rather do than the dishes ! Lately I'm liking housework a smidgen more.

  7. We currently have no dishwasher, and boy do I miss it. I have to admit to hating doing the dishes, mainly because there just isn't enough room in the dish tray to fit them all in! We do a lot of cooking, so that usually means a lot of dishes. I can't wait till I have another dishwasher.

    In the dishwasher, I have tried using the Natural Instincts dishwasher poweder, which is nearly as good as the commerical ones. I believe Ecover has eco friendly dishwasher tablets too, but I haven't tried them.


  8. In the Netherlands it's cheaper to do the dishes by hand because the costs of energy are very high here. That's becuase of all the taxes.

    For you it's perhaps an idea to do the dishes twice a day just as we do. After lunch I do the dishes and after dinner one of our sons does it.
    Yes we have a dishwasher. It's about 11 years old and it's only used in special circumstances such as illness.

  9. Hi Rhonda, I'm very slowly catching up with your old posts, there is so much information here! I'm just wondering if you had a previous blog i.e. pre May 2007? and if so, are your earlier posts still available somewhere please?

  10. I use a small, round, washing up bowl in my sink so I can wash up using about half the amount of water I used previously. When I turn on the hot tap it runs cold for a while before the hot water comes through and I use this cold to warm water to rinse off the plates before filling the bowl with hot water. I had a dishwasher when all the family were at home, but when it gave up I started hand washing again and I quite enjoy it. Its an "instant fix" sort of job which goes from messy to all finished and neat in just a few minutes.

  11. Ecover dishwasher tablets work well, and I use it for 95% of the dishes. The rest I hand wash with Ecover dishsoap. I also put all my dishwashing implements (plastic scrub brush, dish mop with plastic handle), in the dishwasher to clean them. There are just the two of us, so I only run the dishwasher once per day, and I use the economy cycle where the dishes air dry. I think the dishwasher simply does a better job of cleaning.

    I enjoy your blog very much. I would appreciate a pointer to a website that covers basic sewing skills. I can sew on a button and do basic repairs, but it would be good to be able to sew some simple tote bags or make curtains.


    Anna Marie

  12. This is a very timely post for me, as our dishwasher just broke this very week! I would love to hear from others with bigger families (we have 4 kids) - do you find handwashing to be more or less time and/or energy consuming than using the dishwasher? I am trying to put off the purchase of a new washer for at least six months, so I am hoping some of you will come in for handwashing! My problem is this - we have SO many dishes, and they usually need pre-rinsing if we wash by hand (even if we dont sometimes). This will sound stupid, but how can rinsing be done without running the water over an open plug? I hate wasting all that water - but I cant just soak the dishes in their own muck. Am I missing something?

    Kate, Dishwasherless in NY

  13. I have used the dishwashing powder recipe from here with good results:
    http://www.momadvice.com/money/dishwasher_tips.aspx (scroll down to the last paragraph)

  14. Like Eileen, I catch the warming-up water for rinsing, or put a container in one side of the sink to catch the rinse water. (It goes out to the garden afterwards.)

    One thing I do is rinse out pots and pans with clean water and then save it for soup. Not much flavor, but every little bit helps, plus the pots are easier to wash.

    I also recently put a plastic tub on one side of the sink for the wash water. It keeps the hot water hot longer than the metal sink in a cold house. We can then dump the water on the garden, which is safe because we use no animal products and very, very little fat/oil. (Residue from animal products could contain harmful pathogens that shouldn't be poured onto the soil.)

    Oh, and I do use our dishwasher...as a large drainrack!

  15. Ted and Bear,

    It's amazing how a very public confession about the mess in my kitchen is just the right motivation I needed to get the job done. I was surprised at how quickly it went by -- 20 mins maybe. I suspect that because the countertop is small to begin with, there are only so many dishes to pile up, plus there was an assortment of recyclables for the blue bin, and some other bits of rubbish.

    Once the dishes were done, I ran a load of laundry -- I have an apartment size washer that hooks up to the kitchen sink. Thus, if I want to do laundry I NEED to do the dishes, or else I'm screwed.

    Felt nice waking up this morning to a 'clean' kitchen. Huge weight off my shoulders!


  16. Hi Dishwasherless Kate.
    Our dishwasher stopped working properly over two weeks ago and as it's over 20 years old, noisy and takes a long, long time to do a cycle I would rather replace it than pay big $ for repairs. However I want to wiat about 6 months also. I am expecting baby 8 any day now, we homeschool, bake and cook from scratch and seem to have an endless stream of dirty dishes.

    We prerinse with a small stream of running water and stack as we go. Then wash in a small bowl, rinsing with a small trickle of warm water. This way we can quickly do a better job of our dishes than our old dishwasher, using much less water and electricity (we have solar hot water). We usually leave the dishes to air dry and I put them away later, no bending down like emptying a dishwasher either.

    I usually do between meal wash ups and the children take turns with the meal wash ups. By having a clear sink before a meal, the after-meal clean up isn't too daunting. I will often do the pre-rinse and stack to also make it easier for the assigned child to washup by hand.

    Each child has a reusable drink bottle, and for myself a mug, which we use all day for our drinks (water only). This avoids endless cups and glasses to wash.

    The children will be pleased when we do replace the dishwasher but they don't spend much more time washing up now than when rinsing and stacking the dishwasher. As I do the prerinse I think we use much less water too than their pre-dishwasher rinsing.

  17. Hello everyone, great comments again today, thank you.

    I prefer handwashing too but, no doubt, we'll keep using the dishwasher until it dies. It's now ten years old.

    Ted and bear, my hands are fine in the dishwater. I use hand cream daily, but I don't think the water cuases too much damage to my skin.

    Hi Maggie, it's good to see you took the inspiration and ran with it. Well done!

    Rosieb, this is my only blog.

    Kate, you could fill a small amount of water into your sink and use a spatula to scrape off any remnants of food - either straight into the sink or into the rubbish bin. Remember, you're not washing at this stage so it's ok to use the same water just to remove visible food and rinse off. Then you'll do your real washing in clean water and soap, or in the dishwasher.

    Thanks to all for sharing your experiences.

  18. Hi Kate in NY, if you have a double sink big enough, or use a separate tub, I think soaking the plates in their own muck is a good way to go! Just put the dishes in a tub, cover with hot water, leave for fifteen minutes to half an hour, then wash as normal in an ordinary sink. The pre-soaking makes the dishes so easy to clean, any muck just wipes right off.

    I have found that this method uses much more water than my usual one - which is to scrape and occasionally rinse before washing - but if you are short on time and water isn't too much of an issue it could work for you. It is definitely less water than letting rinse water run down the sink.

  19. We hand wash too. We found the kids were lazier to pack and unpack the dishwasher tan they were to get them washed by hand.
    When we used the dishwasher we used a 50//50 mix of washing soda and borax. I also used vinegar in the rinse dispenser. It seemed to work well enough. I can't stand the strong smell that comes out the dishwasher when using regular dishwasher detergent. I would like to try using a soap bar for washing dishes rather than liquid soap. I use a bar to wash down the bathroom already.


  20. Hi Rhonda,
    I use the following mix for dishwasher powder:
    1 part citric acid
    1 part laundry powder (not a stinky floral: I use Herbon. I guess you could try grated soap)
    1 part washing soda
    2 parts bicarb

    Use a couple of teaspoons in thhe dispenser. The original recipe used borax instead of laundry powder, but I put ALL my greywater on the garden and I'm a bit dubious about borax (love to get your thoughts on this). I use vinegar in the rinse aid. My husband claims the filters need cleaning more with this powder. I think he should stop demanding cleaning miracles from the dishwasher and scrape the plates before loading!

    Hope this is of use
    Love the site: you are very generous.

  21. I must confess, although I am one who turns off the water to wash my hands, and turns off the water to brush myteeth, that living in a "one sink" NYC apartment, when I don't use the dishwasher, I do leave the water running. It's how I was taught to do dishes. I was brought up that it's "more sanitary" to let the water run. NOw of course, that's SO not true, but it's ingranined in my psyche...

    But I mostly use the dishwasher. And we buy the Seventh Generation brand of dishwashing liquid...

  22. A few years ago I saw the military did a test air drying versus cloth drying and the results were 40% less diseases with the air drying. Any idea where I can confirm that? Thanks Andy

  23. I haven't used the dishwasher since it flooded the kitchen. (Floors got nicely washed...)
    I heat water on stove since I only turn up water heater for showers. Water goes into two dishpans for washing and rinsing. When finished I dump all the water in a bucket and use it to flush the toilet. Using gloves, the water is really hot and everything gets cleaned.
    I do the days washing in the evening after soaking things throughout the day. This water also goes into bucket.

  24. I love the tips from your visitors to this write up. On studies done on dishwashers versus hand washing, you can find some useful answers at "Water Saving Calculations" at this link:



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