2 April 2009

Washing up - UPDATED

I keep coming back to it, even though I don't have to, it's one of the daily tasks in my home that slows me down and focuses my mind on what I am trying to achieve. Washing up. It must be something all our ancestors did and I am pleased that even though my washing up is in a stainless steel sink, it is still symbolic of going back to basics.

I've read a lot of the research that says a modern dishwasher uses less water and energy than hand washing, but I don't believe it. I think that a conscientious and mindful person will beat a dishwasher every time. Nevertheless, this is not a post to convince you of one thing or another, it's just a report of what I'm doing.

There is a dishwasher here that is used when we're busy or when visitors are here, but washing up by hand, especially in the colder months when I use it to warm my cold hands, always draws me back. I add a small amount of hot water to the kitchen sink, tip in some homemade soap and dive in. It's a job best done when the radio is playing softly so I am aware of what I'm doing.

“Make the moment vital and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” Martha Graham

I don't want to use detergent, it's full of nasties, I don't want to use one of those lovely new natural products that don't contain nasties but do cost too much; I use home made soap. It doesn't lather up much, it doesn't need to, a good clean doesn't rely on lather. The lather you get from detergent comes from chemicals included to make those bubbles. Basically, soap is produced from natural products, and detergents are synthetic - the result of chemical reactions.

So I use my homemade soap to wash the dishes here. It's mild, contains no additives, just oils and lye, and as the glycerine is still in the soap, it doesn't dry my skin. I usually have a bottle of "liquid soap" made up which is using bits and pieces of leftover soap dissolved in water but I find this needs too much glycerine to keep it liquid and it's not worth it. So I'm happy using a bar of soap rubbed onto my dishcloth but I will make real liquid soap when I find a supplier of potassium hydroxide fairly close to where I live. If you know of anyone who sells it in Queensland, please let me know.

My tools of choice are a homemade dishcloth, preferably a thin one, a brush and the dish drainer. I think dish drainers are symbolic of my life now; just as my aprons, the chooks and the garden are. I wash glasses and cups first, then cutlery, then dishes and bowls, followed by pots and pans. It's a very simple process, most of the time it's enjoyable and it slows me down enough every day to remind me that a simple life is not a destination, it's a journey.

This addition is made after reading an email from my sister, I think you'll enjoy reading it. It adds to the washing up information and it tells you a little bit more about where Tricia and I came from. She said it was okay to add her email here.
: - )

rhonda, i really enjoyed todays post. do you remember washing up at grandma's? i have vivid memories of it and they all came flooding back after reading the blog. the kitchen sink was made of stone and the drip tray at the side was small stones put together with i don't know what - but it had a beautiful surface of small flat level stones - rather like what they put in succulent pots today. she also washed in the same sequence that you mentioned and i was always told to make sure that everything was dried properly and to dry the cutlery well so that it shined!

but what really started me off was the soap - sunlight in those days - and it was inside a wire cage sort of contraption with a handle and then was swirled around in the hot water. i wonder if you can still get them?

then the kitchen table is another memory of always helping to polish the table top with kiwi oxblood boot polish. i thought it was great when i was allowed to polish it with the electric polisher (which she gave me when i moved into cambridge park and it lasted many years!) that was a great kitchen - the old kookaburra stove and the little cupboard beside the stove.

the fridge however, was another matter - it always had a particular odour that thankfully i haven't encountered since. there was also a great oak sideboard - do you remember? i wonder what happened to all that stuff! love tricia

Crocheted dishcloths and scrubby patterns here. Knitted dishcloth patterns here. Knitting or crocheting dishcloths is a wonderful and practical way to develop your skills in those areas while producing something of value. They are good beginners projects because they're relatively fast, portable and easy.

I will be able to get back to my square knitting this weekend and I'm looking forward to it very much. Are you knitting along? I will make a flickr page this weekend for the photos - I've started that. I'm already a member of Ravelry so I'll go there on the weekend and see what I have to do to organise a knitalong.

Our latest swap, organised by Sharon and Rose is coming into its final weeks. You will need to have your parcels in the post by Saturday, April 25, 2009. If you're having problems with anything concerning the swap, please contact either Sharon, if you're in her group, on - cdetroyes at yahoo dot com, or Rose, if you're in her group, on rosmar at 1earth dot net. It's usually at the end of swaps that we have problems, so please help Sharon and Rose and let them know now if you're having any problems getting your swap done. I have no doubt the ladies will have a swap update soon so they can organise the final few weeks. I'm really looking forward to seeing what everyone has been working on.

"It may be when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work.
And that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey."
Wendell Berry

Thank you all for your visits this week, for leaving a comment, and for being part of this blog. I hope you have a lovely weekend full of what you enjoy.



  1. Good morning Rhonda,

    Thankyou for the info on Australian book release yesterday. This morning was one of those feel good posts for me. Actually my sink has my cutlery and cups sitting in warm water as we speak, ready for washing up. I agree with you about slowing us down while doing the dishes. When I've finished I love to shine my sink. I'm learning to not get upset when the big fellow comes in for a glass of water and splashes it all over that shiny sink. Life's just to short to fuss over the small stuff.Wishing you a relaxing weekend. Its seems like it's been a busy week for you.

    Blessings Gail.

  2. This is a really nice post on washing the dishes. I sometimes get very frusterated with the never ending pile of dishes that fill up in our house, but you've reminded me of what is important.
    Thank you!

  3. Hi Rhonda,
    I enjoyed reading this post. I rely on my dishwasher these days when we are so busy with the little children, but I grew up without a dishwasher and your post bought back happy memories of me and my siblings having a nice social time together over the sink.
    I listened to the radio interview early this morning as I fed Alice in the dark and quiet of a sleeping household. It was nice to hear your voice and hear the history of how you started blogging. I'm looking forward to your book coming out.
    I joined in the blanket knitting group, but I am such a slow knitter and I have a little baby garment I'm working on for a friend at the same time. I think I have some catching up to do on the blanket.. but it's a fun kind of catching up.
    By-the-way, I saw some knitted dishcloths at the wool/knitting store the other day - has got me motivated again to give it a go.
    Have a lovely day.
    Rachel L

  4. I agree that washing up by hand is so much more peaceful. When my dishwasher was broken for about a month, I really didn't mind doing up the dishes by hand.

    But, as a single mumma to 4 children, I am glad to have a dishwasher. (And I am even more glad to have a brother who is an appliance repair man, and will fix my dishwasher for the price of a homecooked dinner and a tin of biscuits!)

  5. I hope that one day I get to enjoy washing dishes! On days when I have big make-from-scratch cooking sessions, I am often dismayed at the mountain of pots and pans at the end of the day.
    My mother-in-law and sister-in-law (her daughter) have both said that they enjoy doing dishes. My MIL had seven children. I must ask her if she enjoyed it while her children were at home or if it is just now that she lives alone.
    I am consciously slowing down and it is definitely better. But I do find that with a young family still at home, there seem to be a lot more things that need to be done daily. I know on the rare occaisions my DH has taken my boys on a weekend camping trip, I get the housework done early in the day and it doesn't get 'undone' until they come home.
    I know you weren't living this lifestyle when your kids were young. What would you have done differently?

  6. Good morning Rhonda, this post is so timely for me! Last night I turned on the dishwasher and heard a loud popping sound and the power went out. The circuit breaker had cut in -- thank goodness for those.

    Your post reminds me to slow down and be less impatient, I'm perfectly capable of washing dishes until the repairs are done. And if it can't be repaired I'll think long and hard before replacing it.

    Have a great weekend.

  7. This was an insightful post. I don't have a dishwasher and there are days I wish I had one - but most days I don't mind the dishes. I agree that if you are conscientious that you won't use as much as a dishwasher. My mother is the most efficient dishwasher I have ever met. She takes her largest pot, and adds about an inch of sudsy water to that and then washes each dish stacking around the pot in the sink and stacking them on the counter. At the end she uses a small amount of water to rinse, and then the final pot which held the soapy water (which is often the dirtiest pot too) is just about clean with a little coaxing. I have tried this conscientious method and found I use a lot less water than I used to. For me, rubber gloves are a must - to avoid the drying of the hands, and with gloves on - I think washing the dishes is quite therapeutic. Great post!

  8. Oh, glory! That incredibly, fantastically, gorgeously long list of FREE dishcloth patterns was worth the price of admission alone. Oh, right--you don't charge. Bonus: as usual, I feel peaceful and quiet after your reminder to slow down and do my work quietly and thoughtfully. Thanks as always -- Kristin

  9. I really enjoyed this post.

    When I built this house almost 4 years ago now, I made it to be super energy efficient but yet quite modern for resale. And we actually ran a test.

    It turns out, we used 3 times as much water to hand wash and we aren't wasters. It has to do with the extremely precise machine but also the really well designed racks that hold so much. And it uses the used water to run a garbage disposal inside it.

    We only wash when full, but we don't rinse which ups the water use and we wash sensitive things by hand like special china or sharp knives.

    I admire your diligence. I have found the act of washing dishes with a family member to be a relaxing and bonding experience and can't wait to retire to our country place!

  10. I agree with you that washing dishes by hand uses less water and energy than the dishwasher. Those researchers don't know what they're talking about. : )

    I live alone and it just doesn't make sense to use a machine. I also like to listen to music while doing the dishes and it becomes a relaxing chore.

  11. Hi Rhonda,
    I always love reading your posts because you help give me perspective about my own situation. I can't stand washing dishes, no doubt from that being my daily chore for many, many years growing up. And I would only wash the dishes in the sink, but as it is even after I've filled up the dishwasher I still have dishes that need to be washed by hand.
    I like how you said it slows you down a bit. I think it could do that for me, too, if I would let it. I think sometimes IO get myself so worked up into a frenzy about the things I need to do that I don't take that time to slow down. I am going to try to do that more.

    Oh,I have a question - you've mentioned that you get your milk from a local dairy farm, which means the milk is raw, correct? Have you ever had any problems with thus?Do you have nay concerns? Here in the States, they makes us feel that the minute you drink raw milk you might die from salmonella or e. coli. I know of a dairy farm not too far from e and am really interested, but am concerned about the aspect of drinking raw milk. I would love some reassurance. :0)

  12. Hi Rhonda Jean :) Popping in to catch up a little with you, and I hope that you have a lovely weekend, too!

    I listened to your radio interview and thought you did a wonderful job! It was a joy to hear you - Love & hugs, Q

  13. We have a dishwasher, but I too prefer to wash dishes by hand. Our water bill does not seem to change much either way so I just wash by hand as I prefer. I will try to find some solid dishwashing soap on Etsy.

  14. I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate your efforts here. I have come to rely on your wisdom in the simple/green/homemaking realm.

    God's Peace, Melissa

  15. I once saw a woman use a tube sock to hold her bar of homemade soap for washing dishes. My daughter and I both were hoping she used a nice new one and not one out of the dirty laundry. *phew*

  16. This is a lovely post to read. Late last year I discovered your blog and started to knit dishcloths. Guess what my Folks got for Christmas.

    These reminded Dear Mum how her mother used to crochet dishcloths from cotton string.

    Like my Nana used to, I'm washing my dishes using a bar of Sunlight soap and a hand made dishcloth. I get such a great shine on my stainless steel bench and sink.

    Nana too had a stainless steel bench and sink, a 25th wedding anniversary gift back in 1949.

    I agree that washing dishes is a time to slow down. I'll add, and to enjoy getting them clean.

    Thank you for another greatpost. Hope you both have a happy weekend,

    Michelle in Wellington, NZ

  17. Joanna, good question. Most of what I did I'd do again - the encouragement, taking them away on little trips, reading to them, stroking their faces when they slept teaching them to "cook" when they were young, no night time TV until they were about 10, having chooks as their first pets. I guess the one thing I'd change though would be to spend more time with them with no expected outcome - just playing, reading or drawing together.

    Robyn, currently I buy milk from the local dairy - it's pasturised but not homogenised. I'd like to find a diary farmer who would sell me raw milk and if I do, I'll have no problem drinking and cooking with it. I might even get back into cheese making which, after my camerbert fiasco, I swore I'd never do again. It's funny how time makes you forget.

    Kimchi, I'd like to meet your mum. :- )

  18. Your post on "washing up" so reminded me of my mom's 'washing up" her kitchen sink routine. She had an old white dubl enamel sink & it was the pride of her home. Everything was washed,rinsed & dryed(my job)with perfection. when done, the sink was cleaned,rinsed & dryed to rest until needed again.
    My mom is gone now but my son lives in her house. Last week I was able to be there by myself for awhile & I washed,rinsed & claned my son's dishes in that sink just like mom & I used to do.
    I cleaned& dryed the sink & left it like she would have.
    After that, i drove home to my own house with a good peace in my heart.suegail

  19. I have a dishwasher (it was already there when we bought the house), but I use it rarely. You read everywhere that the dishwasher uses less water and electricity,but nobody tells you about the detergent! As the scrubbing and brushing of washing by hand has to be replaced by chemicals, they sure have to be very strong (= nasty)!
    Thand you for this post

  20. Another beautiful post!

    Me and my sister used to wash up together as children - sometimes singing and chatting, often squabbling :) My sister was slow and deliberate, but hated it. I didn't mind, but was very 'enthusiastic', and things often didn't get clean properly...

    Today I don't mind, but am still accused of being 'quick and enthusiastic' - meaning that sometimes things have to be washed twice :)

    My grandma always said "wash up as you go along", and I try to stick to that as much as possible. When I'm cooking, I run a bowl of washing water, and spoons, knives, chopping board, plates and everything goes in, so when the cooking is finished, there's only the pans and plates we've eaten from to do.

    I'm keeping an eye out for cotton to make dishcloths once my current stock of disposable ones has run out

    One thing I remember... I went to a Victorian museum once and they were knitting dishcloths out of ordinary string - I might give that a try too.

    Thanks again Rhonda!


  21. I was taught to wash up in the same order that you've described here...... but I still loathe it although I appreciated reading your point of view on it. I love my dishwasher. 'nuff said. lol

    I'm hoping to put up a knitting post over the weekend. Am looking forward to checking out everyone's creations.

  22. Really enjoyed your radio interview, Rhonda! So nice to put a voice with the face!! Another enjoyable post. I am a dishwasher girl, for now. Maybe that will change though. You have given me food for thought!!!

    Thanks once again!!
    central illinois

  23. Rhonda, I have one of those wire contraptions! I found it years ago in a 2nd hand junk shop and bought it for cents, it hangs in my laundry to remind me of the one my grandma had at her kitchen sink.. I think you can still buy them.

    I am seriously thinking of making soap, after your delicious photo! The washing up sequence is one I follow too, it is something I learnt in home science in high school.. things like that are not taught nowdays, such a shame.

    Tricia's memories sound very much like my own memories of my grandma in Windsor.
    have a wonderful weekend ox

  24. oh & ps: I found a pattern somewhere to knit a scrubby using cotton & tuille.. it is like one of those scourers that you buy.. if you are interested I can email you the link.

    and also, I have a French farmhouse sink in my kitchen.. do you have any suggestions on how to clean it? It is made of a kind of old type of porcelain.

  25. Sincere thanks for sharing the update from your sister. My Nana also had her piece of Sunlight Soap in a little wire soap shaker that had a long handle.

    I would love to have one myself. Mum also used this method in the 1970's, only even then the soap shaker was made of plastic. I too would love to have a metal one.

    My Mum could have done without her 2 teenaged daughters singing loudly, enthusiatically and very off-key while doing the dishes. And I'll swear it was our Dad who encouraged us to leave Mum litle messages in the condensation that formed on the kitchen window. Now, it was Dad who drew the skull and crossbones!

    What memories you've helped to bring back to me - in June it will be my Folks' 50th wedding anniversary. I must bring up this wee lot, even if sister and I just repeat the singing!

  26. Hello Rhonda,
    I loved the addit of your sister Tricia's story combined with yours. It brought back many memories of my childhood when my sister and I would wash up. We argued over who would wash and who would dry. If we took turns we would argue over whose turn it was! We must have driven our mother mad.The memory makes me smile now fifty or so years later.

    Regards Patricia

  27. Would you believe it..after I read your post Rhonda I wanted to go wash my dishes by hand..grin! But then I really do like washing dishes by hand.
    I had fun checking out the patterns for knitted dishcloths (thank you)..some patterns I might use for the squares I'm knitting, the thing is that I sometimes run into snags about halfway through..most times I just decide to leave it and say it's my design..hehe
    I have finished 10 squares and need to get knitting again..

  28. Rhonda love this post I wash all my dishes by hand and when I worked washing dishes after dinner was a little me time believe it or not. I would turn my kitchen radio on and wash my dishes to the radio warm water on my hands and just knowing my dishes were getting extra clean great feeling at he end of the day.take care Debra Lynn

  29. I have always washed dishes by hand and in the order you mention. I also find it warming on the hands (although I do use rubber gloves) and relaxing. The only times I've ever wished for a dishwasher was when I have everyone over for Christmas and Easter, as I have very limited bench space. I try to remedy that by washing up as I go along. I do miss the stainless steel draining boards that we had in Australia though.

  30. Great post! Our fancy dishwasher died about a month ago. After going back and forth, we decided not to replace it, at least until our emergency fund is filled. Initially, I really missed the convenience. But I think washing dishes by hand is helping me to learn how to slow down and focus on the present moment. Not just rush through one thing so I can get on to the next. And it's so incredibly precious to see my husband and our two youngest kids washing dishes together :)

  31. When our dishwasher broke down last year we made the decision to not replace it. I grew up w/o a dishwasher. Goodness, I grew up w/o a garbage disposal! That might draw a few gasps here and there. :o)

    I enjoy washing dishes by hand for a few reasons. The process is quick, especially when others pitch in to rinse and dry and put away. The process is made pleasant by carrying on a conversation with a helper. The process adds to a certain simplicity, which I love.

    My grandparents would do dishes together, all the while singing light opera. Both had amazing voices, from what I understand.

    Thank you for this post. :)


  32. Read about a comparative test that was done to market a dishwasher (at some show ... somewhere). They had the dishwasher and a person wash the same amount of dishes and compared the amount of water used. I can't remember the results and I've forgotten where I read about the test, but the thing that struck me was, the person washed all the dishes under running hot water without the using the plug in the sink. I've never seen or heard of anyone washing a whole load of dishes like that here in Australia. Do they use that method in America perhaps?

  33. Depends on the person, Kitkinkate. It's like shaving. I draw a basin of water, but I know plenty of others who keep the hot water tap running in order to rinse their razor.

    Our dishwasher broke several months ago, and things are tight right now, so until we can afford major repairs, we are washing by hand. I just checked, and our water and energy consumption jumped at that point.

    I used to work in research on household cleaners - Drackett made Windex, Drano, Mr. Muscle, Vanish, Renuzit, Behold, endust, Miracle White and other products. The company is gone now, the products made by other people.

    A lot of the things in household cleaners are just illusion. Those things that turn your toilet water blue? That's ALL they do; too little detergent to do any cleaning.

    And those colored "power specks" in laundry detergent? It's salt that's been spraypainted with a dye. The laundry detergent would actually work better (by a trifling amount) without them.

    But the bubbles in dishwater ARE there to serve a purpose. They provide more surface area for grease to gather on, which means squeaky-clean dishes from less water. Bubbles are a problem in dishwashers, so they use very strong alkali, too strong for skin contact, to saponify the fat.

    BTW, dissolved protein causes water to foam, so rinsing before dishwasher is VERY important.

  34. what a nifty post! i too wash dishes by hand. it's the one job only i do... the kids help with everything else, but not the dishes. they think i'm giving them a break, but really i'm being selfish;) i love the time it gives me to stand still and think♥

  35. I love my dishwasher: it's a fantastic place to stack the dishes I've just washed in the sink! Haven't turned it on for a couple of years, but I use it everyday as a double decker dish rack. Funny that I can afford to get it fixed, but I really don't want to. After years of pining after a dw now I'm like you and enjoy the hands on experience of cleaning what I dirty.

  36. Katkinkate.....I use to wash dishes by hand as a child and for a few years when I was first married, and I never did it with the hot water just running! I don't know anyone who does that!

    I have 5 children, so dishes for seven people, three meals a day! I run my dish washer at least twice sometimes three times in a day (depending on the size of our evening meal). I don't like to do dishes by hand, I am very thankful for my fancy-shamancy dish washer!

    (maybe that will change as the kids grow and move out)

  37. I am enjoying reading your blog. My son, who is 11, sings while he washes the dishes! No small task in our home as we cook alot and do most from scratch.
    Have a blessed week.

    Lisa Q

  38. its an interesting comparison between dishwasher or washing up by hand. In general, i think you're right that a conscientious person is better than a dishwasher. But I do think that a dishwasher, completely filled up to the brim is better than 50 individuals using a lot of water to wash each mug they use, so I was quite pleased to see a dishwasher in my new office.

  39. I linked to you this morning in my "linky love" post... hope you don't mind!

    have a blessed Sabbath♥

  40. I've always washed up by hand. I used to hate washing the dishes, but now I find satisfaction in seeing shiny clean dishes, pots, pans and cutlery.

    I love reading about all the wonderful things you do, Rhonda. I wish *I* could do more of those things, but I keep reminding myself I'm in a different season of life.

    Love the new header picture.

  41. Lovely post! I agree -- when I measured how much water was needed to wash by hand (with water in a bowl or basin) I can't imagine hand washing is less efficient than a dishwasher, which uses several gallons at best. Although washing up always reminds me of families at the holidays, watching the backs of my now-late grandparents as they worked, listening to the men do their part. When my dishwasher died I thought about going back to hand-washing, but we have sooo little counter space that I couldn't bear to give it up for a drainer -- and I admit, I love it when I consciously notice the dishwasher doing my work for me! Guess I am just a modern girl.

  42. A lovely post. At our house we also hand wash the dishes. We don't have a dishwasher and I wouldn't use it if we had one. Washing the dishes by hand is one of the chores I can do and just forget time. It is a bit like ironing which has the same effect for me. I never get tired of the view out my kitchen window,so I can relax and just drift away for a time. We also launder by hand due to water and power restrictions, not quiet so relaxing,but that is another story.
    Both my daughters always wanted to help do the dishes, and housework in general. When they were young they would want to wear one of my (to big) aprons, so eventually they had to have a selection of aprons of their own.


  43. Hi,

    I was just wondering, you mentioned in your post that you can make liquid soap out of your soap recipe. Is there a detailed explaination anywhere on your blog?

    Also, this may be reflective of my consumer-driven generation, but is it ok to use soap to clean dishes? Does it work ok?

    P.S - I never thought I'd enjoy a dishwashing post as much as I did. Thank you so much for sharing your infinite wisdom and simple pleasures in life. :D

  44. Jenna, it's OK to use soap to clean dishes. For many years, "Ivory Flakes" as the best-selling product for that purpose.

    If you have hard water, ordinary soap doesn't work very well for cleaning *anything*, because it forms a heavy curd. Even in soft water, though, it leaves a little scum and/or film.

    Soap made using potassium hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide (ordinary lye) is called "soft soap". It works better in hard water. Soap made from other lipids (most soap is made from pork lard or beef tallow) can also help. I think I've seen olive oil and coconut oil soaps in the market in recent years.

    In areas where water is exceptionally hard, "Fletcher's Castile" sells better.

    The biggest advantage of detergents is that they form bubbles. Bubbles have a lot of surface area, and they carry grease and oil away, so that you don't end up with an oily film on your dishes when you're done.

    Mind you, I come from an industry orientation. While I've never made dish detergent, I was involved in developing other commercial household cleaners in the 1970s and 1980s, so I may reasonably be considered biased.

    Why not just try using soap, and see if you like the results? It's not like you're going to poison your family doing that.


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