I was talking life hacks with a friend. We were discussing hacks for making those really annoying, sucky chores easier. After I shared a hack for not losing socks in the washing machine, I lamented, “Now if I could just find a hack for making washing the dishes easier”.
said, “You want to know what my hack for washing dishes is?” “Yes!” I cried excitedly. “Yes, please tell me!” He said, “Get a dishwasher”.
Doing the dishes has never been my favourite household chore. In fact, you might say I enjoy washing dishes less than doing anything else.
Sweeping is hands down my favourite. Laundry’s not my favourite but it’s not like it’s time consuming.
I’ll mop a floor, clean a bathroom, hell, I’ll happily scrub a toilet for an hour rather than stare down a big stack of dishes.
There’s just something about doing the dishes that I have detested right from when I was little. I have no idea why. There are probably myriad factors.
the soap drying out your hands and destroying your manicure (who needs acetone) …
when food gets baked onto pots and pans and you have to scrub it for 321 years …
the fact that it takes so flipping long and you just have to stand in the kitchen on your own when everyone else is doing cool shit …
when your rolled up sleeves randomly unravel and fall down into the dishwater …
when you accidentally slop some water up on your shirt and ruin it …
the dreaded aftermath from any form of social entertaining …
when someone leaves their teabag or half a cup of coffee in and you don’t realise until it’s too late …
when you’re finally onto your last dish and someone strolls into the kitchen and throws a cup in there …
or when the dregs in the dishwater hit your hand and you have no idea what food it was but it infects your soul as its slimy surface caresses your fingers.
Yes, go on, call me a princess all you want, but there’s actually also scientific evidence to back me up that handwashing dishes is the worst. Washing dishes in a dishwasher is far superior to washing dishes by hand. Firstly, there’s the environmental factor.
A study by the University of Bonn in Germany found that using a dishwasher (caveat: with a full load) uses half the energy, only one sixth of the water and even less soap. For my husband and I, whose only water source is from rainwater tanks, that fact alone is especially key.
And it’s not just the environmental factor. It’s far more hygienic these days to wash dishes in the dishwasher, as the water temperature used in today’s dishwashers rises far higher than our hands can handle, killing off more bugs way more effectively, not to mention that the kitchen sponge is the most germ laden cesspit in your whole house.
AND if nothing else there’s the time efficiency factor. You can free up 230 hours of your free time, or 10 whole days, a year just by using a dishwasher.
Well, that’s all well and good, you say, but you’re preaching to the choir. I’m here because I don’t have a dishwasher.
Don’t worry, I don’t either. And whilst we are renting a home without one, that situation isn’t going to change anytime soon.
My hatred of washing things by hand caused a lot of problems for me. And that hatred caused resentment and that resentment caused resistance.
I’m a house proud kinda girl. I love a clean home.
I get anxious when my house is cluttered and messy. Not to mention, our kitchen sink is pretty much the first thing visitors see when they step into our home.
So, as much as I loathe doing the dishes, I knew I had to make peace with it.
Wouldn’t it be nice, thought I, if I found as much peace and relaxation in doing my dishes as I do sweeping my floors or scrubbing out my shower?
With a bit of Googling and a lot of experimentation, I actually found a system of hand washing dishes that works.
It’s never going to be my favourite chore. It just isn’t.
And one day, when my husband and I finally buy our first home, you best believe there is gonna be a shiny-ass dishwasher in my kitchen. But for now, I think I’ve actually got my groove when it comes to doing dishes.
I think I’ve made my peace with it and can survive quite fine without one for the time being.
If you’ve found yourself dishwasherless and hating life, I’m here to tell you that if I can learn to make washing dishes by hand relatively pain free, you can too. Here’s how.
1. IT’S ALL IN THE ATTITUDE
Remember, millions of people survive without a dishwasher.
Your mama probably did. Your grandmother definitely did. In fact, your great-grandma probably lived a portion of her life not even able to get hot running water and she still did. You can survive easily too.
If you hate not having one because you’re time poor, don’t worry, we’ll cover that. Choose your attitude.
Choose that it’s possible for washing dishes to be pain free, even fun and/or relaxing. Ellen DeGeneres herself apparently loves washing dishes and finds doing them super relaxing.
Like most other things, it’s all about your mindset. I’ve even heard of some people using washing their dishes as their daily opportunity to meditate, practice their relaxation breathing and watch Netflix uninterrupted.
(Because no one will interrupt you while you’re doing the dishes. No one. No one wants to risk being asked to help. It’s the perfect crime).
2. WASH DISHES AS YOU USE THEM (WHERE POSSIBLE)
This is critical. It makes sense, but that doesn’t mean it happens that way.
However, the longer you put off doing the dishes, the worse it will be and the more time it will take. You’re better off to do the dishes once or twice a day and only spending 10-15 minutes on them than letting them accrue for three days and ending up with a stinky dish tower that takes 30+ minutes to do because now you have to dry half of them by hand so you can fit more dishes on the rack.
I've gotten myself a handy dandy dish wand like this one, and every time I use a dish, I rinse it with hot water, quickly scrub it off with the dish wand, rinse again and put it on the sink to dry. This means there's rarely a sink full of dishes to worry about. (Now, rarely doesn't mean never, I'm still a human - keep reading to the end where I'll give you my system for washing a sink full of dishes fast.)
I apply a similar system when I'm cooking, baking, or doing an activity that generates a lot of dishes - I fill a sink of hot, soapy water and as I finish with a dish, I throw it in. Then when I have "down time" in the kitchen, like waiting for rice to boil or sauce to simmer, I deal with the dishes in the sink.
This means that the only thing left to clean up at the end is maybe one pan and whatever we've eaten off. Nobody gets lumped with a big stack of dishes you have to find the motivation to tackle - washing up after dinner takes less than five minutes.
The more you can clean as you go, the less likely you are to be stuck with a pile of dishes it will take til Christmas to wash, or to get into arguments about "whose turn" it is to wash dishes.
3. KEEP YOUR COUNTER TIDY BETWEEN WASHES
One of the biggest things Greg and I dislike about not having a dishwasher (especially because our kitchen is in full view of the front doorway) is the God-awful eyesore of dishes cluttering up the sink and counter tops between washes.
This is especially true if I’ve been baking. People with dishwashers have no such problems (in theory).
The solution? Nip down to your local discount store, like the Reject Shop (or Dollar Tree in the USA) and pick yourself up a plastic storage tub or a camping sink (these ones from Amazon work beautifully and they’re collapsible so you can store them after use). This serves several purposes:
It keeps your dishes contained neatly in the tub, rather than being haphazardly stacked all over your bench. My bench top looks much neater and nicer with everything nicely contained.
It prevents accumulation of an unmanageable load: when the tub is full, it’s time to lather up!
When unexpected visitors pop over, it’s easy to move them from view in need. (That is, unless you’re the type to leave them somewhere and forget about them… In this case, definitely don’t do this).
If you don’t have a second sink, it’s good for doing a rinse at the end of your wash.
4. USE LESS
If you find that doing dishes is taking over your life, it may be that you could be a little less liberal with your dish creation. This is especially a challenge for people used to living with a dishwasher.
I am notoriously atrocious with this but I’m learning. The less dishes you use, the less you have to wash up. Some tips I’ve heard include:
For daily use, consider giving everybody their own special mug, cup, plate and bowl which get rinsed and reused as necessary – rather than having a cup of coffee in one mug and 12,000 cups of tea in different mugs.
Cook one pot/one sheet pan recipes, or cook up a big batch recipe in a slow cooker on one night and eat it through the week (also great for cooking on a budget).
When you’ve simply used a spoon to stir a cup of tea or coffee, rinse it with hot water straight away and put it on the dish rack rather than just adding it to the stack (provided you haven’t licked the spoon, of course). This also applies to items like a dish that has only housed dry ingredients. So long as it hasn’t been cross-contaminated with raw meat, egg or oil, and it hasn’t come into contact with someone’s mouth, it can probably be rinsed quickly under the tap and placed on the drying rack.
5 ALWAYS PRE-RINSE BEFORE WASHING (ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE NOT DOING THEM RIGHT AWAY)
It prevents hardening of leftover food on your plates, which is way more challenging to wash off. (It’s also more hygienic, preventing bacteria, smelliness and flies thinking it’s a perfect place to lay their cute wormy little maggot babies… ewwwww).
Even if you are doing the dishes right away, a super quick rinse under the sink to get the big chunks off before washing minimises the risk of your fingers touching some indescribable mystery substance lurking in the dregs. Double eww.
5. MAKE IT FUN
The worst of hand washing a big pile of dishes, to me, is the fact that I have to stand there and stare out the window for 30+ minutes. It just feels like such a senseless time sucker.
I get itchy feet.
So I multitask a little fun time in. I make myself a coffee, or pour a wine, depending on the time of day.
I crank up my favourite showtunes and sing along, or I watch Netflix, Marie Forleo or Mr Kate episodes on my iPad. Two birds with one stone. Or three, if you follow the next tip.
6 GIVE YOURSELF A MANICURE
If you’re anything like me, dish soap and hot water wreaks havoc on your hands. Mine get so dried out by dish soap. My cuticles get flaky and my nails snap - don't even get me STARTED on what happens to my nail polish.
But what if I told you that there was a way to wash dishes that made your hands softer and your nails stronger than before?
First things first: ladies, you NEED a good, robust pair of reusable rubber dish gloves (I like these). Just - dish soap is certifiably brutal on your nails.
Some rubber dish gloves, for the most part, will keep that harsh dish soap off your hands.
Before you do the dishes, slather your hands and nails with hand cream, slide your dish gloves on and wash away. When you’re done and you take your gloves off, your hands will be lovely and soft.
Plus, having thick dish gloves on means you can have the water a little bit hotter (be careful!). This helps to sanitise your dishes.
7. GET YOUR TOOLS TOGETHER
Apart from a dish sponge and dish gloves, my life has been a whole lot easier since I got a little dish brush, which is a game changer for scrubbing stubborn bits off dishes.
I love this cute one because it’s got its own little dish to keep it clean and you can put dish soap in the top compartment, so it’s self-sudsing. Then of course there’s dishwashing liquid.
You’ll also need a good drying rack (one that drains properly) and a clean drying cloth if you want to dry and put away ASAP.
Personally, I like to let my dishes air dry on the rack. If you’re otherwise, make sure you use a fresh towel or a towel that is designated solely for this purpose (i.e. that no one has used to dry their hands).
Allow it to air dry properly between uses (never just leave a dish drying cloth lying on your kitchen bench).
8. PRE-SOAK THE TOUGH NUTS
Don’t leave it to the end of your wash and spend half an hour trying to scrub bits of cooked on egg from a frying pan, only to resolve “it needs time to soak” before leaving it for tomorrow’s dishes (another one I’m notoriously guilty of).
Before you fill up your sink, soak your pots and pans in hot water and a little dish liquid. Leave them to the side for last.
9. SANITISE YOUR SINK FIRST
Wipe it down with a clean cloth and detergent. Make sure your sink is clean and clear.
10. FILL YOUR SINK WITH SOAPY WATER AS HOT AS YOU CAN SAFELY MANAGE
Don’t use more dishwashing liquid than is recommended by the manufacturer. As my husband keeps reminding me, it should not look like a bubble bath.
Not only are you ingesting all that soap on your dishes later (which can be loaded with harmful, hormone-altering chemicals) but excess suds give your dishes that cloudy look when they dry.
Fill your second sink (if you have one) with hot water for rinsing. I like to add a cup of vinegar for added sterilisation.
Fill a sink and wash with your tap off as opposed to washing under running water. It’s not only faster but it saves literally buckets of water.
9. GET YOURSELF A SYSTEM
You should be washing from cleanest to dirtiest, or wash what has been in direct contact with mouths first. Here’s how I do it:
Grab all my cutlery and dunk in the sink; move it to one side. (Sidenote: don’t add serrated/kitchen knives, dirty utensils or stainless steel. They will rust. Learned this the hard way).
Fill the sink with as many cups, mugs et cetera as I practicably can without risking breakage, wash, rinse and stack on the drying rack.
Repeat the process with all my cutlery and silverware.
Add the bowls and plates. Again, I put in as many as I can practicably fit in the sink at a time.
Finally, wash the pots, pans, cooking utensils and cooking knives, including the pre-soaked ones.
After you've washed each dish, give them a quick dunking rinse in your second sink to get rid of soap residue and sanitise them before leaving them to dry on the dish rack.
And you’re done!!! You’re finally freakin’ done!
I’ve found that by handwashing my dishes using these tips, not only have I reduced my dish washing time from 30+ minutes down to 10-15 minutes, I actually don’t mind doing them. Plus, my house always looks a lot cleaner for it.
Sure, there are still days when life happens and the dishes start to pile up, but I’m far more on top of my dishes than I historically have been.
Whilst they’ll never be my favourite chore, washing dishes is certainly not the worst anymore (scrubbing down walls and baseboards has stepped up and claimed that tedious title). I feel no more resistance and a lot more ease and I’m much more relaxed from having a cleaner, more manageable home.
Now I would love to hear from you! What are your best tips for washing dishes by hand? Let me know in the comments below.