Washing dishes

This is a blog post about the accessories and techniques I use for washing dishes.

It might not sound like a promising topic. But I find that interesting observations can be found in the most trivial of places, and that there’s much to be learned in comparing how different people go about ordinary tasks. So to start with, here’s a photograph of the various accessories I use for dish washing (some are posing for the photograph):


At the bottom right is the scouring pad, very useful for cleaning coffee mugs and so on. To its left is the steel wool, for overcoming bits of dried food that even the scouring pad won’t remove. (Many people would refer to the steel wool as a scourer, but I’ll stick to the terminology I learned as a child.)

Behind these we have the plastic container that I keep by the sink to give the scouring pad, steel wool, toothbrush (middle left), and cloth (not shown) somewhere to belong. The toothbrush comes in handy to clean the few parts of the rotary cheesegrater that the regular dish brush can’t get to.

Speaking of the brush, that’s it on the back right, leaning against the big bottle of detergent. Notice that the model is one in which the bristles protrude beyond the end of the brush, not just sideways as they do on many other models. It puzzles me why anyone would use a brush with sideways-only bristles; it’s the ones at the end that get by far the most use.

On the other side of the detergent (I’m saving the detergent for later) is the dish mop. I was raised to wash dishes with a mop rather than a brush, but it’s the brushes that dominate the market these days and I’ve met people (including shop staff) who didn’t even know what a dish mop was! However, I’ve since discovered that a mop and a brush used alternately work more effectively than either alone — the brush tends to remove particles of food that the mop misses, and vice versa.

The brands of detergent in the bottles do not necessarily match the labels; they get refilled with whatever brand I last bought. The tall bottle in the back is the one I use when I’m washing a whole sinkful of dishes at once; more on that in a moment. The smaller bottle with the spraying mechanism (front left) is used individual utensils that I intend to use immediately. I’ve only ever seen such spray-on detergent in the shops once, but it’s a great idea and I’ve since refilled the bottle with a mixture of 50% detergent and 50% water.

I want to finish by showing how I add the detergent when washing a sinkful of dishes. I have a special technique that gets me the maximum amount of foam for the minimum amount of detergent. The secret is to wait until the turbulent running water no longer creates a circular film of high-velocity liquid at the bottom of the sink, and then to inject the detergent into the running water as shown in the picture below. Then just keep running the water.


It only takes half a second of squeezing, but generates a lot of foam.

Posted in Food. 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “Washing dishes”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    How different, how very different, from the home life of … well, me.

    New York City, to be sure, need not engage in water-sparing. Our reservoirs are currently, at the height of summer, 96% full, with more than 2 teraliters available, thanks to a June and July with almost twice as much rain as historic levels. And it’s all easily-recycled surface water.

    So I wash my dishes either with a very absorbent cloth that’s easily wrung out and dries quickly, or with a synthetic sponge one side of which is made of tough plastic for scrubbing. Thanks to the Teflon-coated utensils we use, I avoid steel wool; if something is sticking particularly badly, I soak it overnight with some water and detergent, or in extreme cases (burned food, say) with automatic-dishwasher detergent, which I keep around for the purpose.

    I don’t fill the sink with water, at least not on purpose. Instead, the water faucet is set on as hot as my hands can stand, some detergent goes on the cloth (or sponge), the cloth is wiped on all sides of the object, it is rinsed under the running water, and placed directly in the dish drainer, where it air-dries. If I have a bunch of silverware (forks, knives, and spoons) to do, I’ll turn off the faucet and wipe each one individually, and then turn it back on and rinse them individually. The dish drainer has special buckets for them.

    As the wash goes on, I replenish the detergent on the cloth from time to time. There is a basic order: glass first (many of our plates are glass), then plastic, then silverware, then pots and pans, then baby bottles. Anything recyclable is rinsed out and put in a special bag. When I’m done, I rinse residue out of the cloth, wring it fairly dry, and hang it up to dry. When the cloth gets smelly, I immerse it in a plastic container full of water and microwave the whole thing for five minutes until the water boils, thus wiping out any germs.

    Other household members have small variations on this plan: my daughter, for example, wears heavy-duty rubber gloves while she washes. (It’s a curious fact that in gloves your hands feel just as wet, though obviously they are not: apparently “feeling wet” is a reaction to low temperature plus pressure.)

    Undoubtedly other septics use very different methods. :-)

  2. Flesh-eating Dragon Says:

    That certainly is different, and having the water running continuously would be unheard of around here, not surprisingly.

    Washing with a sponge is something I associate with camping, where the luxuries of home (notably the kitchen sink) are not available.

    As a child I wore gloves to wash dishes, but now I let the water cool enough for me to put my hands in before I start washing, during which time the dishes are left to soak.

  3. John Cowan Says:

    I just noticed that you don’t say anything about drying. Another post, perhaps?

    My wife adds that when she washed dishes (she doesn’t any more, thanks to arthritis) she always used the sink-full-of-water method, though still with a cloth or sponge, not a brush or similar object.

  4. Flesh-eating Dragon Says:

    There’s not much to be said about drying – the world is essentially split between those who towel dry and those who air dry, and I’m in the latter group.

    The only other pertinent thing I can think of is that I tend to put different types of cutlery in different compartments of the drainer, whereas many people leave them unsorted until they’re finally put away in the drawer.

  5. John Cowan Says:

    I separate, but then again I don’t bother with the drawer. Spoons and forks up, knives down (though I have impaled myself on a fork point a time or two).

  6. Steven Harris Says:

    Hand washing is still the best way to get things properly clean. Shame it takes so long.

  7. Flesh-eating Dragon Says:

    I’ve never lived in a house with an automatic dishwasher. From what I’ve seen, they’re used mostly by large families, because you have to fill the dishwasher before using it, and that requires using a lot of dishes. Automatic dishwashers are certainly not practical for those of us who live alone, so it isn’t even a choice for me.

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