Emergency Water Conservation: How To Hand Wash Dishes

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Dear Home Ec 101,
Here’s a question for those of us in Nashville who are conserving water due to the flood, what’s the best way to conserve water while washing dishes? I know the dishwasher is out. Should we wash dishes individually, or do the whole fill-up-the-sink-with-water thing? Does that really get dishes clean? It always seemed strange that all the dishes were rinsed in the same water — wouldn’t it get too sudsy? Or what about the mesh bag method (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUvshdQruYI)?

Thanks for your help!  I think we have several weeks of drastic water conservation ahead of us!
The Creek Did Rise

woman hand washing dishes how to hand wash dishes
Dear The Creek Did Rise:

My heart goes out to those of you in Nashville, and thank you for being conscious of your consumption. It does make a difference.

Many areas of Nashville will be under a boil water advisory for some time, but it’s interesting to note that this doesn’t apply to water used to wash dishes. That is as long as one (1) tablespoon of bleach is added per gallon of rinse water used.

Actually, dishwashers are actually quite conservative with their water use, provided they are only run for full loads and loaded properly to prevent the need for rewashing. That said, if I need to hand wash a bunch of dishes, an open dishwasher makes a great dish drainer.

How to Hand Wash Dishes

Reduce the number of dishes used overall.

Reuse water glasses or bottles throughout the day and wipe knives between vegetables. Don’t forget items used for food preparation must be sanitized after touching raw meat. Serve directly from the pan when possible, instead of using serving dishes. Sure it’s not fancy, but when half the city was just under water, how fancy do you need to be? Increase the number of sandwiches and raw vegetables. It’s not a permanent lifestyle. Consider it part of the war effort.

Remove all food debris before starting.

This drastically reduces the amount of wash water and soap needed. Those nylon scrapers that come with a certain home-based business’ stoneware are incredibly handy for plate scraping.

Use the hottest water possible for the wash water.

This will help the soap break up grease. I know commercials show a sink full of suds, but that’s actually a wasteful practice. Add just enough soap to the water that suds begin to foam and during the wash process, add additional soap as they begin to disappear, if necessary. Also, the soap wand thing, sure, it’s easy, but it uses a lot more soap than necessary, which increases the amount of rinse water needed. I have the best results with a kitchen dishcloth – I don’t like sponges.

Rinse dishes in a basin of cool water with one (1) tablespoon of bleach per gallon.

To get the most mileage out of the wash water, wash dishes in this order: glassware, flatware, plates & bowls, serving ware, pots, and pans.

keeping the kitchen clean
Click the picture for more tips!

I am suspicious of the mesh bag trick, first because I don’t own a basin large enough to dunk a dinner’s worth of dishes effectively, and second, not everyone eats off of plastic. My cheap-o Corelle Dinnerware may be sturdy, but it isn’t going to withstand abuse.

Also, grease likes to cling to plastic, so if I didn’t throw environmentalism out the window completely and switch to disposable for a few days, I’d stick with our glassware to keep washing as easy as possible.

Good luck.

Submit your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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15 thoughts on “Emergency Water Conservation: How To Hand Wash Dishes”

  1. Hey! No knocking Corelle! I love that stuff. I can get twice as much of it into the dishwasher as the heavy nasty stoneware.
    You make a good point about scraping. Also, washing as soon as you can, before the food gets dried on hard, uses a lot less water. (I know that sounds obvious, but I am especially guilty of not doing it.)

      • I'm still using the "Blue Snowflake" for the last 38 years. When I got married it was all that could
        be afforded on the measly salary I had. I've since incorporated some of the plain white, but the
        company has changed the shapes and I much prefer my cup and saucer to the mug of the
        newer renditions. Still sets a pretty table………

  2. Excellent advice for anyone in any situation. Boston just had a water break and dozens of communities are having to take extra care, boiling water, etc.

    Make sure to wear rubber gloves so that you can turn the hot water even hotter. (I know my little hands get scalded pretty easy if I don't wear gloves.)

    It's funny, I never thought to scrape the food off first into the garbage. Hm.

    • Last year, I'm not sure what was going on, but it seemed like every time I turned around we were under another boil advisory. I think damage from construction kept occurring, but the reason wasn't always listed with the ban.

  3. I have a dishwasher, and I use it as my dish drainer! LOL! Once a week it gets to do the dishes for me, partly to keep it from getting nasty. Hand washing does save water, that's for sure!

  4. I have a dishwasher, and I use it as my dish drainer! LOL! Once a week it gets to do the dishes for me, partly to keep it from getting nasty. Hand washing does save water, that's for sure!

  5. My grandma, who didn't have running water, would use a 9×13 baking pan to rinse. She'd fill it nearly to the top and everything would be rinsed in that pan. Seriously, cooking pots would be dunked in and rotated. She'd change the water when it collected bubbles on the top.

    On the washing side, she probably used a tub inside the sink but my memory of that isn't as clear.

  6. I think the bag thing is just someone trying to make money. No way I'd use that. What I would add to above discussion is that dishes don't always need rinsing – in Britain they rarely rinse. Start with glasses, then plates, then cutlery, then pots and pans; I think I learned that in home ec class or something. It keeps the water clean longer and reduces need for rinsing.

    • I recall the bag thing in our girl scout handbook. It assumes you've got a metal eating kit, mug and utensils. That step was really just for sanitizing and could make up for a cold water wash with soap, or a more primitive sand scrub and rinse.

      My mom tried it with out troop once, but due to lack of dishwashing knowledge and meal kids of margarine tubs and take out utensils, the whole thing was a fail. The cheap plastic melted in the boiling water, the water itself got greasy, and most of the mesh bags had huge chunks of boiled food in with the dishes because no one checked the cleanliness before the dunking. Girls just finished eating and put the dirty dishes in the bag, then got in line to dunk them.

      Perhaps if my mom had realized that she needed to give the girls more specific instruction and supervision prior to the boiling for sanitzation stage, it coulda worked. In future, we brought massive piles of disposable goods on the camping trips.

  7. I always thought you had to use hot water to rinse the dishes to get rid of the soap. I never knew about adding the bleach to the rinse water either. We never had a dishwasher growing up and always hand washed our dishes… it's amazing how you can learn new things even in your thirties. 🙂

  8. I know this is an older post but quite handy right now since we are having hot water heater issues and I'm having to boil water for dishwashing.


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