The Zen of Washing Dishes


All parts of cooking, including clean up are necessary.  Doing dishes can be one of the most enjoyable parts of cooking if you approach this task with the proper attitude.  First of all, doing dishes is the step that returns your kitchen to beauty.  From a literal mess, you can restore order and cleanliness to a space in your home that is very important.  There are few areas of your life where you have more control.  In a time of uncertainty and stress, washing dishes is the one area that you can indeed control. 


Doing dishes is a repetitive chore.  Doing repetitive chores with your hands allows your mind to wander.  I think that the Native American women must have designed their pots while grinding corn.  We don’t have to grind corn, but we do have to do dishes.  You can use the time while doing dishes for many useful thoughts, such as reviewing the meal just cooked to think of what worked and didn’t work, what to change for next time, what you are cooking tomorrow and the next day (what to get out of the freezer), what you need to do before the morning.  You can use it as a time to set goals.  You can use it as a time of prayer.  If you have a helper, it can be a time for conversation, or singing.  You can make an effort for each to share a joke or a pleasant thought.  If you are doing dishes with your children, try to make it a time for good conversation, not scolding.  Pass along family stories, funny things that happened to you, meaningful times of your life.  Talk about your childhood.  I think that the time spent doing dishes with my sister was the time that I remember the best from my childhood, not because doing dishes by itself was so fun, but because it was a time we shared and sang show tunes together and talked and talked and talked.


Doing dishes requires equipment.  The equipment I prefer for hand washing dishes is as follows:


Dish Pan

I put this on the left side of my double sink.  I fill it with hot water and a squirt of dishwashing soap.  Nothing goes in this pan that has any food on it.  I try to keep this water as clean as possible.  You can’t clean a dirty floor with a dirty mop and you can’t clean a dirty dish with dirty water.  If you only have 1 sink, you will need to put the dish drainer on the right side counter with a drain pan underneath.


Dish Drainer

I put this in the right side sink of my double sink.  I put clean and rinsed dishes in this drainer to allow the rinse water to drip off of them.


Dish Cloth

I use microfiber dish clothes that are washed after each use.  I do not wash these everyday, but I only use them for one dishwashing and then let them air dry in the laundry room in a special basket used only for dish towels and clothes.  When I wash them, I use hot water, detergent and bleach.  Because I use bleach, I try to use only light colored (preferably white) dishcloths.


Dish Towel

I use white flour sack type dish towels.  I try to find good quality ones at good prices.  I have at least 12 on hand at all times.  I never use them more than 1 time without washing them, as with my dish clothes.  I wash them with the dish clothes.  Nothing else goes in that laundry load.  Since I try to keep them very sanitary, I also use them in cooking, to place poached eggs on after cooking, to cover rising yeast rolls, to dry just washed greens, etc.


Paper Towels

I use paper towels to wipe grease out of pans, to dry pans that may have a touch of grease left on them, such as cast iron pans.  I use them to scour the sinks and pans.


Scrub Pads

I use various kinds of scrub pads, from SOS to SOS Tuffy pads.  I never use any metal pads (including SOS) on nonstick cookware. 


Dishwashing Liquid

I like Dawn, but haven’t tried anything else for years, so use whatever you like.


Dish Brush

My husband loves to use a dish brush to clean food particles off of the dishes and pots, etc.  I usually use my scrub pad.  It doesn’t matter as long as you remember to clean the dish brush or scrub pad regularly, preferably by running it through the dish washer.


Scrubbing Powders

I have had very good results with Bartender’s Best Friend powder, as well as Bon Ami, which is gentler.  Bartender’s Best Friend is a good one to use to clean water spots, etc. off of stainless steel pots, as well as spots on the counter.


I have a dishwasher, but I also hand wash a lot of dishes.  Here is my plan for washing dishes when you have a dishwasher.

My dishwashing set up is to have the dish pan of clean dishwashing water on the counter to the left of the kitchen double sink.  The left sink of the double sink is the one with the garbage disposal and is used for rinsing under running water.  The right side of the double sink is used for the dish drainer.  Dirty dishes are primarily placed to the left of the washing setup and the right side is reserved for clean dishes.  Sometimes that is not possible, but it is important to know what is clean and not to put clean dishes into dirty areas.  If someone is helping who knows where things go, dishes are put away as they are dried and this is not so critical.  If you have someone drying who doesn’t know where things go and there are a lot of dishes, I have them put the clean dishes on a clean table or somewhere else nearby.  I don’t like to have to wash the same thing twice because I was not sure if it got washed or not!  My goal in washing is to clean the dishes, not just move germs around, so I make lots of efforts to put anything touching the mouth into the dishwasher.  These are items such as plates, cups, glasses, silverware, etc.  I usually wash pots and pans, since they are usually heated and not exposed to germs from the mouth.  They also take up a lot of room in the dish washer and are often not hard to wash (if you avoid burning things in them).  I hand wash my kitchen knives, and expensive china items, such as tea pots, serving dishes, serving platters, etc.  Anything too big to go in the dishwasher is hand washed.  Anything aluminum or wood is hand washed since dish washers are hard on those items.  My basic plan of attack for a lot of dishes is as follows:


1.  If at all possible, wash up as you are cooking.  If you have a couple of minutes while you are waiting for something, you can wash any dirty preparation dishes that are lying around.  If you have time, dry them and put them away.  If someone is helping and can do it without being in the way, they can wash while you cook.


2.  After cooking and putting the food into serving dishes, put hot water into any cooking utensils that have any stuck on food on them.  Be sure to have the water level over the level of the food as much as possible.  Water is the universal solvent and a 20 minute soak can save lots of scrubbing time.


3.  When the meal is complete, clear the table.  Have all the dirty dishes near the washing station so you know what you need to wash and don’t miss anything.  Be sure any dirty dishes from other areas (family room, bedrooms, living room, etc.) are in the kitchen and ready to be washed. 


4.  Put away any food that you are saving.  Put away anything such as condiments, etc. that you are not washing.


5.  Start soaking any serving dishes that have baked or cooked on food, such as casserole dishes.


6.  Start rinsing and putting the dishes that are going in the dishwasher into it.  If you have a helper, I usually try to wash and rinse a few of the hand washed items first so that the drying person has something to do.  The goal is to not have anybody standing around.  Serving dishes can usually be washed fairly fast.  Anything that takes a lot of time to dry but is easy to wash should be done first.  Then I can work on putting dirty dishes into the dishwasher while the other person is drying.  When they are about out of things to dry, I hand wash something else to keep them busy.  It is not hard to do if you watch what they are doing and what needs to be cleaned.  The last thing you want to do is wash pots that have to be scrubbed while the other person is standing around and there are lots of other things that need to be washed and dried.  Keep the labor intensive items for last.


7.  If you are by yourself, hand wash the remaining items in the order of dirtiness, with the cleanest first, followed by the dirtier ones, with the dirtiest ones last.  If your dishwater gets cold or dirty, replace it with clean hot water and new detergent.  You may have to stop and dry and put away some dishes if your drainer gets full.


8.  Once your dishes are all clean and put away, wipe down the counters and clean the sink and dish pan and drainer.  I usually use paper towels to clean the sink and dish pan, as I use cleansers and I don’t want my dish clothes to get too dirty.  Don’t forget to wipe the dining table. 


9.  Put the used dish clothes and towels in the laundry room.  Empty the trash.  Admire your clean and beautiful kitchen!


If you do not have a dishwasher, then all dishes will be hand washed.  The preferred method is to wash the cleanest dishes first and the dirtiest ones last, changing the dishwater as required to ensure that the water is hot and sudsy.  Generally, this means the glasses, the plates, the silverware, serving dishes and then the cooking pots and pans.


These steps are my preferred way for washing dishes.  There are lots of sources out there for how to clean your house and dishes and safe food preparation.  Do not use my instructions as the only way to do it.  Please, research food safety on the web.  It is a key part of cooking and important to your health and welfare.  You need to know as much as possible to keep your family and your meals safe and sound.  Knowledge is power and can save your life!