How to Wash Dishes

During my research I stumbled upon a question someone posted online which sort of blew my mind:  “I’ve always been a running water dish-washer….I learned that some dish soaps are formulated for the sink full of sudsy water method.  How does this work, sink full of sudsy water? “Which led me down another rabbit hole, could there be people who don’t know how to wash dishes?  which led to the answer of ‘very much yes’.  Probably due to the preponderance of dishwashers in American homes,  and pro-dishwasher oversantization propaganda, a large portion of the population think that hand washing dishes will cause you to fall ill and die.

I am one of the dwindling number of people in American WITHOUT a dishwasher. I have had them in the past, but for one or two people unless you do a lot of entertaining, a dishwasher can be more of a hinderence than a help.  The American standard is designed for families of four, unless you overspend to get a very small dishwasher. None of us really feels comfortable running the dishwasher unless it’s filled to capacity, so you spend a lot of your life trying to find something that’s sitting in the dishwasher waiting to be cleaned thus one needs to own multiples of kitchenware or bite the bullet and run a half filled dishwasher.   

Nearly all online articles start with a premise and cobble together the text to support the premise, such as “Dishwashers Get your Dishes Cleaner than Handwashing” followed by 1200 words supporting oversantization, or “HE dishwashers use less water and energy!” followed by glowing statistics encouraging you to replace your old dishwasher with the newest one to save the planet.  Unbiased studies can be found online but you have to really look for them, such as this 2014 Cooks Illustrated review of Dish Soaps, where I learned that dish detergents are being reformulated to match the method of handwashing dishes where the tap is running continuously, both of these facts left me dumbfounded.  I KNOW why I used the let the water run while brushing my teeth…I didn’t want to see the gross spittle in the sink, but I am not sure how letting the water run while washing dishes is beneficial, aside from using the water motion to save a bit of scrubbing energy.  


  • Ingredients
    • Two water holding vessels, either a double sink, or a sink and a dishpan.
    • Dish detergent designed for hand washing dishes (I use Dawn Ultra, because I can use less of it. Back in the day we used to use liquid Wisk which worked great.)
    • Drain board or just a fluffy bath towel.
    • Woven dishtowel for drying
    • Your choice of:
      • Green scrubbie/ grill pad
      • Plastic pot scrubber
      • Bristle brush
      • Hard plastic scraper utensil
      • Stainless steel pot scrubber
      • White melamine sponge 
      • My personal choice is bristle brushes, with the occasional appearance of a stainless steel pot scrubber, green grill pad and a melamine sponge. 
  • Presoak
    • Cookware with stuck on or greasy food should be filled with warm water and either baking soda or a squirt of dish detergent as soon as possible, and left to soak; this will loosen these particles making them easier to wash.
  • Method
    • Fill one water vessel with luke warm water, as VERY hot water can shatter glassware and cause thin metals to warp.
    • Add dish detergent as recommended on the LABEL.  Most of us add too much because we think the presence of suds means its working, the makers actually leave the suds in the recipe just for our peace of mind.  
      You aren’t disinfecting anything, what you want is the surfactant and grease cutting properties, to removing food particulates which would give bad bacteria and viruses a place to live.
    • Fill the other vessel with water, not too cold and not too hot; rapid temp changes can cause fragile items to break or warp.
    • Wash glassware first (not bakeware) by swishing these around in the soapy water and then in the rinse water and stand them on their rim to dry on a dish towel.  Stemware and cocktail glasses will dry quickly this way, but should avoid be stored resting on their rim.  Any residual water spots should be removed by hand with a dry dishtowel afterwards.    A cloudy cast or any discoloration can be polished away with damp white melamine sponge without scratching the surface.
    • Add the flatware to the soapy water and let them soak on the bottom while you wash the plates and other tableware. Tarnish on silver or silverplate flatware can be nipped in the bud with a bit of a scrub from a green scrub pad.  Never let items with wooden handles soak, wash them immediately and put them to dry.   
    • Multiple pieces of tableware can be added to the soapy water, however most breakage occurs to fragile china cups and bowls while being jostled about together in a dishpan.  Use your best judgement about stuffing them all in together.  Unless you are short of space, a few items at a time is best, plates with plates, bowls with bowls.  Wash the item in the soapy water, scraping off any food, a dunk it in the rinse water and then put it to dry on the rack or towel.  
    • Wash the least dirty cooking vessels first, starting with items that have just boiled things, and ending with the item with baked on foodstuffs. This gives those items a good long time to soak and keeps the water grease free longer.  IF you start with greasy items with lots of food particulates that float you would have to change the waters before doing other things.  If an item still has baked food on it after the washing, it can be left to soak in the dishwater until the next day.
  • Drying
    • There is no reason to hand dry anything unless you are short on space or have someone helping you.
    • I usually find glassware and tableware air dry pretty quickly and can be put away before I start washing the cookpots.
    • If not a quick swish of a dish towel is all that is needed to keep the beaded up water from following it into the cupboard.   
Cloudy or stained glassware can be cleaned easily with a damp melamine sponge.

I can see how the process of washing dishes by hand seems time misspent when there are perfectly good machines which will do it for us. Even those of us without a machine may resent doing it and thus let the dishes occupy the sink until we run out of clean ones. But the time spent in such a tactile activity can be used in many way, Agatha Christie used to plot her murders while doing the dishes. The time can be used for meal planning or reviewing tomorrows calendar. Personally I listen to audiobooks while washing the dishes. If you have a clear view out of a window, you get to commune with nature or at least the neighbors.