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Why and How I Hand Wash My Dishes

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Mo Rita is a mom, a teacher, a pet owner, and a self-proclaimed artist. She enjoys washing dishes.


No More Dishwasher!

A few months ago, my five-year-old dishwasher stopped working. I was off work for a while, and the technician told me the parts to fix the problem would cost $300. A new dishwasher would cost about $400, so a part that cost that much hardly seemed worth the cost.

I decided to just wash dishes by hand until I could afford a new dishwasher, but within a few days, I'd decided I didn't want or need a new dishwasher anymore.


I had several reasons for my decision to forego replacing my dishwasher:

  • Washing dishes by hand gives me time to think.
  • I personally use less water than my dishwasher does (more on this later, because people like to say dishwashers use less water).
  • I use less electricity when washing dishes by hand.
  • I have a brand new, dishwasher-shaped extra pantry.
  • My dishes look better after a hand-washing than after being in the dishwasher.
  • I don't have to pay for a new dishwasher.
This bamboo dish rack has three surfaces to hold dishes (one in the back).

This bamboo dish rack has three surfaces to hold dishes (one in the back).

Conserving Resources

When people bring up the fact that they are saving water by hand-washing dishes, dissenters are quick to point out that newer dishwashers are very resource-friendly and that they actually use less water and energy than washing by hand.

My dishwasher, according to the manual, used five gallons of water for the shortest cycle and nine gallons of water for the average cycle. The short cycle, unfortunately, never really cleaned very well, and I ended up having to use the longer cycle or sometimes even the ultra-wash, which used even more water.

Even then, I needed to pre-rinse everything. I had a dishwasher model with a food grinder at the bottom, but pieces of food ended up stuck on everything unless I rinsed my dishes in the sink first.

The dishwasher cycles were long, too, which means they used quite a bit of electricity. The short cycle would last about an hour and a half, and the longer cycles would run up to three hours.

When I do dishes by hand, I use about eight gallons of water, just a tiny bit of gas for the water heater, and no electricity. I still pre-rinse my plates, so that amount of water consumption hasn't changed.

In order for the dishwasher to work well in a hard-water area, I had to use expensive dishwasher detergent and citric acid in the dishwasher. Now, I use the cheap, store brand dish soap and a little bleach, and I get far better results.

If you're still not convinced, consider the fact that a broken dishwasher must be disposed of, and most it cannot be recycled. A new dishwasher takes valuable resources to make, contains a lot of plastic, must be wrapped in plastic and cardboard packaging, and takes gasoline and oil to transport.


I now have a wonderful, dishwasher-shaped pantry for all my boxes of zip bags and my packages of chips and crackers.

I don't have a built in pantry in my house, so space is at a premium. I have a little spinning lazy susan cabinet, a free-standing small cabinet, and a shelf on my counter.

My big package of food were stored on the counter, which made the kitchen look rather messy.

My kitchen looks so much neater now that all the plastic snack packages are hidden away in the dishwasher.

My new pantry!

My new pantry!

Other Benefits

At first, I thought I'd hate washing dishes by hand, but it turns out I actually enjoy that time. Sometimes, my son helps me, or he puts his little toys in the rinse water and we have time to talk or joke together. Other times, I work alone, and I get time to think or "zone out."

Another benefit of washing dishes by hand is that my dishes are cleaner than what used to come out of the dishwasher. My dishwasher dishes were always covered in a cloudy residue, usually with pieces of food glued on.

After I had been washing dishes by hand for about two weeks, my son suddenly exclaimed at the dinner table that he could see his reflection in the butter knife blades. He had never been able to see that before.

You Will Need:

  • either two sinks or one sink and one big bin
  • a pair of rubber gloves that fit well
  • a soft-bristled dish brush with a handle
  • dish soap
  • one or two dish racks (I use two folding bamboo racks that look nice and that I can put away each evening). The bigger one has a silverware caddy and a third rack for cups and drinking glasses
  • one dish towel or dish mat per drying rack if your dish rack does not have a bottom
  • household bleach
  • a small ceramic crock with a lid (optional)

How to Wash Your Dishes by Hand

  1. Choose one sink to use throughout the day for your regular "sinkly" duties. The other sink (or the plastic bin) is your storage and will hold your dirty dishes. Close the drain of the storage sink.
  2. Throughout the day, rinse crumbs off your dishes or use the dish brush to get the gross stuff off quickly as soon as you eat. Do this in the regular sink. Anything that has stuck-on food to it should be filled with a little water and put in the regular sink until the stuff is soft enough to be cleaned off with the dish brush. All the rinsed-off dishes go into the storage sink / tub.
  3. After dinner, or whenever you do your dishes, put about a half tablespoon of dish soap and a tablespoon of bleach in the sink you are using to wash your dishes.
  4. If you have two sinks, put the soap and bleach with the dishes in the storage sink. If you have only one sink, transfer your dishes from the bin to your sink and use the sink for washing.
  5. Put a tablespoon of bleach into the empty (rinsing) sink or into the plastic tub. Turn the water on to hot and put about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of water into the empty sink / tub. This is your rinse water. It does not need to be hot, so the water heats up while you are filling the rinse bin / sink. This should take about one or two gallons at most.
  6. Once the water is running hot, switch the tap over over to the sink with the dishes in it and fill the dish sink to just cover the dishes. This should take 4-5 gallons of water.
  7. Let the dishes sanitize in the bleach and soap water for about ten minutes.
  8. While they are soaking, set up your dish racks. I use two different bamboo racks and I put towels underneath. One rack stays on the counter all day, and the other is folded away and put in the old dishwasher for storage until it's time to use it.
  9. Put on your rubber gloves. I cannot stress this enough. Rubber gloves are the difference between chapped, red hands in a pile of sludgy water and dry, clean hands.
  10. Take out one dish at a time and scrub it with the dish brush. Dip it into the rinse water, swish it around, and quickly put it on the drying rack. No need to wipe with a dish towel; dishes air dry streak-free.
  11. Save the dirtiest stuff for last.
  12. Leave everything to dry for an hour or two and then put everything away. Fold up the dish racks and hang up the towels or dish mats to dry.
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High five! You're done. The whole thing should take less than 20 minutes.

The storage sink doesn't need to be gross!

The storage sink doesn't need to be gross!

Filling the storage sink with soapy water

Filling the storage sink with soapy water

A folding bamboo dish rack holds a lot of dishes and can be folded up and stored when not in use.

A folding bamboo dish rack holds a lot of dishes and can be folded up and stored when not in use.

The Quick Wash Option

There are many dishes you may use every day that don't require a deep cleaning. For example, plates off which you've eaten a sandwich or a knife you've used to cut an apple may not require a full wash. For these items, I use the quick wash option:

  • Put a squirt of soap and a squirt of bleach into the ceramic crock with a lid. Add water to it. Keep this crock in your sink or at your dish washing station.
  • When you have a quick-clean item, dip your dish brush into the crock, swish it around to get some bubbles, and the scrub you item.
  • Give your item and dish brush a quick rinse and either set them on the drying rack for a spot-free finish, or dry them with a towel and put them away.

Note that bleach only stays effective at killing germs when stored in a cool, dark place. I use a ceramic crock for my quick-wash solution because ceramic is non-reactive with bleach, and the crock is dark on the inside. I've also used a ceramic or travel coffee mug with an opaque cover. Do not use a metal container with bleach,

A dish brush and a ceramic cup containing bleach, dish soap, and water provide a quick way to clean dishes throughout the day.

A dish brush and a ceramic cup containing bleach, dish soap, and water provide a quick way to clean dishes throughout the day.

A Few Extra Thoughts

  • Keep more than one pair of rubber gloves available. If one of your gloves springs a leak, keep the good one and toss the old one. Just replace the one leaky glove.
  • If you have Shoe Goo or other waterproof glue, keep the leaky glove to make patches for holes in future gloves. Find the leak in a glove by filling the glove with air, closing its end, and holding it under water to find the stream of air bubbles that will come from the leak. Cut out a small patch from another leaky glove, and glue it on with Shoe Goo and wait overnight for it to dry.
  • Don't wait too long to do the dishes. Try to do them every day at the same time or it will become a nightmare game of catch-up.
  • Make it a fun activity with a child or a friend. Forego the bleach in the rinse water and let your child dip his or her toys in the water while you wash.
  • Wear an apron to avoid bleach stains on your clothing.
  • Get a squirt bottle of bleach and refill it from a bigger bottle. Keep the squirt bottle next to the sink so it's easy to reach.
  • If you have a stove with raised burners, washed pots and pans can be set on the burners to dry.
  • Get sturdy dishes that you like to look at. I love my Fiestaware plates because they are colorful and heavy-duty. I've found almost all the pieces in local Goodwill stores.


Mo Rita (author) from IL on February 14, 2021:

Brenda, I'm glad I'm not the only one! I know it's an odd article topic when it's something more than half the world does daily, but I think some people genuinely do not know how. I've seen so many articles stating that hand-washing dishes has been "proven" to use up to 25 gallons of water. I don't know how they're washing dishes that it takes 25 gallons, so I thought I'd set the record straight. :)

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on February 13, 2021:

I never thought I'd read an article telling someone how to do dishes, but you detailed it pretty good.

I personally do dishes by hand.

It seems to me ...I can have my dishes done before all the time it takes to rinse dishes off just to load them into dishwasher.

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