Dishwashers are a magnificent invention. If you have ever had to take care of the household dishes by hand, you’ll appreciate a dishwasher probably more than those who have grown up with these miracle machines.
Even with many houses coming with built-in dishwashers (even in unfurnished rental properties, they’re becoming more common), we still have to wash dishes by hand occasionally – during power cuts, on holiday or in homes without dishwashers. If you’ve never done it before, it can seem like a daunting task. This article will explain how to do it properly – plus a few cheats to save time (you guessed it – I cheat).
What will you need? To do it properly, you will need two (or even three) basins of warm water. One of these will have hot soapy water; the other will have hot or warm fresh water. The three-basin method is best in places where the water supply is dubious for drinking purposes. In this case, you will have one basin of hot soapy water, one of water for sterilizing the dishes (a solution of chlorine bleach is best – iodine solution would also work but it stains) and one of clean drinking-quality water for rinsing off the sterilizing solution (cooled boiled water works well). Cheats can use just one basin or bowl of hot soapy water. Use proper dishwashing detergent rather than soap or any other domestic cleaning solution, as ordinary soap combines with fats and oils to leave a nasty white scum on the basins. You will also need a long-handled dish-brush, a scouring pad of some kind (steel wool works well but don’t use it on Teflon) and rubber gloves if you have sensitive hands. To put the washed dishes in, you need a draining board or rack, and you also need a tea towel or three. Dishes can be done solo, but having a friend to help is fantastic, too – washing dishes as a team is a great way to get to know someone.
First of all, rinse and scrape any large bits off the plates, pots and cutlery. Some pots will need to be soaked, especially if they dried-on starches or burnt-on bits (some need to soak for ages and left for the next dishwashing load. Pour out the soaking water before you fill the sink with soapy water, or else you will have to carry the pot to the laundry or outside to pour out the water and lumpy bits that have floated off). Scrape large bits off into a compost bucket (or into a container to be fed to pets) then rinse excess off under a tap. To be absolutely correct, all visible gunge should be rinsed off, but cheats just wash the worst bits off or even just remove large bits like rinds, bones and leftovers. Even better for cheats: encourage family members to scrape and rinse their own plates before stacking them ready to wash.
The exact order in which you wash things is a matter of personal preference – to a certain extent, at least. Dirtier things should be washed last so the bits that come off them don’t get on everything else. Some people say you should wash glass things first, but others have other preferences. My personal favourite order is to wash the cutlery first, starting with the sharp knives, as fishing around for sharp things hiding under a bubbly surface is a sure-fire way to cut yourself. I then wash the plates and bowls; then the mugs and cups; then things like saucepans, old jars and tins and other odds and ends; very dirty things like roasting dishes are done last of all. But my husband has a different order: cups first, then plates, then cutlery. And my mother has another one. Find what your preferred order is, or just work from what’s closest to you to what’s furthest.
Don’t forget to visually check each thing for grime. The bottoms of plates and saucepans are the most commonly overlooked parts.
If using two bowls, rinse the bubbles off each thing after you have washed it in the soap before putting them in the rack. If using the three-bowl method, dip the dishes in the sterilizing solution and then into the final rinse before draining. Dry them and put them away when the rack is full, or else your helper can dry and put away as you go. Using really hot water means that the water will evaporate, making drying much easier. The cheat method is to just leave the dishes in the rack to drip dry, possibly with a tea towel over them to keep of flies. Then put them away whenever you are in the mood, get someone else to put them away, or just let people retrieve dishes off the rack when they want a spoon or a cup.
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