Wednesday, December 13

Tips and techniques: The best ways to wash dishes

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  I’;ve been washing dishes by hand for over a decade, the majority of the time at least twice a day and the majority of nights for at least five people. All this time, all these dishes, all the soap, oil, hardened food…it’;s all given me a strong opinion based solidly on experience.

  So what shouldn’;t you do? The answer to that question is my main reason for writing this article. There are so many people that just don’;t know how to clean dishes to make them come out properly. Not only will your dishes not be sanitary, but they can stink, be covered in oil, and will probably leave a really bad impression on the person whose dishes you’;re cleaning, unless they wash like this as well, in which case you might want to reconsider eating there.

  But I digress. The most common dish washing technique that I’;ve seen is the ‘;Old standby’; in which someone fills a large pan or sink with water and soap, then proceeds to plunge every dirty dish into and out of the water, after which the dishes are rinsed, no matter how many dishes there are, and by the end your left with cloudy, oily, stinky water with no suds that you have just scrubbed your dishes with. Let’;s analyze this.

  They have clean water and soapy suds, which you can’;t ask for a better start, but it immediately goes wrong. Here’;s an illustration. Let’;s say you’re taking mud off of two white tables. You pick up a rag, put some water on it and go over the first table, which is a good start but the rag is now filthy. Do you then take the same rag and wipe the other table? No, that wouldn’;t work. So when cleaning dishes the first thing to remember is
keep everything as clean as possible, and the way to do it is always rinse every dish away from your water before you wash it. Always. Otherwise you end up scrubbing your toast plate that might have just needed a rinse, with the equivalent of bacon grease and compost. Yum! So always make sure you get off as much as possible before it even hits the suds.

  This is important. The soap in your water is no longer working if you don’;t see suds. That oily watery mess? Definitely not cleaning anything and even adding soap to it won’;t change the fact that there are bits of food floating around. But even if you have crystal clear water with a tiny bit of soap, if you can’;t see it, it’;s not working. This doesn’;t mean that you have to give your dishes a bubble bath, but if it’;s all or nothing give them so many bubbles you can’;t see the dish anymore.

  So what about special cases? Like the ones that were left over from last night and now have food so hard it could cut glass? When you start to wash, look around for problem dishes. If you think one will be difficult put a small amount of soap and a lot of hot water into it. Let it soak well you do the rest then come back to it, and sometimes the only real solution is to scrub the heck out of it. Other things to remember are never use soap on cast iron or stone. The have an oil finish that will keep food from sticking as well as keep them from cracking, and they get so hot that they kill the nasty stuff anyway. Just take a plastic spatula or something else that won’;t damage the dish and firmly get as much off as you can. Most of the time the food will come right off, but you may have to heat and then scrape. If you do, remember to then use something metal to avoid anything melting, but also be gentle. Metal can do a lot of damage, and if it comes to that I recommend looking up re-seasoning techniques.

  And now on to my favorite two techniques. The first is the ‘;Old standby’; but with a couple differences. Rinse all your dishes first, which yes it’;s a definite pain but will make your water and soap last twice as long. Then put soap in your basin of choice and start the water, now use this time that it’;s filling up to wash as many dishes as possible and rinse them under the water that’;s running. Not only will this return some soap to your water, it will cut water usage because you’;re not filling and rinsing in two separate steps. Sometimes by the time its done filling, you’;re out of dishes. Once the basin is full proceed with washing/rinsing as separate steps, and then comes a judgment call. If you find you’re out of suds but the water is clean enough to go a couple rounds, which is very rare, add some more soap. If it’;s not then drain it out and start all over again.

  The second technique I call the ‘;Utilitarian’;, and it came about because of my realization that most of the time I’;m doing dishes I can get them done before my basin is done filling. So I don’;t use one. This is the same idea but without a giant bath to dunk dishes into, I take my cleaning tool and put a little water on it, just enough to make it damp, then put soap directly on whatever I’;m using. The residual moisture on the dishes I’;ve rinsed off are enough to make suds, and then I clean them, stack them in the sink, and thoroughly rinse one by one. At any point in time, if I can’;t see suds I add more onto whatever I’;m using.

  This brings us to what to use. I love brushes, especially long bristled brushes with enough stiffness to scrub but not enough to scratch. There’;s another benefit in that sponges are great for soaking up soap, unfortunately that also means they’;re great at soaking up everything else, including harmful germs and bacteria. Some studies say that where the kitchen sponge is worse off than a toilet seat. That’;s like your toilet seat and dunking it in your soapy water, swishing it around and scrubbing it off in there, then cleaning your dishes with that water. You get the idea.

  So as a recap of things to do:

    1. Always rinse your dishes before you wash them

    2. If you can’;t see suds, you need more soap

    3. Clean with clean water

    4. Check for problem dishes beforehand

  If you do all those your dishes will always smell nice, be squeaky clean, and shine like a diamond.


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