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How to Minimize the Drudgery of ‘Doing the Dishes’

In the top 5 of ‘Most Hated Chores” list along with laundry and vacuuming, doing the dishes evokes grimaces and groans from most everyone.

Is it because they have to be done so often? Maybe it’s the moldy bowl of something that came from the teenager’s room that does you in? Or is it “dishpan hands”?

Whatever the reason, they gotta get done.

<whines> But WHY?

As a professional cleaner, I have been asked quite a few times “Do you do dishes?”

This always makes me cringe a little bit as I ponder the reason(s) that this person is willing to pay someone to come do their dishes. I’ve done a few houses where a sink (or kitchen-counter) full was part of the estimate, but those are definitely the exception. These people almost always are:

Ø Without an automatic dishwasher

Ø Have a large family

Ø Very stressed out

Ø Tired of fighting about it with family members

We all let them “go” once in a while only to regret it when the time comes to get cleaned up.

One extreme case I had, the client had been soaking their dishes, but for like…a month. There was mold ON the water and plunging my arm in to drain the sink broke the barrier and the most awful smell instantly permeated the room. It doesn’t happen to me often, but I had to go outside to gag and keep from throwing up.

So to answer the question of “Why?”, the obvious answer is…it’s gross that’s why. But to be a little more subtle, it’s unhealthy. Since we handle all kinds of food products (including raw meat) in our kitchens, and to a great degree in the sink(s), which are already breeding grounds of diseases like Salmonella and E. Coli.

Food borne illnesses are no joke…and you can’t always blame it on the restaurant take-out. It’s not uncommon to get a very unpleasant case of food poisoning at home. If you’ve had it…you know.

It's GOT to be a habit

The key to anything that has to be done repeatedly, is to develop a routine. Like going to work, there are actions you always take to get ready and even the *route* you drive to work. They’re habits, so you don’t have to put a lot of thought into them, right? Figure out the best time of day to do the dishes for you…whether it’s the morning or evening or sometime in between. But…let’s agree right here and now that it’s every day.

👉 The Food

Of course, “doing the dishes” involves a lot more than just washing, drying, and putting them away. There is…the food. Whether you save leftovers or throw them away is up to you, but how the food is handled is equally as important as having clean plates and utensils.

I live in a place without a garbage disposal which is fine with me. Grinding up food and putting it down the drain is no bueno, not to mention that those things are like *never* clean. Funny smell in your kitchen? It’s probably not the trash…just sayin’…

So, do your water treatment facility employees a favor…throw all scraps in the compost (plants only!) or the trash…because that’s where they will go anyway. You’ll be saving a step (and money) for the community you live in.

👉 The Prep

Yes, you have to “prepare” to do the dishes. Trust me, it doesn’t make it more complicated…you actually do it anyway whether you’re aware or not.

Ø Remove all extra food stuffs.

Ø Stack the dishes for rinsing…either before you wash by hand or to the dishwasher

Ø Gather all utensils and use one of the dirty pans or other receptacle and soak them in enough hot soapy water to cover all but the handles

Ø Make a separate “pile” for sharps

Ø Soak cooked on or stuck on food with hot soapy water

You can stop at this point to “save” them for your usual time. No more than overnight, though...K?

👉 The Doing

This is your regularly decided upon time to wash dishes, whether you have a dishwasher or do them manually. You will be glad for your previous organizing and pre-soaks.


Fill a sink/large pan/dish tub with the hottest soapy water you can stand and get busy! If you’re nervous about food borne bacteria, you can add a teaspoon of bleach to your dishwater, but no more. Between the soap and bleach, you should be fine. Try not to run your water continuously. Water is our most precious resource!

Ø Start with the least soiled and/or glassware

Ø Wash your sharps by hand. You will preserve the quality of the blade longer

Ø Stack your clean (but soapy) dishes in the other sink until you’re ready to rinse. Batches are fine.

Ø Change washing water if it becomes flat and opaque. Adding more soap isn’t good. You will still have dirty water…

Ø Rinse with the hottest water your hands can stand…then stack on end or upside down in a dish drainer (or on a thick towel is fine).

Ø Allow them to air dry, then put away.

If you use hot enough water, it won’t be necessary to dry them with a towel, but if you prefer to, use a clean towel every time…NOT the one everyone wipes their hands on. 😬

Using a Dishwasher

I don’t care how modern your dishwasher is or if it has a “built-in” food disposer…if the food particles are in the machine (like if your dishes are not scraped and rinsed first) you will be “washing” all your dishes with that food. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

Food debris can also clog up your dishwasher and plumbing and I can almost guar-on-tee that a plumbing disaster will occur on a holiday when you have 6 times the dishes to do. And company visiting.

Ø Scrape any loose food debris into the trash.

Ø Load the top rack of your dishwasher first. Glasses, tall utensils laid horizontally, small serving dishes or pans all facing downward (I know this seems obvious, but…just trust me, I’ve seen it all).

Ø Then on the lower rack stack plates and larger dishes all facing the center. Do not overfill but utilize the spaces well. If a plate is covering a bowl opening, the bowl won’t get clean…

Ø Finally, load your silverware rack with the handles UP! This prevents cuts and stabbings when unloading as well as possible unclean hands touching the eating surfaces.

Ø Set your machine to “air” dry.

Many modern dishwashers heat the water to a very hot temperature, so there is no need to spend the extra electricity on a heated dry cycle. Besides, if a plastic lid gets down next to that element…bad smell. Bad, bad smell…

Keeping up with the dishes and not allowing food to sit around in your kitchen will also discourage vermin like ants, roaches, and mice from taking up residence and help you keep a healthy home.

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