Till Dust Do Us Part

No One Looks Forward to Doing Dishes, But You Can Make It Less Horrible

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Who among us hasn’t stared forlornly at a pile of dishes in the sink, only to say, “To heck with this, I’m pouring a glass of wine and putting on Housewives?” It is, of course, one thing to say to heck with it and push off doing those dishes in favor of reality TV when you live alone, but when you share your space with a partner, leaving those dishes can turn into a nasty battle of wills.

This is especially true for those of us (yup, me too!) who don’t have the luxury of a dishwasher and have to wash all the dishes by hand. The good news is that there are some things you can do to make washing the dishes less ghastly. The bad news is that you still have to wash them. Ho hum.

Good Dish Soap

If you only take one thing away from me on the subject of dishwashing, let it be this: Don’t skimp on the dish soap. You might pay a little bit more for brands like Palmolive or Dawn, but you’ll save in the long run because the sudsing and staying power of a good dish soap will mean you’ll need to use less of the product.

Sponge Options

Scrub Sponges: Just like with dish soap, sponges are another place where quality does matter. For dishes, stick with cellulose sponges. Your best bet is to use what’s called a scrub sponge — those are the ones with a scouring pad on one side, which will help to get any slightly stubborn stuck-on food off the dishes. To extend the life of your sponge, disinfect it by getting it wet and microwaving it for two minutes.

Dobie Pads: Dobie Pads, which are sponges covered in a netting of sorts, are great kitchen tools because they provide scouring power without scratching. They’re safe on non-stick (Teflon) pans, as well as on stainless and even cast iron! They also can serve double duty, helping to get stuck-on food up from enamel or glass stovetops without causing scratching. Bonus: They’re machine washable.

Soap-Impregnated Steel Wool: These are the Brillo and SOS pads of the world and are great for scouring badly cooked-on food from pots, pans, dishes, etc. But be warned that they can cause scratching!

Wands: Some people prefer to use a soap-dispensing wand for convenience sake — just be aware that these have a fairly short shelf life because they’re harder to disinfect; you can’t put them in the microwave, though they are dishwasher safe. Of course, if you have a dishwasher, this post won’t be of much use to you since the machine does most of your dish cleaning work for you!

Bottle Brushes: Bottle brushes come in all different sizes, from super narrow to very wide, and can be found at most hardware or home improvement stores, grocery stores, and pharmacies. They are essential for scrubbing longer, narrower items like vases and decanters.

Cloths: If you hate sponges — and many people do! — one alternative is to use launderable cloths, like Clorox Handi Wipes, for dish washing. If you go that route, you should consider adding a Dobie Pad or bottle brush to your arsenal, as dishcloths don’t have the scrubbing power that regular or scrub sponges offer.

Wash As You Go

You’re not going to like this next piece of advice, so let’s rip the Band-Aid off quickly and get to it: Wash the dishes as you go. This means that when you’re cooking dinner, you should be washing the things you use to prep the meal as you’re done with them. It means that while you’re waiting for the morning pot of coffee to brew, you should be tackling that pot you left to soak overnight. Washing a few dishes at a time is no big thing, but contending with piles of utensils, mixing bowls, pots, and pans is likely to make you throw up your hands and leave it all for another time.


The discussion of that big stack of dishes leads us nicely into this portion of the festivities: Soaking! So look, sometimes the dishes do pile up. And when they do, the fastest way to get them clean is to plug the sink, fill it with hot hot hot water and a few blurts of dish soap, and wash the dishes while submerged in the soapy water.

Before you do this, however, remove any sharp items like knives, peelers, kitchen scissors, etc. so that you don’t cut yourself. If you have delicate items, remove those as well and wash them separately to avoid breakage or chipping.

Once you’ve scrubbed everything, drain the sink and individually rinse each piece, inspecting to make sure that all stuck-on foodstuffs have been removed.

Soaking is also something to consider when it comes to pots and baking dishes that have badly cooked-on food stuck to them. Don’t go in and immediately try to wash that baking dish you used to slow roast tomatoes, you’ll drive yourself nuts! Instead, let it soak for 20 minutes up to overnight before heading in with your sponge.

And yes, you have my permission to leave a dirty pot or two in the sink to soak overnight! (Not an entire sinkful of dishes though, okay? Fair? Fair!)

Wash Like Things Together

Washing like things together will make both the washing and the drying process go faster. This is especially true if you have limited room in your drying rack, as it will allow you to maximize the space you do have. It also will give you a natural breaking point at which to stop and towel dry some of the items; so, say, wash all your glass- and silverware, stop, dry them off, put them away and then return to your sink to tackle the plates, pots, and pans. The break will also allow you to fill the sink with hot soapy water to soak some of the bigger items and cut back on the amount of elbow grease needed to get them clean.

Generally speaking, this is the order in which you want to wash the dishes:

  • Glasses
  • Silverware
  • Plates
  • Pots & pans


When life hands you a scorched pan, grab for the baking soda! Sprinkle a liberal amount all over the bottom of the pan, fill it up with water, set it on the stove, and bring it back to a boil. Take it off the heat, allow it to cool, and then scrub with hot, soapy water. The scorch should slide right off!

Dish Towels

I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice that I always tell people who are in a dishwasher-less situation: Figure out how many dishtowels you need and then buy twice that number. Change them out and launder them regularly, too — don’t go around wiping your hands and drying your dishes with a filthy rag!

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and the author of My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag . . . and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha.