Simplify Doing the Dishes

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Posted in HomeCleaning

Introduction: Simplify Doing the Dishes

About: EmmettO is a general mad scientist, blacksmith, metalcaster and former Unix admin. Now he fixes darn near anything that people throw at him and breaks things that need to be broken.

At my house we hate doing dishes. Doing laundry is considered slightly less painful. We have a dishwasher but because we almost never eat out and frequently have to make food from scratch we have LOTS of dishes and the dishwasher can't keep up. We've even seriously considered having two dishwashers.

The point of this instructable is how we, very easily, simplified the task of doing dishes in our house.

This would also work great for people that don't have a dishwasher.

Step 1: Examine Your Sink

Look in your dishes pit (aka sink) and look at what takes the longest to wash by hand. Pots and pans usually take up a lot of space but unless food is really stuck on, they wash up pretty quick. We would have a lot of silverware floating around in there to but we could easily process it all in one load in the dishwasher.

The thing that took the longest was the bowls, plates and cups. Plates and bowls can be pretty messy and they would build up during the day. We would have had to wash dishes three times a day (or more when you count dessert) to keep up. That was too much for us or was it?

Step 2: Ration Your Dishes

We decided that there were too many times when we and the kids would grab a bowl or plate or cup, use it for ten minutes and then toss it in the sink. They would build up over the day. We would try to use a cup for water or juice throughout the day but we would forget or two of us would have similar cups and we'd loose track of which one was which. We even tried each of us having a place where we kept a cup. That didn't work at all.

Realizing we would have to eat and drink far less or actually keep up with the dishes we set out to find a way to enforce doing the dishes.

We decided that everyone would have their own bowl and plate (we recently added our own cups). Unless company was over and we were eating with the fancy dishes, no one is allowed to use anything other than their assigned dishes.

We got unbreakable plastic dishes from a local grocery store because we have young children. Using a Sharpie marker we write the first initial of each of us on the bottom of the dish.

Step 3: Wash As You Go

Now everyone has to wash their dish in order to eat the next meal. At first the kids would still throw their dishes in the sink and then have to scrub them when they wanted to eat again but they've learned the value of washing immediately after eating as the food is not stuck on yet. 

Really the main thing this does is enforce the dishes being washed. If anyone comes to the table without their designated dish it's obvious and asked why they didn't use their designated dish. However it does do two other things that helps make washing dishes less painful.

1. It spits the job among the whole family. Instead of one or two of us tackling a mountain of dishes after dinner, everyone does dishes for a minute or two several times a day. 

2. Allows the job to be done faster because of the reduced number of dishes that have to be done (only 1-3 per person).

Using this simple method we've greatly reduced our dishes disorder.

Step 4: Adding Silverware to the Rationing

If we didn't have a dishwasher we would definitely ration silverware. We already have these foons that we use when packing a lunch. Everyone has a color to identify who's foon is who's. 

These foons are from Light My Fire, we found them in the camping section of a store and are quite durable. We've been using two of them for over two years, the other two we got within the last 6 months.

Step 5: Tackling Pots and Pans

We still hate having to wash pots and pans. I haven't figured out a way of reducing them yet. They don't get used the way dishes do. For now they're either put in the dishwasher or done later in the day.

If anyone has a suggestion for simplifying a stack of pots and pans leave a comment on how you would do it.

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112 Comments

Hey, Thanks for this instructable! I had a similar idea long ago, but it never caught on with my family. You've refined the idea somewhat in that you got a set of decent-looking dishes that everyone would be happy with. I just talked with my wife about it, and I think we just might do this. We have done this before when camping, especially with cups. As for silverware, my plan was always to get some of those stackable, stainless steel camping sets, one for each person. Someone mentioned using a dremel to mark the items, that's a good idea, too! As far as pots go, I'm a fan of cast iron. A quick rinse or scrape when it's still hot, it dries itself, and you're ready for the next time! Or occasionally heat it up and wipe it down with oil.

15 replies

I've always been afraid of rinsing hot cast iron (or hot pans in general) because of thermal shock. I wonder if it all depends on the pan or if any pan would eventually crack, and its a matter of time?

I've been washing hot pans IMMEDIATELY off the stove for 20 years now. They wash up so much easier. This goes for teflon coated aluminum and ceramic, pyrex, cast iron, plain aluminum, and any other pan that has ever entered my house. the cheesy aluminum baking pans get a little stressed by this treatment, but they are semi-disposable anyway, since their coatings never last. So as soon as food comes off the stove, it gets transfered to serving dishes or plates, and the pan gets washed. All the pans are stored on hooks in various places, so they get put immediately away to dry, as well. My sink is always empty, with the exception of gnarly baked on stuff (lasagna, etc) which gets left to soak over night, and cleaned the next morning before breakfast is cooked.

This is an area that I could improve in, thanks for the tips.

Ditto! I find that the hotter the pot/pan the easier it comes clean. For example, it takes mere seconds to wash out a teflon pan after frying eggs. I give the pan a little squirt of soap and use a brush while the water's running and it comes out so quickly and easily. Heck, it even dries quickly that way... I just set it right back on the (now cooling) burner. As Jennigma says, I too fill messier pans with water and set them aside to soak.

If for some reason a pan is extra gunky, or gets left dirty through the meal, I find putting it back on the stove with a little soapy water really helps, too. Makes it much easier to clean off!

as far as i know your not supposed to wash them straight off the heat if they haven't had anything in them, that's how you temper steel! stuff thats had water or similar in is fine

This is sort of true. Plunging a hot pan into cold water (or running it under a cold tap) will cause a normally flat bottomed pan to warp and develop either a raised mound or shallow divot in the middle. This is especially true of thinner steel or aluminum pans. Adding water to a hot pan on a stove is perfectly fine though (you'd have to do this while cooking often enough)- a cup or two of cold water won't lower the temperature too quickly. If I have a gunky pan, then I'll usually let it rest on a cooling burner with some water and dish washing soap in it - the water will heat up a bit and loosen the gunk quicker. After it's cooled, scrub, toss out the gunk, then give it the full wash in the sink.

I've only seen that with very thin pans-- like the aforementioned cookie sheets. All of my pots and pans have thick walls, to better distribute the heat, and the only ones I have that are warped are a couple saucepans that got dropped on the floor. :-)

My position is that this is what works for me. If it's damaging the pans, well, pans are replaceable. That said, I've been managing my kitchen this way for 20 years, my cast iron has been with me that long, and it's all still in fine shape. I've been through a couple sets of teflon, but that's due to scratching or burning the pans during cooking, not cleaning. YMMV, but at least in my kitchen, this works fine.

Who washes the pans while everyone else is eating, and their own food is getting cold?

Usually the cook is washing up while the rest of the household is setting the table and pouring drinks and whatnot. It only takes a minute to wash the pan if it's right off the heat. We all start eating at the same time, so cold food is a problem for all or none, depending on the level of organization that evening. :-)

Allow the pan to cool to a temperature that is comfortable to the touch. This will allow you to hold the pan while washing/rinsing and will prevent any damage to the pan.

Grrr. Instructables is being weird today. Keeps posting my previous post when I try to answer here... Anywho, what I was TRYING to say was that for over 10 years, I use the "get it super hot then hit it with super cold water" method to clean of particularly dirty cast-iron. It's completely safe to do. You just can't kill cast-iron.

Cracking occurs due to a rapid differential in expansion or contraction. I seriously doubt that you would be able to manage to produce the required thermal differential to cause damage to metal cookware with a conventional oven and quenching in water.

Damaging a coating on cookware is far more feasible (due to differentials in expansion and contraction between dissimilar materials), that being said, I think it is probably unlikely in practice.

And the nice thing about cast iron - it leeches iron into your food. My husband is a triathlete and myself being female, we can use all the iron we can get!

When I had a roommate I only kept 4 of each dish. (Plates, bowls, fork, spoon, knife, cups, etc.) Works quite well.

I didn't have the patience to read all the comments but if no one has mentioned it ceramic cookware is not only affordable but also makes washing effortless. The worst thing that has ever happened was cooked on bacon grease that was not scrubbing off. But a quarter inch of water and a teaspoon of baking soda put on the stove to heat until it boiled made everything slide off when poured into the yard. No flaking Teflon quick clean up times no lingering flavored and very long lasting. Best investment for those of us who hate scrubbing the chili pot.

What a lost of fuss about tuppence ha'penny's worth of dishes. Takes less time to wash them than to discuss it.. Just do them!! Rinse them and swish with a dishbrush, so at least there isnt any dried on food, and you dont gug up the dishwater. I too dont have a dishwasher, takes wayyy too long, in my experience, and you still have to load and unload it..