Introduction: Simplify Doing the Dishes

Picture of Simplify Doing the Dishes

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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.


HawkinsRN (author)2010-07-12

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.

EmmettO (author)HawkinsRN2010-07-13

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?

Jennigma (author)EmmettO2010-07-15

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.

Kathys Smokin (author)Jennigma2015-07-17

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

peacenique (author)Jennigma2010-07-15

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.

Jennigma (author)peacenique2010-07-15

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!

whitewolf88 (author)Jennigma2010-07-15

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

AwajiMan (author)whitewolf882010-07-15

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.

Jennigma (author)AwajiMan2010-07-15

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. :-)

Jennigma (author)whitewolf882010-07-15

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.

MTJimL (author)Jennigma2010-07-15

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

Jennigma (author)MTJimL2010-07-15

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. :-)

MyMenagerie (author)EmmettO2010-07-16

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.

Javin007 (author)EmmettO2010-07-15

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.

cfuse (author)EmmettO2010-07-15

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.

jodiwer (author)HawkinsRN2010-07-15

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!

JustinK4 (author)2014-11-06

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

JM1999 made it! (author)2014-09-26

I made it!

Hugandkisses (author)2013-10-13


zckproductions (author)2013-08-19

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.

Katie5757 (author)2010-07-15

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..

EmmettO (author)Katie57572010-07-17

And what would your suggestion be if they arn't getting done? If they're building up in the sink? This is a solution that worked for me. If you don't need a solution then you're correct, this instructable doesn't help you. Others have indicated that it looked like it could be helpful to them.

ursus57 (author)EmmettO2012-08-06

The GREAT point of the discussion is to share the huge load of work involved in running a household. Each having a casual place setting in pattern of choice is a great move to each person doing a part. Each person with a towel of thier color choice is useful as well. We have seven, the person who does the kitchen chores has very bad knees and must sit to do dishes. The other adult female is unable to help due to disabilities. We use paper, plastic, reuse glass jars and recycle aluminum cans, steel cans and carry the recyclables down the road to a guy who take them to town to sell once a year. Any positive rerinforcement of sharing the load is gratefully recieved.

momma_faeyth (author)2012-04-28

As a mom of three and having a debilitating condition, my husband and I have been searching for an idea to lessen the pain of the dishes. This is awesome. Not only will this be wonderful for reducing pile-up, but my youngest has extreme OCD with his Aspergers and already insists on a certain plate, bowl, cup, fork, etc. I'm actually just now switching from plastic to glass however, I still need a divider plate for my son and have yet to find an alternative for that. I love all these ideas--choice of colors, etc. Thanks so much!!

EmmettO (author)momma_faeyth2012-04-29

Hey, great to hear that this could help out! We're still using the system but we've been falling off the wagon a bit in terms of not just tossing dishes in the sink and letting them sit. I'm the permanent dishwasher now and my son is the dryer. This was a compromise that I made because as much as I don't love doing dishes, I really can't stand laundry and it was a price I was willing to pay to never have to touch the laundry again. :)

sbarnes10 (author)2011-11-17

I've been thinking about doing something like this for probably over a year now... This was really helpful to me! I absolutely can not keep up with my dishes. We also eat almost exclusively at home (as well as pack lunches which require extra dish ware) and make most everything from scratch so it usually takes multiple pots and pans per meal, plus dishes from snacks.. it just seems endless.

I'm pretty good at keeping up with the laundry & toy cleanup because I have a system. Thank you very much for posting this and motivating me to have a better system in my kitchen! Honestly, it's really pretty disgusting most of the time and I just can't stand it.

bbsassy (author)2011-11-07

Hahahahaha Brand new to Instructibles. This is hysterical. it is just washing up for goodness sake. I personally have two 'ball-bearing dishwashers' (my two sons) LOL

EmmettO (author)bbsassy2011-11-07

No, it's a suggestion on how to streamline the dishes. We've found it to be very useful and has enforced keeping up with the dishes for us. As has been said in the past, if you don't need it, don't use it.

terribug (author)2011-09-15

One thing we do to limit the amount of water used is to take one of the cooking pots and put the utensils in the bottom. Run a small amount of hot, soapy water, then wash (but don't rinse) the dishes one at a time, placing them in the other side of the sink (or just outside of the pot, if you only have one big sink). Wait till all are soaped and clean to rinse them all at once. If you're keeping up with the dishes, this takes no time at all, and very little water.

MTJimL (author)2010-07-15

Two thoughts: Unbreakable is good; plastic is bad. Unless you have access to something better than melamine, you'll discover it's not dishwasher safe. Second, rather than marking the plates with "permanent" Magic Marker, try buying from open stock. Give each person a choice(kids love to choose); that way they will bond with their personal plate because it's different from the rest, as are they.

And regarding the comment by "jodiwer" on the previous step: Envy is an ugly word, and to imply snidely that someone doesn't live in the real world because of a possibly higher income smacks of that unbecoming characteristic. But I'm sure "jodiwer" is a wonderful person and I misread the comment completely.

rhaubejoi (author)MTJimL2010-07-15

well said MTJiml. My former in-laws (whom I still dearly love) had 6 kids and their solution was everyone had a specific color for their dishes. red, yellow, green, blue, pink, purple. It seems the colors would be easier to tell at a glance instead of having to look at the bottom of a dish. Especially a filled glass of tea. I have a small family but it seems the dishes still pile up too quick since we don't have a dishwasher. Oh well, grandma did fine without one for all those years, so I suppose I'll

bigjeff5 (author)rhaubejoi2010-12-07

When I was growing up my parents had two dishwashers:

Me and my older brother.

EmmettO (author)rhaubejoi2010-07-17

Different color dishes is also a perfectly acceptable methiod of acomplishing this.

wobbler (author)2010-11-17

I wash up in a large stainless steel mixing bowl in the sink. It saves a huge amount of water. I also boil the water in a kettle rather than run off hot water (you only need a litre) and then add cold water to it to make up the rest and bring it down to a usable temperature. In case you're wondering why I don't just half heat a bigger amount of water, it uses the same energy in total, it's just easier to let it boil. Of course, I do this for small washing ups, which is what most of mine are.

julesandflossy (author)2010-07-15

I couldn't think of anything worse than demeaning the dining experience by eating off plastic plates of foons or using plastic silverware. Ugh. When I start cooking, I fill the sink with hot soapy water, and wash as I go and leave in a draining tray. I have never had a dishwasher and never will as I think they are unhygenic and a waste of electricity, also I don't believe they work properly and use nasty chemicals. The feeling of hot soapy water is nice to me (I don't wear gloves either) and my daughter usually comes and dries the dishes with a fresh tea towel and we chat about our day. Actually it makes it easier if there is someone nice to dry the dishes as you wash, because then the tray doesn't get overly full. As for pots and pans, once I have served the dinner, I fill the pan with hot water and let it soak until straight after dinner when I wash it. I find washing the dishes in warm soapy water a relaxing experiencem and it brings my daughter and I closer together. Maybe a paradigm shift would help, but I know some people are too busy and this is not always possible. All the best. X

Javin007 (author)julesandflossy2010-07-15

I'm not sure what kind of Pollyanna world you live in, but where I come from if you're lucky, you MIGHT see a family plop down in front of the TV with TV trays and paper plates and plastic utensils. This is assuming they didn't just pick up a bucket of KFC.

If you're snooty enough that you think you need to verbalize that you can't "think of anything worse than demeaning the dining experience by" doing what is recommended in this instructable, then you *should* also be made aware that those of us raised to "demean" dinner were at least taught the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" rule. (We were also taught when it was proper to break that rule, such as now.) I for one can think of a few things worse. Pedophilia... Rape... Murder... The "Amazing Horse" song... The "Double Rainbows" guy...

I'm glad that you're the rare flower that actually enjoys hand washing dishes, but as 99.9% of U.S. homes have a dishwasher in them, I think we can assume you're somewhere in the minority there.

I for one enjoyed this instructable, and found some great tips that I will personally use. As a complete side note, perhaps you should check here:
and here:

You'll find that actual REAL studies done on the subject have proven dishwashers to use less water, less soap, less overall energy, and be far more hygienic than hand washing.

And no, ending your post with: "All the best. X" does not negate the negative things you were saying and the little "Ugh" comments.

vgmom (author)Javin0072010-10-02

Kudos to everything you said here Javis7. This postee really tried to put down a really great instructable. Not every inst. has to apply to everyone, and she was bringing up these good ideas to whomever wants to apply. TO EACH ITS OWN.

I try washing as i go along the cooking procedure so that when i finish, i only have the pots w/the cooked meal on them. If any leftovers, i transfer to plastic bowls and save for next meal & wash the pots then. Good inst. Emmett0! Don't let them bring u down!

julesandflossy (author)Javin0072010-08-02

Wow, I'm sorry for you Javin007 that you took my reply so personally. I guess I am lucky that I can be in a kind of Pollyanna-ish state, here in New Zealand where a lot of people still have the time to wash the dishes by hand, while chatting to their children. I even grow my own food and cook from scratch. Occasionally on an occasion where we are coming together as a big group, at an end of year work function or school 'do' plastic plates or cutlery will be used for quick disposal, but to use it on a daily basis would be considered very tacky, wasteful, lazy and uneconomic. I agree the crimes you mentioned are much worse. I wonder if the root of those are that their parents did not have time to chat with/get to know/guide their children on a daily basis during simple activities such as dishwashing, or eating healthy foods together. I know that the industrialisation of food which creates a fast food plastic plate lifestyle manufactures food with strange unnatural ingredients, which is also a cause of obesity, depression and anger as is a general lack of time generally in the hunt for the mighty dollar, (causing the demand for the industrialised food in the first place?) I consider myself fortunate that I *do* have or choose to make time to live a simple life growing my own food and cleaning up after myself. Here in New Zealand this is standard, most of us even eschew clothes driers and take the time to hang our laundry out to dry. I guess you and I, Javin007, are literally worlds apart. Maybe I'm too old fashioned I don't know. But it is just the way I live. All the best X.

EmmettO (author)julesandflossy2010-08-02

Since your reply was directly aimed at me I guess I should take it personally. Both of you are violating the "be nice" policy and I don't appreciate it. Apparently in all your superior upbringing you're no better than Javin007.

I also grow my own food and cook most things from scratch. I also regularly chat with my children. Stop insulting people.

I am not obese (or even fat) neither is my family and I don't hunt for the almighty dollar but I do have to survive and where I live we have property taxes and my parents weren't rich enough to buy me a house so I have a mortgage. And yes that does take up a good bit of time. I apologize for being poor I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.

Actually if I didn't have to cook most of my food from scratch, maybe I could spend waste more time washing fancy dishes. I even have them, but they won't hold up to the use that my family puts them through.

I may be tacky but I am not wasteful. If you actually read the instructable you would have known that we wash the plates and do not throw them away.

So other than your distain for plastic, your prejudice has proven 100% incorrect. Seeing that as being the case I imagine the rest would have to be incorrect. Simple logic really.

julesandflossy (author)EmmettO2010-08-02

Whoah! No insult was intended. Just putting my point of view across, and defending it. All the best X.

Mr. Potato Head (author)2010-09-10

Definitely not a concern for me - it's what wive's are for. There's a reason they refer to these kind of chores as "women's work".

gutzybroad (author)2010-08-04

I Have used the same system for a long time. The only diffrence is I went to walmart and Bought the same plate bowl and plastic cups in diffrent colors. Every one has there own color and you definatly know if someone is cheating. My kids are 12 and 15, so I've gone as far as giving everyone there own color towel also. I got tired of going to get a towel to find there were none in the closet. only to find them in kid's bed room. now towels get washed with there clothes and put in there closet on there shelves. if they leave them on there floor the use a dirty towel: however I always have a clean one.

paravou (author)2010-07-19

I like the idea of a foon better than sporks as sporks can hurt the unwary user.

mtk99 (author)2010-07-16

This is interesting but the fact that you have a little amount of dishes that i can see I have a sink in my home that's most likely about 4x larger and we do dishes about twice a day I hate it but it still needs to be done taking about 4minutes plus sometimes to get it done.

EmmettO (author)mtk992010-07-17

Heh heh, yeah I took this picture on a good day.

Pieter909 (author)2010-07-15

To save water you better do the dishes 2 times a day, first time after lunch(breakfast, lunch and some cups of the night before)and the second time after dinner( teatime and dinner). I see there are a lot of people in your household, just make a scheme so everyone has to do the dishes a few times a week. There are 3 tasks: washing, drying and putting it back on the shelf's. This way you only use 2 sinks of hot water a day instead of everybody running the hot water tap while washing his own things. You've also got time to discuss the day and ask your kids how it was on school. When I was young we did it this way and it worked pretty well.

Tamaresque (author)Pieter9092010-07-17

I was wondering when someone would mention the wastefulness of the water due to many small lots of dishes being done over the day. I live alone; I rinse every dish I use and wash up about twice a week. Works for me!

EmmettO (author)Tamaresque2010-07-17

Water use is not as important a consideration as hygean in this situation. Although I do try to conserve when possible I frankly doubt that this takes more water than filling the sink. I'd have to test that to know for sure.

Shanjaq (author)2010-07-16

This step is by far the most effective. Wash what you use when you use it. The food can't get any easier to rinse off than while it's fresh. =P

dgeer (author)2010-07-16

Hey I wrote an artyicle about how much I hated our dishwasher and only the other day it took me longer to unload it and then refill it than just washing up the dirties would have. My tip which I don't always follow is, soak cups and mugs and other stuff and load these into dishwasher. Hand wash soaked pots and pans! I too don't like cold food so would suggest the use of warmed serving dishes if you want to be really efficient and wash up the pots as you go. Serving dishes fit better in the dish washer and food tends not to stick as hard as it does to the pots and pans! My wife suggests buy plastic and through it all away! Better still eat less and then you use less plates dishes etc....

About This Instructable



Bio: 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 ... More »
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