Seat yourselves around the campfire, children, and I’ll tell you a tale of some grade-A dumbass sitcom shit I did when I was your age.
I spent the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college in the same town where my father lived. He had just moved in with my soon-to-be stepmother, leaving his bachelor pad vacant. He agreed to let me live there rent-free while the place was on the market, but part of our agreement was that I had to keep the place spotlessly clean and ready to be shown at a moment’s notice. It was a sweet deal and I took it.
One day my father alerted me that a couple would be stopping by to see it that very afternoon. No problemo! I decided the first thing I needed to do was wash the dishes.
In the past, I’d always washed dishes by hand, because I only used a plate or two at a time. But I had a bunch of drinking glasses accumulated, and I wanted to go vacuum and do other things, so I decided to use the dishwasher. I loaded it up the same way I had seen my parents do it. Then I looked around for a place to put the soap, and saw a little pop-open divot labeled “soap.” Feeling self-reliant, I squirted about half of a cup of dish soap into the machine, turned the dial to “normal wash,” and pressed the start button.
… Did you catch that?
Yep, I just told you that I squirted dish soap into the dishwasher. Yeah, like Dawn or some shit. Some of you already know what this punch line is going to be!
I went upstairs to make my bed and stash my small suitcase of belongings out of sight. When I came back downstairs ten minutes later, the entire first floor of the condominium had vanished. In its place was a sea of tiny, pearlescent soap bubbles. When I stepped into it, I disappeared up to my ankles. And god, the smell… the lemony fresh scent was like a brick wall where the bricks were also made of lemons.
Honestly, can you blame me? Doesn’t it make sense to put dish soap in the dish washer? I was nineteen years old and had never run a dishwasher in my life, which makes me sound awfully royal. To be fair to me, many adult responsibilities were foisted on me at a young age. But for whatever reason, this was one task my parents had always done for me. I’d loaded it, I’d unloaded it. But I’d never actually added the dishwasher liquid and run it.
Adults must use a vast set of skills to navigate their lives. Everybody has gaps in their learning. I don’t know a single adult who isn’t embarrassed over their inability to perform some “normal” menial task like driving, cooking, doing laundry, or filing taxes.
So today we’re kicking off a basic life skills category. If you missed this information at some point in your life, we’ll teach you how to do it with no shade and no shame. And if you already know all this stuff, who knows, your ass still might learn something! At the very least, you’ll be entertained by our adolescent failures.
On an unrelated note, I’ll also tell you how to get rid of five hundred square feet of bubbles in twenty minutes!
How to wash a dish by hand
This is how I’ve washed dishes for most of my life, including to this day. My house was built in 1917, she ain’t got none of that Rosie the Robot shit.
One thing to note is that this is the least efficient way to wash dishes. You’ll use more water, more soap, more elbow grease, and more time than a dishwasher will. So if you have a dishwasher, use the dishwasher! Unlike many labor-saving devices, it is actually also money-saving.
1. Check for a garbage disposal
So you’ve got some nasty boi dirty plates. The first thing you must do is check to see if there is a garbage disposal installed. A garbage disposal is, basically, a loud little blender that grinds up small amounts of food waste.
Oh, would you like to hear another personal anecdote that makes me sound like the prince in The Prince and the Pauper? I once stuffed some burnt rice down the drain in mine and Piggy’s dormitory sink because I had never lived anywhere that didn’t have a garbage disposal. I thought that all kitchen sinks ate garbage by definition! The building’s handyman was sent to snake the drain and yell at me.
For the love of god, don’t be like me.
Three ways to look for one. First: on the rim of the drain itself, where the water disappears out of sight, does it say “Insinkerator”? Second: is there a light switch right near the sink that makes a triggeringly loud noise when you flip it? Third: when you open the cabinet under the sink, do you see a large cork-shaped black apparatus attached to the pipes? If you answered yes to any of these questions, that’s probably a garbage disposal.
Your dishes probably have some food waste still on them. Take your dirty fork and scrape that shit into the garbage. (You can also compost it if it’s non-meat, but that’s intermediate-level stuff. You’re in the remedial class; stay in your lane.)
If there’s a garbage disposal, you can safely wash SMALL amounts of soft food matter directly into the sink. But don’t stuff a bunch down, and don’t put anything hard like a chicken bone in there. When you’re done, run the water from the sink and pulse the disposal on by flipping the light switch until the quality of sound changes. Usually the pitch goes up just a little, and it sounds smoother—that means it’s done.
And if, like me, you ain’t got a garbage disposal, DON’T PUT FOOD DOWN THE DRAIN. I’m serious. Invest in one of those little $3 crud catchers. It’s a heckin’ lot cheaper than a plumber.
Never pour grease down the drain. Grease is any kind of cooking fat or oil—for example, what’s left in the pan after you cook bacon. This stuff is liquid when it’s warm, but becomes solid at room temperature. It’ll go down the drain easy, but it will turn into a big, water-repelling, solid block inside your drain.
Start with the stuff that you can tell will be hardest to clean—the crusty, nasty, baked-on shit. Put those items in the sink and fill them with warm water.
Hopefully one of those things will be a largish container, like a mixing bowl or a large piece of tupperware. Collect all of the silverware and small items, and chuck them inside to soak too.
Now ignore them while you clean the easy stuff.
There are lots of dish-cleaning implements, some of them quite fancy. But this cowgirl uses only two. In my right holster is a soft-scrub sponge, and that’s what I recommend you use most often because it’s disposable and safe to use on everything. In my left is a hard plastic scraping tool. Strong enough to pry up serious gunk, but flat to prevent scratches. Yeehaw!
Take your sponge; squirt a buncha dish soap onto it; work it into a lather; and go apeshit on them dishes. I mean, don’t no-lube-fist your champagne flutes, but do put some effort into it. I can definitely tell when someone has hand-washed dishes with a limp wrist. Fingerprints and smudges are all up in them boys.
Put the most effort into areas that touch mouths, hands, and food. You should wash the outside and the bottom as well—but they’re usually good with a superficial wipe-down. Go ham on areas like the interior and the handle.
I actually use the “scrubby” side of a sponge as my default! Your parents and grandparents might’ve told you not to do that, because these used to be much more abrasive and would scratch everything. But nowadays they’re much gentler, and they help disturb the surface of dried-on food stains. If you really care, you can read a great batch of sponge reviews here.
Reload your sponge if the suds run dry. And move from easy-to-clean stuff like water glasses to disasters like the casserole dish covered in four days of baked-and-reheated-and-reheated-and-reheated lasagna.
For the hardest ones, you may need a tool with more scrubbing power, or to soak them overnight. That’s cool! Two warnings. Don’t soak cast iron things—the water will cause them to rust. (You will know cast iron by its black, slightly pebbled texture and its enormous weight.) And don’t use abrasive cleaners like steel wool. There may be some situations that call for them, but you’re way more likely to wreck the finish of the dirty item with scratches.
When your item looks good, rinse it off. Meaning: run it under clean water until all the soapy water is 100% gone. If you don’t do this, you’ll see weird soapy water stains on all your nice clean shit. Gross.
Unless you’re in an enormous hurry, towel-drying is very unnecessarily inefficient. Instead, stack the items in a drying rack and let the sylphs do their work.
Some double-sinks have a built-in drying rack. Some are even sculpted into the counter top, which is… unhelpful, but whatever. But most people will probably need a freestanding drying rack. Let the pegs and grooves guide you on how to stack the plates. Put large, sturdy things on the bottom and stack lighter, fragile things on top, because contents can shift! Especially if you, like me, try to reach into the pile and sneak your coffee mug out, Jenga-style.
I highly recommend an absorbent pad underneath (I swear by this one). Get two so you can launder it occasionally.
And for god’s sake, point the knives down! You are one clumsy roommate away from the perfect murder!
Wait… is all of this really sanitary?
There is no mythical way to hand-wash a dish that will result in perfectly sanitized plates. If any step here strikes you as gross and germy, it’s probably because washing dishes by hand is gross and germy. Sorry about it!
Take the magical process chefs call “seasoning.” It’s a fancy term meaning “when we cook a bunch on something and it gets a permanent patina of oily runoff baked into it.” And yes, seasoning is a good thing! It helps keep your cookware non-stick without a bunch of iffy chemicals that are probably banned in Europe (and California, the Europe of America.)
It’s normal for cookware, over time, to become dark, discolored, or shiny. It doesn’t mean you’re washing it badly—you don’t have to lash it with a scrub brush until looks fresh off the showroom floor of Bed Bath & Beyond. If I had a baby, I wouldn’t trust people with shiny cookware to hold said baby. Also I would have a lot of questions about where this baby came from, because my shit is on lock.
How to wash dishes in a dishwasher
Oh, you’ve got one? You lucky soul! Here’s how you use it.
No, not like that.
Yep, you’ve still got to scrape! If you leave half of a tomato on your plate, the washer will pick up that half-tomato, pulverize it with water jets, and fling it about onto everything before drying said tomato chunks into an immovable crisp.
… Not that I’m speaking from extremely unflattering real-life experience here. For the third time. In one post.
There’s no need to rinse, though. You’re likely just wasting water.
Disparate dishwasher loading techniques are the key to a speedy divorce. No, it’s true! People have very strong opinions on “the right” way to do it. In my experience, every dishwasher is different, and you may need to use one several times before you figure out its quirks. But there are some best practices.
- Don’t put anything in the dishwasher that can’t withstand high heat and lots of water. That means no wooden spoons, no cast iron, no fancy silver. (Who reads this blog and eats off silver? Please email me. I have to know you.)
- Don’t dump everything in randomly. The dishwasher, like the drying rack, usually has suggested areas. Plates almost always go on the bottom, cups and bowls almost always go on top, and there should be a little basket for utensils. If the utensils are large, like a spatula, lay them flat on the top rack.
- Try to keep dishes from touching. They rattle around a little in there, and you don’t want them to chip or break. Utensils can touch.
- Stack vessels upside-down or on their sides. If bowls and cups are right-side-up, they will fill with dirty water. When possible, keep them at a slight angle so that water runs off of them during the drying process. (Usually the upper shelf is molded to do exactly this.)
- Always point knives down. If you live with Piggy, go ahead and make it forks too.
It’s crucial not to under-fill or over-fill your dishwasher. If you run the washer on a small load, you waste money, water, and energy. Over-stuff it and nothing will get clean, forcing you to run it again. I personally never put pots, pans, cutting boards, or other large items in dishwashers. They always seem to obstruct the flow of water to other items, I’d rather just wash them by hand.
Find the dish detergent container. It’s usually on the interior of the door, and it usually looks like a little hole covered by a pop-open door. There’s often a second one for big loads with extra dirty boys; ignore it.
How much you put in depends on the kind of dish detergent you’re using. Follow the directions on the box. If you’re not sure, use the overall size of the container as your guide. You don’t want it overflowing, but you probably want it pretty full.
Almost all dishwashers nowadays will spit your dishes out as hot and dry as my grandmother’s meatloaf (which is to say, lukewarm and exceptionally dry). So you don’t have to worry about drying them and can stack them right back in your cabinet. Or just take out the one you want and leave the rest there for your roommate to put away, you fucking monster.
Depending on how new and schmancy your dishwasher is, you’ll have a range of settings to choose from. Start with normal, and go from there. If you notice that the dishes didn’t get very clean, try loading it differently next time, or choosing a different setting. Labor-saving devices are soooooo hard!
So wait, let’s say I accidentally load the dishwasher with dish soap, and now I have a living room floor covered in bubbles, and potential buyers are twenty minutes away…
Okay, here’s what you do.
Wade over to the back door and open it wide. Grab a dustpan. Now RUN at the bubbles like a Japanese floor cleaner (reference here) with your dustpan out in front of you, scooping and thrusting them out the back door. Do this until 90% of the bubbles are outside on the back deck, then shove them off the deck and into the hostas. Then go back inside and vacuum. The 10% of the bubbles remaining will collapse without other bubbles to insulate them, and you can run a vacuum over everything. It will be surprisingly dry underneath, I promise you.
Question: won’t that kill the hostas?
Almost certainly. Concentrate on selling the house before they show signs of their death by poisoning.
Question: wouldn’t a broom work better?
No. The agitation of the sweeping motion will send them airborne. You will waste precious time.
Question: what about a snow shovel?
Absolutely. A snow shovel would’ve worked best. But there isn’t one in your garage. Believe me, I checked.