Washing up, like medicine and cookery, is both a science and an art. As with any science, methods evolve as new knowledge comes to light and as contexts change. There is very little in the way of an evidence base for how to do the washing up, and with the advent of the dishwasher, it may not evolve much further. As with any art, there is scope for individual expression. This chapter presents my attempt to preserve, for posterity, a fine art form that may be heading for extinction.
Equipment Kitchen sink
Washing up bowl
Dish rack drainer
Sponge with non-stick scourer
Washing up brush
Two clean, dry tea towels
Ingredients Hot water
Detergent (environmentally friendly)
1. First clear the table and stack all the dirty dishes to the left side of the sink, make sure any left-overs are decanted into tupperwares to go in the fridge, scraped into the dog’s bowl, or deposited in the compost bucket or bin1.
2. Search the house for half-drunk cups of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, bowls of cereal or any other mobile eating implements.
3. If dishes are particularly dirty, e.g. covered in gravy, rinse each briefly under the tap, to get the worst off.
4. Put a small amount of water into any pans that may have cooking stuck to the base and leave to soak whilst you do the rest of the washing up.
5. Run the hot tap until fully hot (41°C)2. Adjust with added cold to an appropriate temperature. The correct temperature is important: you need to be able to insert your hands in the water for prolonged periods without discomfort, but cold or lukewarm water will not effectively tackle grease.
6. Squeeze a decent squirt of detergent into the washing up bowl. This should be equivalent to about half a teaspoon per bowl. Run the hot water directly into the bowl over the detergent. Frothy bubbles should appear as the water runs in. Continue filling until the bowl is 2/3 full.
7. Whilst the bowl is filling with water, wipe down the drainer and the worktop to the right of the sink using a moistened J-cloth. This will provide a clean surface on which to place the washed and dried dishes. Rinse out the J cloth in the bowl.
8. Start with the glasses – always start with the glasses. Glasses need clean water for washing, otherwise they end up greasy. Wipe round the rim and inside the glass with your sponge, then rinse in clear hot water. Glasses need rinsing, otherwise they end up smeared with detergent and your water/wine/orange juice/squash (whatever takes your fancy) doesn’t taste particularly nice.
9. Don’t use the heavy pan scourer on your finest crystal cut glass, or that antique dish inherited from your great grandmother.
10. Work your way through the other items, starting with the cleanest. Wipe each carefully with the sponge/scourer/j-cloth/brush (whatever takes your fancy). Make sure you get each item clean before stacking it on the drainer. Don’t forget to wipe the backs as well.
11. Whilst you are busy scrubbing, your accomplice should make a start on drying the dishes. Take each item in turn, starting with the driest, wipe round carefully with the tea towel until dry. Always use a clean tea towel for your glasses – smeared remains of whatever went before don’t improve the taste of your favourite tipple.
12. The dryer-upper provides a quality control, returning any still-dirty dishes to the left hand side. Alternatively, he/she could just wipe off any remains onto the tea towel, ready to then smear on to the next item. If feeling particularly mean, he/she can return clean dishes to the left side again, creating an endless cycle until you finally catch on.
13. The dryer-upper can also put the dishes away, unless you have another accomplice (even better).
14. If you are working as a team, you can sing, discourse, sort out the world or crack jokes as you go. If on your own you can also do so, but other people may think you a bit strange.
15. Having washed the glasses (always do these first), mugs, dishes and cutlery. You can turn to the pans. Having soaked these, all cooking remains should come off easily with the pan scourer, unless of course someone in the family has been making fudge and allowed it to burn, then it may take several weeks.
16. If at any stage the water becomes grey, cold or loses its bubbles, drain it away and start again. (Hence that well known proverb: “ if the water loseth its bubbles wherewith shalt it be made frothy again; it is thenceforth good for nothing but to be flushed down the drain”).
Warning: do not attempt this next stage without adequate protective clothing and under adult supervision.
17. Search through any school bags for forgotten lunchboxes. This is particularly hazardous late in the holidays when they may have been mouldering there for several weeks. Empty any toxic waste directly into the bin (do not feed to the dog or attempt to preserve in the fridge). Wash the lunch boxes carefully and disinfect with strong bleach.
18. Finally, when all is done, wipe down all work surfaces and table, empty and wipe the washing up bowl. The next bit isn’t pleasant, but must be done. Clear out any odd bits of porridge, onions, mashed potato or other left overs that have collected over the drain. This is aided immensely by having wide strainer plugs.
19. Squeeze out the cloths and leave them neatly on the side of the sink. Hang up tea towels to dry, and sit back content in a job well done. You may feel a little disheartened that the whole process needs to be repeated in just a few hours, but do not despair, the average person, living to 70 will only generate 76,650 lots of washing up.
1 Good household tip number 1: recycle. Of course this book is about cycling per se, never mind recycling. But definitely a good idea. Check out direct.gov.uk – environment and greener living.
2 Good household tip number 2: The correct temperature for washing up is not straight forward. Hot water supplies need to be above 50°C to prevent Legionella; at this temperature however, scalds can occur in a matter of seconds. The best solution of course is to fit point of use thermostatic mixing valves – clever.