Washing up

"Washing-up is one of those never-ending little jobs with a despairingly short-lived reward. Basically, we all want to get out of doing the washing-up. You can bet your life that as soon as you’ve washed the last cup, emptied the sink and wiped the surfaces, another dirty utensil will appear from nowhere keenly awaiting its turn in the soap studs"

Lucy Good - Beanstalk

I am doubly lucky when it comes to washing up. I have a dishwasher, and I have a husband who, as a matter of principle almost, insists on doing the washing up after a meal. This leads to arguments - which I will come to in a moment. (I do do the washing up produced by the meal preparation, so it's not all down to him.)


I'm talking about washing up today because I watched Jamie's latest Keep Cooking and Carry on program last night in which he spruiked one of his dishes by saying that it was a one-pot meal and therefore saved on the washing up. He had said more or less the same thing in one of his previous programs, and so it got me to thinking about washing up. Indeed is the washing up one of the reasons that people don't cook and get takeaway instead? Do we hate it so much?


Well that's probably an extreme position, but maybe it lurks in the heads of some as a reason for getting takeaway. And these are the people whom Jamie Oliver is trying to reach.


There certainly is nothing worse than being confronted by a pile of dirty dishes like this after a meal. And the bigger the family - and big families are generally found in the sort of people Jamie is trying to reach, the worse is the problem. Indeed he probably suffers from it himself, seeing as how he has five children (or is it six?) of his own. Millenials probably suffer from this if they have a party or if they don't do the washing up on the day the dirty dishes are produced. For they probably tend to leave the dishes for the morning, being unable to confront them at night. I confess that when we were young, after a dinner party at our place, we would often do the same. And really there is nothing worse than waking up to a pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen. Particularly if you've got no clean dishes to use for your breakfast or the cup of coffee you so desperately need. Not a good start to the day. And if you haven't left the worst things soaking then it will be double difficult to get them clean. Not to mention, of course, the very poor hygiene of leaving dirty dishes to fester.


So the first thing to consider is how to avoid having much washing up. I do like to prepare all my ingredients before starting the cooking process and sometimes this means putting some of them in dishes while I prepare something else. But I always try to use a dish that can be put straight into the dishwasher. And we have plenty of ordinary tableware. Indeed if you do have a dishwasher then the first thing you need to do is get a lot of crockery and cutlery. It doesn't have to be expensive for daily use. If you haven't got this then you will have to do a lot more washing up and probably by hand.


I did see one article suggesting that you cook in disposable foil trays in the oven. Well yes, but that's not good for the environment is it? Other suggestions were: don't use a new glass or cup every time you want a drink - just rinse it quickly and use again, or even just keep using the same one - well same person same glass that is. Line baking trays with foil or baking paper and then just throw the paper away. Well - yes, but sometimes you want the juices and crusty bits, and this is slightly more difficult to get when you have used paper. Use non-stick pans. It won't take away the need for washing up but it will certainly make it easier. And yes try and use as few pans as possible in the cooking process.


As I said above - I do the washing up produced by the cooking process. Well I suppose it depends upon what kind of meal it is. In the case of Jamie's one-pot meal for example there would indeed have only been one cooking pot to wash up, but he used various implements to prepare the ingredients. Not a lot though and mostly easily dealt with. If you have used things like food processors, or other machines, complicated implements, bowls and even simple implements like graters, you might still have quite a lot to wash up. Now I could leave it for David to wash up later or just put it all in the dishwasher but there are reasons why I don't do this. By the way you can wash blenders quickly and easily by giving it a spin with some water and detergent. But you probably know that.


I like to do my bit, and besides I hate the mess. Because this part of the washing-up process entails not only washing up the implements but also cleaning all the surfaces I might have used for cooking, chopping, kneading, rolling, etc. etc. There is also the fact that I only have one of most of the implements I have used - from my sharp Global knife, to my food processor and putting these things in the dishwasher - unless it is nearly full and about to go on - will mean that they will be unavailable for further use. Besides I don't really like putting metal things in the dishwasher. I think it does funny things to them. But this could be me being old-fashioned and I should get over it.


Anyway that's stage one of the daily dinner wash up. The second stage is washing up the dishes and implements we use for eating, and the dish or dishes that the meal was cooked in. If I'm good I will have put these to soak whilst eating, although this is not always possible. It certainly helps though But if you are serving from the tray in which the food cooked then this is not possible. David does have an irritating habit of washing up some of these things - quiche tins, rice cookers, saucepans before sitting down though. I should be grateful, but it's irritating. I have prepared the food, it's on the table, and I'm waiting for him to wash up. Tricky.


Then, however, we are on to the whole, how and what to wash up thing. And I have to say that when I was doing my 'research' for this process this is mostly what I found the articles were talking about.


Before I even start on how to wash the dishes in the sink, there's the whole dishwasher versus sink controversy and how to actually use the dishwasher. And this is where we have our biggest disagreements.


Now our dishwasher is now not that new but it's relatively new and is a good one. So according to the experts there is no need to rinse everything before putting it inside. But my husband virtually washes things before putting them in. Very, very, wasteful of water and not really that hygienic either. The general expert opinion is that food scraps should be scraped off, but that's it. The dishwasher will do the rest.


"The worst approach for the environment - and energy and water bills - is pre-washing dishes in constantly running hot water and then running them in an ancient dishwasher that was not built to modern standards," Chris Mooney - Washington Post 2015


2015 - so even more relevant a statement if you have a newer machine.


The dishwashers are also much more hygienic because they reach much higher temperatures than we can cope with even with rubber gloves on our hands. Thus more germs are killed. Plus it saves our precious time.


"handing over all dishwashing responsibilities to a machine saves you 230 hours, or nearly 10 days, each year. Which makes for a pretty compelling argument." Energy Star program


Apparently the first dishwasher was invented way back in the 1850s but we still do a massive amount of manual washing-up.


However, of course, some people do not have dishwashers and also there are probably always going to be some dishes that won't go into the dishwasher - whether they are too precious - Riedel glasses - I was told these should be steamed not even washed, silverware, crockery with gold trimmings - too big or likely to be damaged - some plastic things, some saucepans.


So how do you go about the manual washing- up process? I read quite a few very alarming articles about how many billions, even trillions of bacteria get trapped in sponges - so don't go there apparently. And if you insist on using a sponge you can sterilise it, cloths too, by making it wet and giving it a blast of 40 seconds in the microwave. It has to be wet or it might catch fire! Which is more than enough to put me off I have to say. But really you should only be using clean dish cloths and sponges.


"Use a clean dishcloth, because the dishcloth is the dirtiest thing in your kitchen normally." Assoc. Professor Barbara Mullan


Which frankly is all too hard, and yet again you are coming up against the using water thing.


A brush is better as it doesn't trap the bacteria as much and it dries out more than a sponge or a cloth, which tend to remain damp and therefore good breeding grounds for all those germs. And you should wear rubber gloves because then you can make your water hotter, and the hotter the water, the more bacteria is killed off. But as one writer said, they look so horrible don't they when you've finished with them.


And whilst we are still on bacteria, washing stuff in dirty water - now how do you avoid that? - is an absolute no-no.


"You will end up with a lovely bacteria soup, then you will stick your hand in the sink to pull the plug out and do the dishes, and if you don't wash your hands properly you are going to cross-contaminate the kitchen."


“The trick is to keep the water clean, by pre-rinsing and scraping and then by washing the cleanest things first (after the glassware of course). Soapy water will run off without leaving marks, whereas you will get watermarks if you rinse.” Dishmatic


Yes, rinsing in clean water is not good - Dishmatic was not the only site to say this - I saw it on several 'how to' sites.


I didn't actually see whether drying with a tea towel or leaving to dry was better. I have always believed it's better to leave it to drain and dry myself as you will be spreading germs as you dry - well unless you use a clean tea towel every time. Water again. No, I think only use a tea towel if you haven't got enough space for your drying plates to dry naturally.


And one last thing - your sink. I must say I have never understood the modern trend for no built in drainers next to your sink. You get water running all over the place if you don't have one built in. My preference in fact is for a drainer on both sides of two sinks although at the moment I only have one because of lack of space. But this works Ok as I can stack the dirty dishes on the side.


When I was young I was taught the basics of washing-up - clean things first and work your way through to the dirtiest, by my mother, by the Brownies, and by my domestic science teacher at school, but really that is common sense. The more I think about it though the more I am repelled by the idea of washing very dirty dishes in very dirty water - and getting more clean water uses precious water. So I guess the main thing is use as few dishes as you can and use the dishwasher as much as you can. And be grateful you do not live somewhere where there is no running water - or not much anyway.

Which makes you realise what a privileged world we live in, even in our own country. Makes arguing over whether to wash plates before putting them in the dishwasher so utterly trivial.

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