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Recently I asked a group of moms on Facebook what the hardest part about cooking was and a shocking 86 out of 231 of them said, “doing the dishes.”
Clean-up obviously isn’t fun (why else would the kids leave their toys everywhere?) but I was still surprised by how many mothers answered that way. Maybe it’s the fact that moms with young children have lots of dishes to wash and fewer people to wash them or that kid dishes are often exceptionally hard to clean.
For the record, crazy straws are the worst and it doesn’t make you a horrible person if you throw them out instead of wasting 20 minutes pressure washing crumbs out of the loop de loop. Whatever you need to do to stay sane in this hectic world.
Kids or no kids, dishwashing is a fact of life for those of us who cook. To that end I’ve made a list of 50 tips to make doing the dishes easier. I hope you find them as helpful as I have over the years.
Before You Cook
1. Empty the dishwasher before dinner.
Make sure there is room for all the dinner dishes in the dishwasher before you start to cook – if there isn’t, run it. Failing to do so means you’ll have extra hand washing to do or will put off doing the dishes until the morning. There’s nothing more discouraging than waking up to a dirty kitchen.
2. Choose to cook meals that don’t require a million different steps with different tools.
There’s a time and a place for intricately prepared meals. The middle of the week with packed schedules and early mornings is not that time. Opt for easy to prepare meals you can cook in one dish to make cleanup easier.
3. Empty the trash before you start cooking.
Just like with the dishwasher, you want to make sure there is room in the trash can for all of your scraps before you start cooking. If there isn’t, take it out. Onion peels, chicken bones, dirty paper towels, etc. have a habit of piling up on multiple plates or ending up in the sink when there isn’t anywhere to throw them away.
How You Cook
4. Use easy to clean tools and appliances.
Not everything has to be dishwasher safe but certain tools and appliances are harder to clean than others. For example, do you really need to use a food processor to finely chop spinach? A knife and cutting board work just as well and are infinitely easier to clean. If you’re going to spend a lot of time cleaning a tool or appliance, make sure it’s worth it.
5. Use disposable materials like muffin cups, parchment paper, and aluminum foil.
I don’t know about you but there are certain dishes I dread washing like muffin tins, broiler pans, and pizza stones. Do yourself a favor and spend the time up front laying in muffin cups, parchment paper, aluminum foil, etc. to make less work for yourself later.
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6. Reuse tools and utensils.
Be thoughtful about the order you do things in. For example, when measuring out ingredients for baked goods do all of the dry ingredients first and then the wet to save yourself having to wash your measuring cups or spoons an extra time.
7. Cut things you can eat raw first.
No need to wash the cutting board between ingredients if you wash the things you can eat raw first. Cross contamination is real and you don’t want to mess around (or wash an extra cutting board).
8. Cook double batches.
Two meals for one cleanup? Score! Cooking double batches blesses you with leftovers and better yet, a well deserved break from doing the dishes.
9. Learn the basics of using fats to grease surfaces.
Anytime something scorches to the bottom of a pan your cleanup job gets exponentially harder. Save yourself the prolonged soakings and hard scrubbings by spending a few minutes on learning the science behind fats, oils, and grease.
10. Be present when cooking.
Have you ever noticed that pasta (and milk!) has a tendency to boil over and make a huge mess the second you take your eyes off the pan? Be present when cooking to minimize spill overs. When you’re present in the kitchen you can quickly rectify a situation that has the potential to create a huge mess. Whether it’s pie or a greek coffee or something else bubbling over, it’s much easier to fix the problem right away when you’re in the kitchen rather than dealing with the messy aftermath later.
11. Use oversized bowls and cooking ware.
It may seem counterintuitive since a big bowl has more surface area to wash but oversized bowls and cooking ware help minimize messes. Ever try to toss a salad in a bowl where all the ingredients just fit? It sucks and a bunch of the good bits will wind up on the counter or worse yet, the floor. How about making a large batch of spaghetti sauce in a less than large sized sauce pan? Sauce. Splatters. Everywhere. Don’t dirty the little bowl first and then switch to the big one when it’s too small – just go straight for the good stuff the first time.
12. When you have downtime during the recipe, wash a couple of dishes.
“Wash as you go” is a popular dishwashing mantra for a reason – a few dishes here and there are far less daunting than a mountain of dirty dishes at the end. As my father always reminded when we were raking leaves, “work by the inch, it’ll be a cinch.”
13. Don’t bother mixing dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
There, I said it. Plenty of people will be up in arms about how dry ingredients won’t be evenly distributed in a baked good if not properly mixed before adding them to the wet ingredients but you know what? I haven’t used a separate bowl to mix dry ingredients for chocolate chip cookies yet and haven’t ever gotten a complaint. Unless there’s an extremely compelling reason to use an extra bowl, skip it.
14. Do the really messy jobs outside.
Cracking lobsters, shucking corn, shelling peanuts, etc. – if you can, do the really messy jobs outside.
How You Eat
15. Use paper plates for a change.
I know Mireille Guiliano says we should celebrate eating food with real serving ware and cloth napkins and table linens and she’s 100% right. She’s also childfree. Sometimes as a mom I care more about getting an extra 30 minutes of peace and quiet than celebrating food. I don’t see any harm in using paper plates every once in a while to catch a much needed break.
16. Serve dinner buffet style.
Let people serve themselves from the cooking dishes instead of dirtying serving ware too.
17. Invest in a big sink.
Remember tip #11 about using oversized bowls and cooking ware? Yeah, you’re going to need a large sink to wash those without losing your mind. Whether your sink should have one basin or two depends on your washing style and drying setup but either way, you’re going to want an extra large sink. For those of you with limited counter space, a workstation style sink offers a large washing area without compromising work space.
18. Buy a dishwasher.
Dishwashers come in all styles and sizes these days. There are narrow width models, modern under counter drawer models which I think these are especially cool, countertop dishwashers that don’t require any hookups, and sink/dishwasher combos that offer added features like fruit and vegetable washing. Did you know there are even dishwashers you can install underneath your kitchen sink now? You may need to be choosey about which dishwasher works best for your space but I’d wager any of them would significantly help you when it comes to doing the dishes.
19. Invest in a touch faucet.
When we moved into our current home the kitchen touch faucet was one of those features I thought was neat but superfluous. Kind of like how I felt about our van’s automatic doors when we first got it. Then I started using it and my eyes were opened. Just like I question how we ever lived without automatic van doors with young kids, I can’t imagine doing the dishes without a touch faucet anymore. It’s just so much easier! The only downside is you’ll look like an idiot when you go to other people’s homes and repeatedly tap the faucet until you realize you actually have to use the handle.
20. Get better kitchen lighting.
Ever notice how dreary spaces make work more miserable? If you’ve ever experienced a dimly lit cubicle then you know what I’m talking about. Upgrade your kitchen lighting to make the space brighter – it’ll boost your mood and make it easier to admire all of your shiny clean dishes.
21. Move your kitchen sink under a window.
Moving your kitchen sink under a window is an efficient use of space (you couldn’t put a cabinet there anywhere) and there’s nothing quite like watching Mother Nature’s show. If you’re a parent and the window looks out over the yard where your kids play – even better. Send them outside and enjoy a few quiet moments to yourself, all the while keeping a watchful eye on them.
While You’re Doing the Dishes
22. Have something to think about while you’re cleaning.
In a world where we’re constantly inundated with information, doing the dishes can be a great time to unplug and actually process some of that information. It’s your choice whether you think about something productive like brainstorming a solution to a work problem or something more relaxing like a fun book you’ve read recently.
23. Don’t hand wash what can be put in the dishwasher.
Of course this requires actually having a dishwasher (see tip #18) but don’t waste time hand washing items that are dishwasher safe. Even tools like serving spoons, whisks, measuring cups, mixing bowls, etc. can often be tossed in.
24. Don’t bother hand drying dishes (with few exceptions).
Finish the dishes before bed and let time do the rest – time and air will dry the dishes just as well as you can with a dish towel. Of course there are a small number of exceptions to this tip like cast iron skillets or expensive knives. Unless leaving an item to air dry will damage it in some way (think rust spots), don’t bother.
25. Clean your kitchen sink regularly.
You can’t expect to get clean dishes out of a dirty sink. Regularly wipe down in and around your sink when you’re finished doing the dishes so you’re always ready for the next batch.
26. Scrape off dishes before you put them in the sink.
Even if you have a garbage disposal (I used to but don’t anymore), scrape off dishes before you put them in the sink. It’ll spare you the hassle of double checking what items are and aren’t garbage disposal friendly and will keep your plumbing free from clogs. You can’t do dishes with a clogged sink!
27. Do not pile so many dirty dishes into the sink that you can’t access the drain.
If you can, keep dirty dishes out of the sink until you’re ready to actually wash them. This will make it easier to fill up the sink with hot water and to unclog the drain strainer as needed. And let’s not forget having a sink piled high with dirty dishes will make it impossible to wash the oversized cooking ware you’re using.
28. Use hot water, not lukewarm water.
With the exception of dairy and starch residues, hot water is your best friend. The hotter the water, the less scrubbing you’ll likely need to do and the more germs will be eliminated. For dairy and starch, use cold water to keep them from gunking up more as you scrub.
29. Use baking soda paste to remove tough stains.
Burned the bottom of a dish? Did your pie bubble over and singe the bottom of the oven? Mix 3 tablespoons of baking soda with 1 tablespoon of water to form a paste. Cover the stain with the paste, wait 15 minutes, then scrub off the stain. You may need to repeat the process a couple of times or let the paste sit for longer depending on the severity of the stain. Fun fact – this paste is great for treating bee stings too.
30. Lay a fresh hand towel on the front lip of the sink.
When you have a large sink (see tip #17) it can be uncomfortable to lean over and scrub pans depending on how tall you are. By placing a hand towel on the front lip of the sink, you can rest dishes on it while you scrub them – this protects both your back and your countertop. This may also help reduce how wet your belly gets when you do the dishes.
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31. Set a time limit.
If you’re dreading doing the dishes, set a time limit for yourself. Commit to cleaning for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, whatever. Just like with exercise, odds are that once you get started you’ll just keep going until the cleaning’s done rather than when the time limit is up. Sometimes the hardest part of a task is simply getting started.
32. Empty the bottom tray of the dishwasher first.
I wish this one was common sense but I see lots of people empty the top rack of the dishwasher first and then either hand dry the bottom rack items or leave them on the counter to dry. Empty the bottom tray first! Dishes, bowls, and silverware (the items most likely on the bottom rack) usually come out dry and ready to put away. Then move on to the top rack items that have a tendency to pool water – dry them by hand or leave them on the counter to air dry. Either way, by doing the bottom rack first, you cut the amount you have to hand or air dry in half.
33. Wear an apron.
Aprons don’t have to be frilly – there are plenty of sleek modern options out there that look good. Spare your clothes from getting wet or stained and wear an apron. Think of it like your super hero cleaning cape that you just happen to wear backwards.
34. Wear gloves.
Wear rubber gloves to protect your skin from drying out and/or getting burned. Rubber gloves will also provide a better grip on wet soapy dishes and decrease your chances of accidentally smashing something. (RIP teapot, you will be missed!)
35. Let the really dirty dishes soak first.
Notice I said the really dirty dishes, not all the dishes. Soak dishes when it’s helpful, not as an excuse to put off actually washing them.
36. Don’t procrastinate.
With the exception of really dirty dishes that may benefit from a soak (see tip #35), the sooner you wash the dishes the easier it’ll be. Food residue has a tendency to cement itself onto surfaces if left alone too long. Don’t procrastinate and cleanup the dishes when you’re done eating. Then when you relax after dinner you can really relax without more chores hanging over your head.
Have the Right Dishwashing Setup
37. Use the right cleaning tools.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “have the right tool for the job.” Well when you’re washing the dishes it’s important to have the right cleaning tools. Personally I prefer a rugged sponge, good dish soap without toxic chemicals, and a bottle brush. Whatever your tools of choice, make sure they’re easily accessible and that you always have extras on hand.
38. Have a designated place for dishes to dry.
Given tip #24, you’ll need a designated spot for dishes to dry. Depending on the size and layout of your kitchen you may prefer a drying rack (I used this two tiered dish drying rack in my studio apartment and loved it) or drying mat. Even a second sink basin can be a great place to dry pots and pans.
39. Ditch spoon rests and use a dishwasher safe plate instead.
Spoon rests are sometimes adorable but almost always too small for what you need them to do. Get rid of them and use a small dishwasher safe plate instead to make cleanup easier.
40. Keep your counters clear.
Nothing stresses me out more in the kitchen than cluttered counters. Countertops covered in stuff are harder to clean, make it nearly impossible to avoid piling dirty dishes in the sink (see tip #27), and just look terrible. They also make it difficult to find a space to dry dishes (see tip #38). Everything in the kitchen becomes easier when you have a clean area to work with.
41. Use a pump style dish soap dispenser.
Anything that lets you use fewer hands to do something is a win. Spend a few dollars on a nice pump style dish soap dispenser to up your sink’s curb appeal and refill it with dish soap you buy in bulk for cheap.
42. Use dish soap you actually like.
What’s most important to you in a dish soap – that it’s non-toxic? That it smells nice? That it lathers up well? The price? Whatever your priorities, buy dish soap you actually like.
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43. Buy a bottle brush you can store on the counter.
Bottle brushes are super handy for cleaning all sorts of thing beyond just bottles. Narrow neck vases, basters, food processors, you name it. As handy as they are, they’re oddly shaped and difficult to store so be sure to buy one with a suction cup base that you can keep right on the counter.
44. Use a sponge with a scrubby side.
As mentioned in tip #37, a sponge is a must have tool for doing the dishes. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the sponges and be sure to buy the ones with a scrubby side. They make a world of difference scraping off tough residues and will save you a ton of time.
45. Use a drain strainer and clean it regularly.
Even if you follow tip #26, you’re going to end up with food residue in your sink – it’s just an inevitability of washing the dishes. Buy a drain strainer and use it! Better to deal with cleaning the strainer out a few times a day than a big ticket plumbing bill for a clogged sink.
46. Buy a squishy floor mat and/or supportive shoes.
Standing for long periods of time, especially hunched over the kitchen sink, can take a serious toll on your body. Back aches, leg aches, foot aches, etc. Buy a floor mat like this one that offers good pressure relief for your feet and/or shoes with good soles and arch support. I really love Oofos clogs – they’re not the most stylish of shoes (think crocs with better arch support) but gosh do they work wonders for my back. When you’re busy behind the kitchen counter, no one will be looking at your feet anyway.
Make Doing the Dishes Social
47. Recruit helpers and delegate.
Even young kids can learn to load the dishwasher. If you’re not the only one eating, there’s a solid argument you shouldn’t be the only one cleaning.
48. Ask someone to hang out with you while you wash.
Misery loves company! Ask someone to join you in the kitchen for a nice conversation while you do the dishes or call someone on FaceTime.
49. Teach your family members to clear their places at the table.
There’s no need for you to do the dishes and walk back and forth to the table a hundred times. Many hands make for little work. Teach your family members, especially young kids, to clear their places when they’re done eating.
50. Wash the dishes at your friends’ and families’ houses.
It may sound like more work at first but when you wash dishes as a guest at someone else’s home – they’re more likely to return the favor when they visit you. Pay it forward and help a fellow cook out by offering to clean up at the end of the meal.
Take a vacation from doing the dishes every once in a while and go out to eat at a restaurant.
Well There You Have It
Well there you have it, 50 tips to make doing the dishes easier. What do you think, did I miss any? Are any particularly helpful? Let me and other readers know in the comments.
And one last question before you go…
When you do the dishes, do you get your stomach wet?
By the time I’m done washing up it looks like my kids have hit me in the abdomen repeatedly with water balloons. If this sounds familiar, know I’m working on a new project that may interest you. Subscribe to the blog to stay tuned for more information.