After writing these last three posts about eco-friendly dish soaps without coming to any great conclusions, I started examining my dishwashing method.  Whether you use an “eco-friendly” soap or some generic brand, the best thing for the environment is to use it sparingly and conserve as much water as possible.  So I started looking around for the most efficient method that claimed to leave dishes sparkling clean.

For years I’ve used the soapy sponge method.  I squirt some soap in the sponge and scrub each and every dish.  Then I rinse off the dishes under a stream of hot water.  I thought this method was pretty efficient, but I was potentially wasting water, depending on how long I left the faucet running.

Many people wash dishes using the camping technique.  This involves one bin filled with sudsy water and another bin of clear water for rinsing the suds off.  I have never had much success washing dishes this way.  After a while I feel like I’m dipping dishes in a vat full of dirty water and rinsing them in another vat of dirty water.

The no-rinse method.  A bit of Internet searching led me to a fascinating little discovery: Apparently, it’s common for people in England, Australia, and New Zealand to wash dishes in sudsy water and then not rinse them.  If you Google “British rinse dishes” you’ll find some interesting conversations in which half the people express shock and disgust over the method and the other half wonder how anyone could possibly waste so much water with unnecessary rinsing.  “If you need to rinse your dishes, you’re using too much fairy liquid!” was the resounding defense.

While the no-rinse method sounded even worse than the camping technique, I decided to give it a try.  From what I’d read, you avoid the “dirty vat of water” by doing a pre-rinse/scrub of the dirtier dishes.  I tried this and it used no soap and very little water.  Then I filled a tub with water and a ½ teaspoon of Planet.  (According to Planet’s website, if you use the soapy sponge method, you’re probably using too much dish soap.  They recommend just ½ teaspoon to start and say you can add more when the suds die down.)

I washed all these dishes with just a 1/2 teaspoon of Planet!

I was actually surprised at how sudsy the water got.  I washed glassware and cups first, shook the suds off, and placed them directly on the rack.  I proceeded to wash all the dishes pictured here in the same sink of water.  The water never got too dirty looking, thanks to the pre-rinse.

So did it work?  Well, sort of.  I was surprised to see that some of the dishes turned out crystal clear and clean.  I did have to wash five bowls over again, as they had a visible film on them.  I am still skeptical at the idea that rinsing is unnecessary.

The Works for Me method.  Based on my experience with all the methods above, I came up with a way that leaves the dishes clean and conserves dish soap.

  1. Pre-clean dishes using just a sponge/rag and a tiny amount of water.
  2. Scrub dishes in basin of hot water with ½ teaspoon dish soap.  If your water isn’t very hot, you’ll have fewer suds.  Start with the cleanest dishes first (glasses) and finish with pots and pans.  To avoid greasy dishes, make sure to add a little more soap once the suds seem deflated.
  3. Rinse.  I know this “wastes water,” but it does leave dishes cleaner.  I find I use less water by rinsing under a stream of water rather than waiting for the entire sink to fill.  Now that I use much less dish soap, I find I need less rinsing water.

I think that Planet is right: my soapy sponge method was wasting too much dishwashing liquid.  I figure that if I used just ½ teaspoon a day, it would take almost a year to use up a bottle of Planet!  Of course, I do a lot of cooking and we often eat all three meals at home, so I need to wash dishes at least twice a day.  So let’s say I’ll use a teaspoon a day.  A bottle of Planet would last me twenty-one weeks using this method.  It lasted just eleven weeks using the soapy sponge method.

Finally I found a dishwashing method that works for me!  For more Works for Me Wednesday tips, head on over to Rocks in My Dryer.  Also, let me know how you wash dishes and why!