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How to Wash Dishes: A Study of Dish Washing Practices Across Cultures

This person soaks dishes  in soapy water and uses a scrub brush.
This person soaks dishes in soapy water and uses a scrub brush. | Source
This girl is washing dishes in  Kharkov, Ukraine
This girl is washing dishes in Kharkov, Ukraine | Source

Recently, I had an incredible opportunity to attend a potluck with a group of people from around the world. Everything was amazingly delicious.

Being the intrepid reporter that I am, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity, and ask them how they washed their dishes. I did tell them that I suspected that people from different countries washed their dishes differently. They did their best to avoid raising their eyebrows and said "the normal way." I'm not sure but I think the rolling of the eyes is an American custom which is used extensively by teenagers, and they did not do that.

Just for you, I risked ridicule and shame, and wiped away any hope that I would be considered a normal member of polite society. I persisted by asking them, "So, do you soak your dishes in the sink before washing them?" They said "No", with a look on their face that said "Why would you ever do that?" They decided to take pity on this middle aged reporter whose mother hadn't taught her how to wash the dishes, and hence began the conversation that led to the instructions herein.

This man is standing and leaning over a spigot to wash dishes in India.
This man is standing and leaning over a spigot to wash dishes in India. | Source

Two Interviews

There were two interviews held during the same gathering: the first was with a woman from Syria and a woman from Iran. The Syrian had relatives in Germany, so we discussed that as well.

The second interview was with a woman from India, and a couple and a woman from the United States. The American woman also told me about the practices of her friend from France.

There were others who were also involved in these conversations, but the facts relayed here came from these individuals.

All of these people are citizens of the U.S. and have been living in the country for more than twenty years.

Method #1

Let's start with the first interview. The Syrian and the Iranian seemed to wash the dishes the same way, although it is quite possible that there may have been subtle variations that were not discussed. I don't think they believed there were significantly different ways of washing dishes, and since they were not part of the other interview, they left not knowing the difference. I did not ask them a great deal of questions about the details to avoid further shame and ridicule.

This man is washing dishes at the Our Community Place Soup Kitchen, Little Grill Collective, June 28, 2008 in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
This man is washing dishes at the Our Community Place Soup Kitchen, Little Grill Collective, June 28, 2008 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. | Source

They start with a stack of dirty dishes in a dry sink. They will run the water over the dishes to wet them. Then they proceed to soap the dishes one by one and set them aside. Eventually they get to a point where the dishes that had been covered by the other dishes during the initial wetting process are dry. The Iranian said that at that point she rinses each soaped dish in that batch under running water and puts it away before repeats the process for the rest of the dishes.

The Syrian did not specify, but it is possible that she wets the rest of the dishes, soaps them, and then rinses all of the dishes in one batch. She said that her husband is not allowed in the kitchen and does not wash the dishes. Her sons, however, are married to Americans and do wash the dishes.

This is the method that I use when I hand wash the dishes. My American friend told me that her friend from France washes the dishes with this method as well. She doesn't soak the dishes. She rinses and soaps each dish individually, and then rinses the soap from all of them afterwards.

Method #2

I told them about the time when I was in Germany. I went to a restaurant where they washed the dishes in front of the customer before serving your food on these dishes, maybe as a way for you to see that they were clean. There was a bowl of water on top of the counter, and the server simply dunked the dirty dish into the water, and dried it off. It didn't seem very sanitary to me.

The Syrian told me that that water was not plain water. There were chemicals in the water to kill the germs.

[As an aside, she said that in Syria, you leave leftover food at the restaurant which is thrown away, as opposed to the U.S. where you can take home the leftovers. In Pakistan, the leftover food is put back into the pan to serve other customers.]

At the end of the interview, my sources asked me how I washed the dishes. I told them I had a dishwasher. They nodded and said, "Of course." I'm not sure what they meant by that.

This girl is washing dishes in Mumbai, India.
This girl is washing dishes in Mumbai, India. | Source

Method #3

The second interview consisted of people who understood that there were different dishwashing methods. The people answered one at a time, making it easier to keep the different methods separate.

The woman from India starts off the same was as Method #1, with a dry sink. She then soaps the dish, and rinses it before moving on to the next one. Originally she left the water running at a trickle throughout the entire time she was washing dishes. Now, in order to save water, she turns the water on and off repeatedly as she washes each dish one at a time. While the soap is being rinsed off one dish, the water is flowing onto the dish in the sink which is getting rinsed, making it easier to soap it.

When she had two sinks, she put the clean dishes in the second sink. Now, she uses her dishwasher for the clean dishes.

We did not discuss it during this interview, but we have talked about some parts of India where water is so scarce that dry dirt is used to clean dishes instead of water.

Her husband and sons were not encouraged to wash the dishes, but her daughters were. Now, her sons do wash the dishes, but only if there isn't anyone around who will do them.

Method #4

Both of the Americans seemed to agree with this method, although I am sure by now that there are variations in their methods as well. They said they fill up a sink with hot water and soap. The woman said she adds a squirt of bleach as well from time to time Then they scrape and add the dirty dishes in the water as they cook. Then they run the sponge over the dishes and put them in the next sink.

When the dishes are soaped, they are all rinsed off under running water and put in the dish drainer. She washes the dishes during the times she is not needed in the cooking process, so she washes the dishes in batches based on the amount of dishes and the timing of the cooking. Each batch is washed in an assembly line fashion.

I have an American friend who also uses bleach. She will not let her husband or sons wash the dishes, because they will not do it correctly.

Other Methods of HandWashing the Dishes

Please note that I didn't ask these people how people from their country washed their dishes, so it is possible that other people in the country wash their dishes differently.

If you'll notice from the photos of dish washing that I found on the internet, there are even more ways or combinations of washing dishes that we have not discussed. Unfortunately, I had not come prepared with a list of questions for these impromptu interview sessions, so we did not discuss these variations:

  • The girl from India in the photo is not using a sponge or rag.
  • The girls from India and Ukraine are also sitting instead of standing while washing the dishes.
  • I have seen people use one sponge to soap their dishes and a separate sponge to rinse them.
  • Some people simply let the running water run over the dish to rinse it while others use their hands or a sponge to help the rinsing process along.
  • Some people let the dishes air dry, while others use a towel to dry them.
  • Some people thoroughly analyze the ingredients of their dishwashing detergent, while others simply use whatever is on sale or available.

Your Turn

How do you hand wash your dishes?

See results

Washing Dishes

There you have it. There are many different ways of washing dishes and different combinations. I am sure there are even more combinations than discussed in this article.

  • soaking first, or not
  • using a sponge, rag, or hand
  • in batches, individually, or a combination
  • using bleach or not
  • kitchen sink with one or two tubs or freestanding bowl
  • standing or sitting
  • air dry or towel dry
  • gender of dishwasher
  • age at which they start washing dishes
  • amount of water used
  • amount and type of soap
  • inside or outside the house

What is the best way to wash the dishes? it depends on your culture, the dish-washing facilities, the amount of water available, and your personal preferences. I have found generally, that when you are in someone else's house, their way is preferable to your own.

© 2012 Shasta Matova

Comments 36 comments

Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 2 years ago from USA Author

Rozalyn, my dishwasher has broken down, so I am practicing washing dishes by hand yet again. It takes practice to figure out how to avoid hitting the faucet and holding onto those slippery dishes! Thanks for your visit and comment.


Rozalyn Winters 2 years ago

What a great hub! Very original! I love the "of course" comment--lol. I use a dishwasher too, but we've got a high efficiency dishwasher, so I hope it isn't too wasteful...sometimes I still do them by hand using the #4 method. Very interesting hub! :-)


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 3 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Nelly for your input to this study. I appreciate knowing how dishes are washed in Bulgaria.


Nelly 3 years ago

Cool "study"! I'm from Bulgaria, I personally wet the dishes under running water whilest scrubing them with a sponge if needed, then soap them with a soapy sponge, and then rinse them really well under abundant running water, while scrubing with my hand a little... Then airdry them. In batches of a varying size, while cooking. Most people here do it like this, some soak them in the sink beforehand. I came across this article as I also had noticed "the German practice" - this is crazy! These people don't rinse them at all. And the detergents are so harmful! Thank you for your work.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Vespa for your comment and additional information. I hadn't thought about the consistency of the soap as being a difference, but now I see with your soap, and someone else who said they used soap powder, that there is a difference. We use liquid soap here. The sponge, rag, scrubby, varies as well. The material we have available - water, number of tubs, type of soap and cleaning implement, does make a big difference in the methodology that is used. Thank you!


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

This is an interesting and unique hub! It gave me a chuckle, too. In Peru method 1 or 3 is usually used. I think it's because of a lack of running water and having just one tub for dishwashing. The dish soap is a solid green mass that comes in a little plastic container with a green "sponge", more like a scrubby. Each plate is soaped up individually in cold water and rinsed at the end. Your intrepid reporting led to interesting interviews! Thank you for sharing.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you for your insight and comment rajan. You're right, a lot of it has to do with the resources that are available. If you don't have running water, you can't use as much of it. If you don't have a lot of money, even if you have running water, you will have to find ways to conserve it.


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

A very interesting hub. Even within the same community, the social status has a bearing on how dishes are washed.

The picture of the girl from India is a common sight in India among the poor people. Water is at a premium so the dishes are soaked in a tub and then individually scrubbed and washed by sprinkling some water on the soaped dishes, as seen in the picture.

Someone who is affluent and has lots of water to use, washes the dishes under a running stream of water.

I remember about 50 years back our maid used dry coal ash to scrub dishes before washing them. And today we use liquid soap to scrub them.

Voted up and interesting.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Rema for sharing how you wash your dishes. It is amazing that something that has to be done regularly is done differently throughout the world.


remaniki profile image

remaniki 4 years ago from Chennai, India

Hi Shasta,

Excellent hub about the different dish washing practices across cultures. Very interesting.

I rinse the dishes first, use liquid soap to scrub them with a sponge and then rinse off one by one in running water. I do this in batches of three to four dishes at a time. I do this standing by the sink.

Enjoyed reading your hub Shasta. Thank you.

Cheers, Rema.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Chetan, I am glad that you found my hub about washing dishes interesting. Most Americans wash their clothes using a clothes washer, and usually a clothes dryer. When I do get together with a diverse group of people, I will ask them about their clothes washing techniques to see if it differs. Thank you for your idea.


Chetan Bhatia 4 years ago

Very interesting. I am a multicultural marketing professional and the article offers great insights for homecare industry. I would love to see a similar article on "washing clothes" etc.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you toomuchmint for your comment and insight. I really appreciate your sharing your dish washing techniques with me.


toomuchmint profile image

toomuchmint 4 years ago

Great hub! Dishwashing methods are something people definitely take for granted. Thanks for persistence and getting to the bottom of the mystery. Everyone assumes their dishwashing method is the right way, and the only way. :-) I like to use a sink and washbasin to soak and soap the dishes, then rinse them one by one and transfer to a drying rack.

Voted up and interesting.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you for your input moonlake. I really enjoy reading about how other people wash their dishes. If only I could study this by letting people wash my dishes! I agree with you - a new dishcloth a day would certainly save you from a lot of bacteria and crud.

Thank you for your input Starmom41. It is interesting that some people, including my mother, put saving money as the biggest priority in washing dishes. I use running water too to rinse my dishes, when I am not using the dishwasher.


Starmom41 4 years ago

I agree it's a cultural thing- in my case, the 'thou shalt not be wasteful' message- I have no interest in a dishwasher, wouldn't own one (wastes water & electricity); but I don't go nearly as far as the older generation: they used a gadget called a dishpan for both washing & rinsing. I wash dishes in a sink of soapy water, rinse under running water (a little wasteful), & then air-dry before putting them away.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

When I was a kid I was the oldest and the boss in the kitchen. I always washed. We (my mother's method) rinsed the dishes, in a sink full of hot soapy water we put in plates first, silverware, bowls and glasses let them soak a bit while water cools a little. Washed them put them in sink full of rinse water and my sister dried. Pots and pans were last.

I never use a sponge in the kitchen always a dishcloth and it's changed each day. I see people use their dish cloth until it's dirty looking. They use it for dishes, wiping snotty noses and wiping up the floor. So gross.

I will never eat in Pakistan, other people's food!

In Germany we got little bowls of water beside our plates for rinsing our fingers.

We have a dishwasher and I hug and kiss it everyday.

Enjoyed your hub and voted up and shared.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you mary615. There is satisfaction and meditation in washing your own dishes. You know for sure the dishes are clean, and you are probably saving water and electricity.


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

I am probably one of few gals in the US who does not own a dishwasher. I have two very good hands. My kids almost bought me one last Christmas but I said NO, I don't want one.

Good Hub...interesting.

I voted it UP, etc.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Marcy for your additional insight and sharing the dishwashing practices of your "Mom" in Mexico. I'm trying to remember if I've seen powdered dish soap.


Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

This is fascinating - I love the small details we can glean about various cultures from reading this hub, such as the careful use of water in India, the distribution of duties among genders in several examples and (oh dear) the fact that they recycle leftovers in Pakistan.

When I was in Mexico for an extended time last year, I noticed a few things - most homes rarely turn on their water heaters, due to heavy corrosion and the expense of using them. Water does get hot midday, though, which helps. For dishes, my home-stay 'Mom' kept a supply of powdered dish soap, which she would dilute in a small plastic butter tub. Dishes were scrubbed with that and rinsed under running water from the faucet.

Terrific hub! Voted up, useful and interesting.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks Danette and taw2012. Thanks Danette for your input. That sounds like a great way to wash the dishes.


taw2012 profile image

taw2012 4 years ago from India

Interesting hub. It was a pleasure to read the way in which people was dishes...


Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 4 years ago from Illinois

In all my 55 years, I've lived in a house with a working dishwasher for probably 3 years. I can wash a mountain of dishes in no time. I had lots of practice because I was #4 of 6 kids and the "peacekeeper." No one seemed to be able to get along while they did the dishes except with me (we worked in pairs) so I ended up doing them almost every night.

Here's my method:

Start filling the sink and squirt soap in it. As the sink fills, wash the glasses and cups and put the utensils in to start soaking. By the time the glasses/cups are done, it's time to start the bowls and plates and the sink is filled. The utensils go in the cups, knives in one, forks and spoons in another b/c that's how they go in the drainer. Pots and pans are last. Everything but the glasses/cups is piled on the counter next to the sink until all are washed (they go in the second sink next to the one where I"m washing dishes). Then all are rinsed. Let them air dry, then put away before going to bed.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thanks RealHousewife for your input and comment. I hadn't thought of Handiwipes as an alternative. I just finished loading the dishwasher.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Very interesting hub (from a real housewife perspective:) lol. I have several dishes that can not go into the dishwasher otherwise that's my fav! I only use handi wipes for this - I wash them in one side and rinse in the other side, turning the water on each time and let them air dry.

Dishwashers are more exoensive to use but mine has a sanitizing cycle I'm very fond of:) Voted up+++!


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Yes, the dishwasher method is the easiest. It's also the most expensive. Thanks.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Love these cross-cultural comparisons. I wash my dishes by putting them in the dishwasher. That's the easiest method of all. Voting this Up and Interesting.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you for reading and commenting Alecia and Bill. I feel that way too - the hardest part is already done by the time you have scraped and scrubbed the pots and pans, and rinsed the dishes. The dishwasher only does the easy part, so it really doesn't add too much value.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

I'm a hand-washer from way back. Refuse to own a dishwasher; just another modern convenience that is not necessary. Great hub and interesting!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

Unfortunately I cannot use a dishwasher as much as I'd like since ours doesn't work. But this was very interesting. I hand wash my dishes mainly because in order to prep them for the dishwasher you have to prewash anyway unless you have an industrial strength dishwasher. It's easy enough to soak them in water and rinse one at a time. I use a rag for the dishes and sponge/scrub brush for set in stains and pots. I never thought about how people did the dishes. This was an eye opener. Thanks millionaire tips!


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Vinaya, I really enjoy learning how normal things are done in different cultures. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

sacredlilac, thank you for appreciating my sacrifice, shame and humiliation.

Donna and Linda, I know very few people who use a dishwasher. I don't know if you noticed, but the woman from India has a dishwasher, but she prefers to wash her dishes by hand. Personally, I hand wash plastics (I have a lot since I make my own frozen dinners), but all the rest of the dishes go into the dishwasher.

Thanks to all for reading and commenting, and for sharing your dish washing methods with us.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

I rinse off and then place dishes in the dishwasher and flip a switch to get 'er done. I highly suggest this method to all. Interesting hub.


DonnaCosmato profile image

DonnaCosmato 4 years ago from USA

Interesting collage of the different methods, and nice to see that some people still hand wash their dishes.


sacredlilac profile image

sacredlilac 4 years ago from Canada via England

Thanks for risking humiliation oh loyal hub reporter! It is fascinating how people approach the same task differently. My in-laws are Pakistani (from Karachi) and they do assembly-line one at a time then dry in a dish drainer.


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

Most of the people in Nepal also wash the dish like the people in India.

It was a delight to read a cross-cultural hub.

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