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

A true DIY enthusiast, Shasta enjoys everything from coloring her own hair to taking on repair projects around the house.

This person soaks dishes  in soapy water and uses a scrub brush.

This person soaks dishes in soapy water and uses a scrub brush.

Dishwashing Methods

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 that 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 girl is washing dishes in  Kharkov, Ukraine

This girl is washing dishes in Kharkov, Ukraine

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, 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.

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.

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.

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 repeating 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 afterward.

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.

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 way 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 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 Hand Washing 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 dishwashing 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.

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


A on May 19, 2018:

This was interesting to read. I have hand-washed dishes in three different ways for three different places.

In my mother's house (in America), dishes are filled with water and set on the counter to soak throughout the day and then washed after dinner. The sink is filled with water and a squirt of liquid dish detergent. Then the dishes, working in groups from cleanest to dirtiest (except knives, which get washed individually and never leave the hand during their wash process) are placed in the sink, and one by one removed from the suds to be wiped with a dish cloth, rinsed briefly under running water (turned off right away to avoid sink overflow), and placed into the other side of the sink. Metal is dried immediately if there is a second person for drying, otherwise it's dried immediately after the washing is completed, or as the first priority if some dishes need to get out of the way before washing can continue. Glass and ceramic are dried only if they need to get out of the way or if they're particularly expensive, otherwise they are allowed to air-dry. Plastic is almost always allowed to air-dry. This process is the one prescribed by my mom. I find it lacking because the brief rinse nearly always leaves detergent behind, and gross because a sink full of soggy food waste is just nasty to me.

In my American college dorm, I washed my dishes in the bathroom sink. I gathered them into a plastic basin to carry them to the bathroom, where I would remove them from the basin, place them on the counter, and use the basin to collect the clean dishes. As such the basin was actually the first item I washed. I ran the water through the whole process to simplify things. I would wet my dish cloth and squeeze a small amount of liquid detergent directly onto it. Then I would work one dish at a time, in the order I needed to stack the dishes in. Dishes that had particles needing to be rinsed off were given a preliminary rinse under the running water; those with minimal soil (like drinking glasses or a plate I ate a sandwich off of) got soaped dry. The whole surface, inside and out, front and back, got thoroughly soaped and all food scrubbed off, before being rinsed under the running water enough times that no more suds formed, and then placed in the basin. More soap was added to the cloth as needed, and the cloth was rinsed if it became soiled or at the end of the process. After all the dishes were washed, I brought the basin back to my room, where I dried and put away all the dishes. The basin was allowed to air-dry.

I now live in a dorm-style facility in South Korea, and I mostly wash my dishes using a low tap in the shower stall that's in my private bedroom. First I take all the dishes that need preliminary rinsing down three floors to the shared kitchen, to rinse them into the sink which has a garbage trap, and bring them back up again. I set all my dishes on the floor immediately outside the shower, and clean dishes go into a drying rack I keep on a shelf (which is also where they're stored, as is very common in Korea), and all of them are allowed to air-dry except a pair of tongs I inherited from my grandmother - she kept them in good condition for 60-some years and I won't be the one who ruins them. The actual dishwashing process is the same one I used in college, except I turn off the water when I'm not using it, I squat in front of the low tap instead of standing at a sink, and I have to climb in and out of the shower between every dish. I strongly prefer the dishwashing liquid I use here, as it's not the "ultra concentrated" kind that's become ubiquitous in America, so I find it's easier on my hands and it doesn't take as many rinses to remove it. When it's not strong enough to remove grease, I just wash the dish again. And when my dishwashing cloth isn't abrasive enough to get food off a dish (unlike college I now cook for myself so this sometimes happens), I sprinkle baking soda onto the dish and use that as an abrasive.

You may notice that both "my" methods are basically the same, just modified for different facilities. I think my mom's sink filling, gross as it is, would be more efficient and economical for a whole family, but I'm just one person, so I think my method's fine. Someday, though, I hope to have my own kitchen sink, and maybe even a dishwasher! *dreamy eyes*

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on June 02, 2014:

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 on May 29, 2014:

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! :-)

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on August 13, 2013:

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

Nelly on August 04, 2013:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on September 30, 2012:

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!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on September 29, 2012:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on September 14, 2012:

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 Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on September 13, 2012:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on September 13, 2012:

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.

Rema T V from Chennai, India on September 13, 2012:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on July 18, 2012:

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 on July 18, 2012:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on July 16, 2012:

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

toomuchmint on July 15, 2012:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on July 14, 2012:

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 on July 13, 2012:

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 from America on July 13, 2012:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on July 13, 2012:

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.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on July 12, 2012:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on March 25, 2012:

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 from Planet Earth on March 25, 2012:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on March 21, 2012:

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

taw2012 from India on March 21, 2012:

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

Danette Watt from Illinois on March 21, 2012:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on March 21, 2012:

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

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on March 20, 2012:

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+++!

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on March 20, 2012:

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

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on March 20, 2012:

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.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on March 20, 2012:

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.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 19, 2012:

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 from Wilmington, North Carolina on March 19, 2012:

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!

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on March 19, 2012:

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.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on March 19, 2012:

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.

Donna Cosmato from USA on March 19, 2012:

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

Amanda Hare from England on March 19, 2012:

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 from Nepal on March 19, 2012:

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.