How to Wash Dishes: A Study of Dish Washing Practices Across Cultures
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How do you hand wash your 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