Monday 13 October 2014

Washing Dishes Three Ways

I gave up double sinks for love.   
There are a number of difficulties in keeping house in a Historical House on the east coast of Scotland. The principal one is the kitchen sink. It is a single sink with a metal built-in draining board. I had, therefore, to give up my life-long Canadian dish-washing method.

 I grew up with two Canadian dish-washing methods, one for ordinary indoor life, and one for camping.  Here they are:

A. Canadian Indoor Method

1.  Rinse glasses, scrape plates and cutlery, fill dirty pots with hot, soapy water to soak.

2. Fill one sink with hot soapy water, fill second sink with hot clear water and set dish strainer beside the second sink.

Three. With a dish cloth for the glasses, cutlery, bowls and plates and a rough-sided sponge (aka the scrubber) for the pots, wash dishes in the hot, soapy water, rinse in the second sink, and set to dry.

4. If the water of either sink (especially the second) gets dirty, drain--catching any refuse carefully in the basket of the sink plug.

5. If the dish strainer fills up before the dishes are done, dry the clean dishes with a clean, dry dish towel. If the dish towel becomes wet, hang it up and get another clean, dry dish towel.

6. At end of dish washing, empty last bits of refuse in the basket of the sink plug into the food-scraps trash bag.

7. Wipe sinks clean.

In my family, it is considered unjust for the person who washes the dishes to have to dry them, too, so after big family dinners, one or two siblings dry as one sibling washes.*

Washing-up gloves are optional, except for my poor mother, who ought not to have to wash dishes at all as she has dermatitis.

B. Canadian Outdoor Method.

This was employed at Girl Guide camps, so that none of us girls came down with whatever regularly killed off Ontario's early pioneers.

1. Set up three basins: one for hot, soapy water, one for hot, clear water, and one for a mix of hot, clear water and bleach. Heat the water in big pots over the fire.

2. Scrape all food scraps into a trash bag for food scraps and empty into the compost heap or put bag where no bear can get it.

Three. Each girl washes her own dish, bowl, cup, fork, knife and spoon with a dish cloth or sponge, finishing up with a dip in the hot water with bleach.

4. Dump and refill the soapy basin if it gets dirty, and the other basins if they get soapy.

5. Each girl puts her dish, bowl, etc, into a drawstring mesh bag and hangs the bag from the end of a picnic table to air dry.

6. Such communal dishes as mixing bowls and pots are scrubbed, rinsed and bleached by the girls and also left to air dry in their own mesh bags.

7. Basins are wiped and left to air dry.

USEFUL TIP 1: Wipe dish-washing detergent on all pots before setting them on the grill over the campfire. That way the soot will come off easily in the soapy water.

USEFUL TIP 2: As bleach is corrosive and water heated over a fire  boiling hot, do use dish-washing gloves so as not to scald yourself.

C. A Scottish Method

"If Canada is in the First World, and India is in the Third World, what is in the Second World?" I once brightly asked my mother, who probably said something like, "Don't be silly. Have you done your homework?"

Well, I couldn't say it about now, but I can tell you that for sure the poor old UK after the Second World War until the 1980s was in the Second World. The Commie nations were, too, naturally. But Canadian and North American travellers were often shocked by the ghastly conditions of the UK, which was basically bankrupted by the Second World War and run by and for the unions. There was even a sugar shortage in 1975, the year I was here. Everyone was too cold in winter, even the Queen. And they had single sinks.

To be honest, I have no idea if post-war austerity is why I now have a single sink to wash dishes in. But I secretly sniggered when an English neighbour told me of an argument with a Frenchwoman who wouldn't allow her to help with the dishes because "the English don't rinse."

The English and Scottish do actually rinse. In fact, the easiest way to explain single-sink washing is to say that single-sink dishes take showers instead of baths. Here is B.A.'s granny's method.

1. Take a sponge ended washing tube and, in B.A.'s immortal words, "pour Fairy liquid up its bum."

2. "Never put a clean dish in dirty sink, or a dirty dish in a clean sink", said B.A.'s granny, so scrape everything to be washed and rinse them in running water before stacking them by the sink.

Three.  Set up the dish rack so that water drips off  the edge of the drip catcher runs into the sink. If you don't have a drip catcher, use a thick dish towel.

4. Under hot running water, wash everything with the sponge ended washing tube and set them to dry in the rack. Dry things with a dry kitchen towel to empty the rack. Scrub, rinse. Scrub, rinse. Make sure the basket part of the plug isn't wedged all the way down, or your sink may overfill. Make sure it is also catching any food scraps.

5. If you are a married lady and your siblings are far, far away in the land of double-sinks, do wear dish-washing gloves, for you will be doing this at least once a day every day for the rest of your puff--or until your children are old enough to do it.

6. Wipe the sinks clean afterwards.

Personally, I have grown to hate the sponge-ended tube, for it prevents me from really getting to grips with baked on food, and to my horror, I sometimes pick up a clean, dry plate to discover that it is not so clean after all. Although we speak of it most disrespectfully, there is nothing so useful as a dishrag. Naturally you do not want to look or feel like a dishrag, but it is an indispensable bit of kitchen kit.

Conclusion: It occurs to me, after over five years of sponge-tubing, that I could quite easily return to Canadian methods simply by employing a basin. I am not sure why it took me five years to think of this. The first year we were married, we drank a G&T before dinner every night and a whole bottle of wine during, so it could be that I was too drunk to think of it and was too set in my new ways by the time we sobered up.

*Polish vocabulary word of the day. There is a collective word in Polish for all your brothers and sisters together. It is "rodzeństwo" (roughly, rrrod-zaynst-vaw--each 'o' sounding exactly the same). I wonder what moje rodzeństwo would think of its collective flashcard depiction. My bratowa ( brrra-toe-vah, sister-in-law) came out looking rather nice.


  1. My last two years were spent in a Canadian university apartment which had a single sink. My washing method turned into a modified version of the Scottish version you posted here. I missed having a double sink badly - never thought I would until I was without one.

  2. My apartment has a single sink. I just run the tap while I scrub so that I can rinse as I go along by running things under the flow. If I don't do my dishes right away, I might actually fill the sink and leave everything to soak until I get around to dishwashing.

  3. Apparently I've developed a modified version of the Scottish method here in the American south except I use a "Dobie" sponge I squirt the soap on. This is opposed to the American method I grew up with which consists of soapy water on one side, and rinsing them on the other side of the sink, but I hate emptying the dishpan (and my mother NEVER just put the soapy water in the sink for whatever reason) so my modified Scottish version has mostly to do with my laziness (and only having one girl's worth of dishes to wash) I also grew up using actual dishcloths instead of dobies except for what needs real scrubbing, but I find wet dishcloths icky and dobies much preferable on that score.

  4. Your description of the English way is more or less the way I was raised to do dishes in the far, far west of Canada. And yes, it was the 70s, so we had a single sink. The only thing I would recommend is getting one of those scrubby sponges with the green scrubby thing on one side. Not the foam rubber kind, mind you, which are useless. The other kind. And get rid of your teflon. Teflon is evil, bad for you and impossible to clean properly. Put the dish soap directly onto the sponge. Get rid of the stupid tube.

  5. Also, Italians have this weird, freakish and utterly WRONg thing of putting a drying rack in a cupboard above the sink, so that as you reach up to put things on it, the water runs down your arm and makes you icky, and then it either drips water on your head as you wash, or it collects and turns septic in a plastic tray under the rack. And it's always a huge waste of space, which in Italian apartment kitchens is worth more than rubies.


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