As someone who is very passionate about the arts of cooking and baking, I am no stranger to the sight (and smell!) of a sink full of dirty dishes. The never-ending pile is a constant struggle and my daily battle with the dishes has me wondering about the impact I'm making when I clean my kitchen three times a day. Most importantly, how much water do I use and are there tactics to dramatically decrease the amount I need to get my dishes clean?
Temperatures in Utah are steadily rising and I'm quickly beginning to see why the people who have lived here for a while call it a desert climate. Summers here are hot and dry, sometimes reaching higher than 100 degrees and precipitation rates are low from June through mid-September. While my friends who are native to Salt Lake City rave about the summer climate and the strangely tolerable dry heat, my environmentalist mind can help but think that city + hot + dry = water scarcity! This city uses a lot of water during the summer so that people can keep their gardens and lawns lush and green in a desert environment. I must admit, I water my urban garden almost every day. I think it's the guilt I feel every time I water my garden that has me considering the ways I can cut water use in other aspects of my life.
As of now I wash dishes 2-3 times per day. I wash them by hand because my dishwasher is a dinosaur and definitely not energy-efficient. Also, I live by myself so I'm not sure I even own enough dishes to make a full dishwasher load. For those of you who own an energy efficient dishwasher, it may be a relatively eco-friendly option for washing, especially if you wait until the machine is full every time you use it. I prefer the old fashioned way, however, and have been doing research about the most sustainable ways to handwash your dishes. So for those of you who prefer manpower over electricity, here are some tips on greening the way you de-grub your dishes:
1. Don't use running water to do your dishes. OK, I know this sounds like obvious public elementary school environmentalism right here, but I think in an effort to be "sanitary" it's a rule I quickly put out of my mind. Rather than using running water while you scrub your dishes, it's best to fill up a sink or bucket with soapy water and use that to scrub all your dishes. Fill up the the other side of a double sink or a large bowl/bucket with lukewarm soap-free water and dip your scrubbed dishes in it to remove them of suds. Conserve and use as little water as you think you will need to get the job done.
2. Pre-clean your dishes. Before your dishes even touch a drop of water, scrape off as much of the remaining food particles as possible. Cleaner dishes allow for cleaner water right off the bat — meaning you won't have to change your water often or at all. Keep the trash can — or better yet, your bucket for compost — close by during the dishwashing process. For extra-grimy dishes, it is beneficial to use a bit of water to pre-soak them so that they don't quickly dirty up your scrubbing water.
3. Save the "best" for last. Before I started considering my water use during dishwashing, I would often do my grimiest dishes first so that I could get them over with. Now I realize that if you save your dirtiest dishes for last you will significantly extend the life of your scrubbing and rinse water. The most efficient way to hand wash dishes is to do the glasses and lightly soiled dishes first, and save the more extremely dirtied or the "best" for last. In the case of my one-person household, I don't ever have to change my scrub or rinse water when I do my dishes in this order.
4. Instead of watching water go down the drain while it heats up, save that water. The hot and dry conditions around Utah have made me extremely sensitive to the sight of perfectly clean water going straight down the drain. Previously, while cleaning dishes, I would let my tap water run until the cold water become hot, watching in guilt as water gushed out of sight. While writing this article I realized there was no reason to stand by and mourn wasted water when I could just put in a pitcher. Now I use that water to make coffee, tea or just to drink.
5. Use an all-natural dishwashing soap. Purer soap means a smaller environmental impact during its manufacturing and also faster biodegradability. Do some brand research before you buy your next dishsoap, or try making your own! If you use a biodegradable dish soap, then you can recycle your rinse water to for household plants or your urban garden. As long as the soap isn't too concentrated in the water, it may even help fend off insects.
6. Let your dishes pile up. I understand that this tip goes against natural instinct. After living in a college house with five other people, I've developed a deep-seated fear of dirty kitchens and piles of grubby dishes. Now that I live on my own, I find it hard to resist cleaning my dishes as soon as I dirty them. If you only wash dishes once a day, however, you can significantly reduce the amount of water you use and that is more important than your aversion to dirty kitchens. If things really start to pile up and get on my nerves, I take all the dishes out of the sink, put them in a bucket of soapy water, and hide it in the cabinet under my sink until the end of the day. I'm sure that tip won't sit well with everyone but that's what I do so that I don't have to look at the mess!
I hope these tips have been helpful. Using eco-friendly techniques to clean your home is both practical and rewarding. Take it from someone who has been a little late to join in the "green cleaning" game, it feels great to know you've done everything possible to be environmentally-friendly while fighting off dirt and grime.