Eco-Dishwashing: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in Your Kitchen

This is a guide to “green” dish washing. It will give you some ideas for conserving time, energy, water and resources when you wash your dishes. These tips have two benefits: They will save you money, and they will reduce your impact on the environment.

Save Money and Resources by Reducing Your Use of Scouring Pads

If you use Brillo pads or similar steel wool pads that rust, get out your scissors and cut each scouring pad in half. This will allow you to get 2 uses out of each Brillo pad, which cuts the amount of money you spend on scouring pads in half, and reduces your impact on the environment at the same time. This is a trick that will work for almost everyone, because most people don’t do enough dishes at a time to entirely use up a scouring pad. However, if you wash a huge volume of dishes at a time, (for example, if you have a family of 8) you might have to skip this step. I’d still recommend trying it once to see if it will work for you. If it does, you’ve just saved quite a bit of money in this step alone – just think about how much money your family spends on scouring pads in a year.

Choosing Eco-Friendly Dish Soap

Make sure you are using an environmentally friendly brand of dish soap that is also good for your skin. Avoid harsh chemical- based detergents. Soaps with natural ingredients tend to be less hazardous to the environment, and are also a better choice for your long-term health. I like using Trader Joe’s dish soap, which has coconut-based surfactants. It is extremely mild but it works well. There are many other brands of eco-friendly dish soaps to choose from. If you choose your soap wisely, you will be able to wash your dishes without wearing disposable latex gloves. Anything “disposable” is hard on the environment, and should be avoided if possible.

Preparing Your Sink and Dishes to Get Started Washing

This method works best for people who have divided sinks. Typically, the garbage disposal will be on the left side of the sink. If your garbage disposal is on the right side of your sink, please reverse all the following directions so that you will have the garbage disposal on the correct side when you actually wash your dishes. If your sink is not divided, this method will still work for you, but it will be necessary for you to get a dish pan that is roughly half the size of your sink. Put the dishpan on the right hand side of your sink.

Typically, your first impulse would be to fill the right half of the sink with soapy water. Don’t do this! (Yet.) In this step, you are hopefully going to learn a new habit that will save water. It takes a little bit of preparatory work before you begin washing. Instead of filling the sink with water, what you are going to do next is plug the drain in the right half of the sink, and then add your silverware. Next you are going to look for the cleanest of your dirty dishes. This will typically be your water glasses or other drinking glasses, and perhaps your coffee cups and saucers. Place those gently in the sink on top of the silverware. Keep out one of the cleanest of the dirty dishes to start on first. Next, look for some of your dirtiest dirty dishes, preferably ones that are shallow rather than deep – such as plates, bowls, and Tupperware containers. Put a few of these on the bottom of the left hand side of the sink. Your goal is to put as many of these as you can comfortably fit, without piling them up on top of each other; you want a single layer of them lining the bottom of the sink.

Beginning to Wash the Dishes: Recycling Water

This method is most effective if you wash your dishes starting with the cleanest, and saving the dirtiest dishes for last. It works because you will be recycling as much of your water as possible, and making it do double duty. You don’t want to recycle water from a relatively dirty dish into a relatively clean dish. With that in mind, pick up the cleanest of your dirty dishes and put a little bit of dish soap on it. Hold it over the right hand side of your sink and wet it so that the dish soap has a little help from the water, and then wash it as you normally would. When you rinse it, hold it overtop of the right hand side of the sink so that the sink begins to fill with water as you rinse.

Select another one of the items that are already in the right hand side of the sink, and repeat. Keep repeating this step until the water is soapy enough and the sink is full of water. It won’t take long for the sink to fill up. If you haven’t added enough soap by the time the sink fills, make sure to add it at this point. Or perhaps the opposite will happen; perhaps you will have enough soap in the sink before the sink fills. If so, you can feel free to just choose a dish or piece of silverware out of the sink and wash it without adding any more soap to it. Use your good judgment.

After the sink is full of soapy water

OK, now that your sink is full of soapy water, you are going to rinse the rest of your dishes over the left hand side of the sink. If you’ve followed the directions this far, you will have dirty dishes in the bottom of the left hand side of the sink and you will be rinsing your freshly washed dishes right overtop of them. This will have the effect of rinsing them off before you even actively start washing them, saving you both water and time.

Finishing Up With the Dishwashing

If you have bowls or Tupperware containers on the left hand side of the sink, they will start to fill up with water. If the water is clean enough, DO NOT POUR IT DOWN THE DRAIN. Instead, recycle it by periodically emptying the collected water out into your other dirty dishes, like your pots and pans. This way the pots and pans will be soaking as you wash the other dishes, and will be easier to wash by the time you get to them. Note that this soaking isn’t a substitute for washing them as you normally would. Think of it more as a rinse, or a pre-wash. Even though you will still have to wash the dish, this process does make it easier and gives you a bit of a head start.

As your dishes on the left side get rinsed and cleaner, move them over to the right side of the sink, and replace them with other dirty dishes. Continue this process until your dishes are all clean.

Air Drying Your Dishes

Air dry your dishes if possible. If you air dry your dishes, it will save you some time and “elbow grease”. Not only that, it will also save you the time, effort, and expense of washing the dish towels that you’d otherwise use to dry off the dishes with. This is such a little thing, but imagine the difference it would make if everyone implemented this suggestion alone. Considerable amounts of soap, water, and energy are wasted every year in the collective washing of dish towels, and this is one of the easiest places for people to conserve resources.

Thanks so much for reading this article, and for implementing these environmentally-friendly ideas in your own kitchen. I hope this article will save you lots of money. If you found the article helpful, please pass it on to a friend!

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