Mid-Century May Baby Step 7: How to Wash Dishes by Hand

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In most homes, you only have to wash dishes from a proper dinner for 10 at Thanksgiving. I have to do it every single day. Believe me, I have learned the shortcuts for how to wash dishes by hand! Since I like a properly set table, I have serving dishes and pots and pans to wash, too. And I want my dishes to sparkle!

Dishwashing Made Easier

The first shortcut is that everything should be rinsed as soon as you are done using it. Pots and pans are easier to clean when water is run into them the moment they are emptied. Washing up as you cook, and leaving nothing but a few soaking pots and pans when you sit down to eat makes washing-up after dinner much easier.

A rubber scraper is a huge help in preparing dishes for washing. It gets almost all the food out. (Since we feed chickens and pigs with slops, all the little bits of food are better off going to them than down the drain!) Wipe out the last traces of fat after scraping with crumpled paper.

Use warm or hot water for rinsing almost everything. If a dish had milk or dairy, use cold water to rinse it.

Use hot soapy water to wash, and very hot water to rinse. It’s a good idea to wash dishtowels and dishcloths in hot soapy water every day. (I wash them out and scald them, then hang them to dry after I use them.)

Dumping soap in the dishpan is wasteful. Measure out just enough to make a lively suds.

Supplies To Wash Dishes By Hand

These tools and supplies should be stored at the sink, where they are easily accessible:

  • Rubber plate scraper
  • Roll of paper towels or crumpled brown paper
  • Dishpan or sink drain plug
  • Dish soap — you can use modern liquid dish soaps, or old-fashioned Ivory soap in bars or flakes
  • Rubber gloves (optional — but I use them with Vaseline since my skin is so dry, and wash them out after every use)
  • Dishcloth, cellulose sponge, dish brush, or dish mop
  • Mild scouring powder — non-abrasive
  • Steel wool pad
  • Bottle brush
  • Brush for coffeemaker
  • Silver polish
  • Rouge cloth
  • Metal polish
  • Dish drainer
  • Dish towels
  • Hand lotion

Dishwashing with Dispatch


  • Put away all the food
  • Put the cooking utensils to soak, if they haven’t been soaked before you sat down to eat
  • Scrape dishes
  • Rinse dishes with hot water
  • Stack dishes according to size, shape, and washing order next to the sink


  • Prepare hot soapsuds
  • Wash in any preferred order. The usual order is:
    • Glassware
    • Silver
    • Dishes
    • Cooking utensils
  • Change the suds frequently. Dirty water won’t make dishes clean.
  • Stack the dishes in the drainer as they are washed.
  • Rinse immediately with hot, not scalding, water so that soapy film won’t dry on the dishes. A spray attachment for the faucet makes easy work of this
  • Dry glassware and silver with clean, lintless towels. If dishes are rinsed with hot water they will dry by themselves and can be put away at your convenience.

After washing

  • Put away the clean dishes
  • Refill the sink with hot soapsuds
  • Wash the dish drainer and the drainboard
  • Wash the work surface where the dirty dishes were stacked
  • Clean around sink and wash out sink or dishpan
  • Drain sink or dishpan, and wipe out with dishcloth
  • Wipe sink or dishpan dry with dishtowel; put away dishwashing supplies
  • Flush scalding water down the drain

And that is how to wash dishes by hand properly! At least once a day, you should also clean the kitchen, usually after you have prepared most of the food to cook later in the day.

Dishwashing with Dispatch Like a '50s Housewife -- How to Wash Dishes by Hand

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