The art of washing dishes


Doing the dishes is a mundane, everyday task, but it can be so much more than that. Charlotte Muru-Lanning explains how washing dishes by hand can become a delicious ritual.

I wash at least three batches of dishes a day. Dirty plates, pots, cutlery, cutting boards, bowls, French press and Tupperware go dirty in the sink and come out reborn. They dry on a Kmart rack with the help of the sun. And then I put them away. Eat, drink, repeat.

About 40 minutes of my day are spent doing the dishes. That’s 10 whole days a year with my hands submerged in soap-enriched water in the sunlight – and I realize that’s nothing compared to the time many others spend on the task. It’s a span of time that women who have mobilized against the drudgery of household chores might describe as “hatefully monotonous”. And while I agree that housework is vastly undervalued, in my own day-to-day life I find that amidst the cacophony of dystopian-like news headlinesthere is comfort in the mundane.

When it comes to a meal, the emphasis is on the recipe, the cooking, the ingredients and the consumption. There are thousands of books and TV shows dedicated to doing (and enjoying) each of these to the best of our abilities. But for me, doing the dishes – while largely ignored and sometimes hated – is as much a part of the meal as anything else. If a meal was a movie, the dishes would be the final scene.

At least some of my love for hand dishwashing is a necessary response to my absolute hatred for dishwashers. Whenever I’m told how lucky we are to have a dishwasher in our apartment, I think of the myriad of condiments or canned goods the space could have housed instead. It’s pretty clear that these machines over-promise the amount of labor they actually save. If appliances could talk to each other, the dishwasher would be the laughing stock of households.

I am constantly told that dishwashers are more practical and more ecological. But those are rumors I find hard to believe when you take into account all the rinsing and rewashing and bending, the permanently tinted lenses, the neat stacking and all the electricity and water they seem to imply. Cups come out somehow too dry, Tupperware comes out oily and dewy. Not to mention that the dishwasher disables the necessary equipment such as the colander or the spatula during the two hours they are trapped inside this giant cube.

If you rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, you’re halfway to having clean dishes anyway.

The dishwasher is to the kitchen sink what the CD player is to the record player. One is filled with warmth and realism, the other is mechanical and hides the stain out of sight.

There’s a tactile rhythm to washing the dishes by hand, which, despite the snap, can be meditative and perfectly lonely. It’s one of the few household chores that can be done standing up and without bending over. Doing the dishes is a moment of clarity and digestion, both literally and figuratively. This is especially true if you manage to clean your dishes while you cook – washing mixing bowls and chopping knives while you wait for the water to boil or the rice to finish steaming. Your meal will taste immensely better if the majority of your dishes are done before you sit down to eat.

Washing up is an important but overlooked part of a meal. (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

At the same time, washing dishes can be delightfully noisy when shared among a group of guests, housemates or family members – each vying for a dish to wash, dry or put away. And each polishing his films with rags. There’s a satisfaction in tactically cutting down a task so that everyone’s pace is set in response to those around them. If you’ve spent time in a marae kitchen, you’ll know it’s comforting and helpful to help with the dishes.

It would be remiss of me to talk about food without mentioning feminism. The kitchen has long been used to help frame society in terms of gender, class and race. And domestic work like washing dishes has helped trap women in the unpaid domestic sphere. “Innovations” like the dishwasher, celebrated for freeing women from household chores, often added complexity, helped justify the expectation of a balance between paid work and running a family home and, in some cases, relied on very often non-white women. and poor to do these jobs instead. For this reason, I would say that in the case of the dishes, it’s not the stain that’s bad, it’s how the stain has been socialized. The solution to this is a common approach to washing dishes. Fortunately, few household chores lend themselves better to reciprocity than this one.

Hand washing dishes can be a great synergy of organic flow if done right. It can be as simple as putting away a few dry dishes from your housemate before adding yours to the drying rack, or picking up the dish towel after a meal at someone else’s house. It’s about sharing the load.

Some tips to improve your dishwashing:

  1. Start with the cleanest items
  2. Rinse the foam
  3. If you can help it, don’t pile things in the sink
  4. Dry dishes upside down or on an angle
  5. Find yourself a well-designed dish rack
  6. Try not to leave your dishes until the next day
  7. Dish brushes are boring – use a scrubbing cloth instead. I’m a big fan of Korean crochet dish sponges.
  8. Swap those wispy dishcloths for a few vouchers. You can often find good quality retro ones on Trade Me or in op shops.
  9. If you don’t need to fill an entire sink, place a bowl in the sink instead.
  10. Use gloves or keep a bottle of hand cream near the sink.

The food section of the Spinoff is made possible thanks to the support of our friends at Nando’s.

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