3 Smart Ways to Do Fewer Dishes This Summer

published Jul 10, 2018
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Welcome to Apartment Therapy’s Chore-Free Summer. Every weekday until July 20, we’re arming you with time-saving shortcuts and hacks that’ll help you work smarter, not harder, when it comes to homekeeping this summer. Because cleaning doesn’t have to be a chore.

No other household chore draws as much ire as the dishes. Maybe it’s because they just never. seem. to end. People have to eat, after all, and as long as there is dinner on the table, there will always be a pile of dishes in the sink shortly after.

But you can make your sinkload less of a workload with a few smart tweaks to the way you use and clean your kitchenwares this summer.

Rule 1: Cut down on dirty dishes

This might be common sense to many of you, but I try to remember that everyone is at very different levels of homekeeping proficiency: The shortest path to cleaning fewer dishes is creating fewer dishes.

  • Cook and serve in the same dish. Something like a dutch oven or a casserole dish can go right to the table (don’t forget a trivet or pot holder to protect the table from the heat).
  • Use the same pan over again. Making rice, then beans? Don’t dirty another dish, just give the same one a wipe down.
  • In fact, try some one-pan meals. If you’re really committed to this fewer dishes thing, work several one-pot meals into your meal plan this summer.
  • A good chef’s knife can cut almost anything. No need to switch between several specialty knives when one will do. Chop dry stuff (like nuts) before watery or oily things (like cheese and tomatoes). If you are using the knives to cut raw meat or seafood, you’ll have to wash it after prepping those items to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Read recipes in advance. Are you a step-by-step recipe reader? Stop it. Read ahead to identify places where you can toss several things—like a medley of veggies that are all getting sauteed—together in advance.
  • Skip the prep bowl. Veggies going straight into the pan? Make that pan your prep bowl.
  • Measure dry ingredients before wet ones in measuring cups and spoons. You can clear them out for the next measure with a quick blow over the sink.
  • Measure everything at once. Feel pretty good about your fraction-adding skills? You can measure ¼ cup of vinegar and ½ cup of oil right on top of each other in the same measuring cup.
  • Use the same cutting board. As long as you’re not cutting \like raw meat or seafood, you can give your cutting board a quick wipe down and flip it over to chop more stuff.
  • Just say no to uni-taskers. I love a kitchen uni-tasker, but they are the enemy of dishes. Learn to multi-task with tools you’re already using, like smashing garlic with the side of a knife and peeling ginger with a spoon.
  • Line baking sheets with parchment paper. You can use parchment paper again and again until it feels spent, revealing a perfectly clean sheet underneath. And if you fold it into boxes, you can cook multiple things at once without cross-contamination.
(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Rule 2: Create a summer dishware capsule

This is really a specific application of rule number one above, but I find it really helps if you’re trying to crack down on dishes. Create a summer capsule by assigning everyone designated dishes to use and reuse all summer. Everyone gets one drinking glass that they’re responsible for rinsing and refilling. Give everyone one plate and one bowl that’s theirs all summer. If you have mismatched dishes, it’ll be easy to tell them apart, but those of you with matching sets can try wine glass markers or washable stick-on labels.

It might be a bit annoying to start (and you can break the rule at your discretion), but you’ll find that the capsule reveals several moments in your day where you can really cut down on the dishes that get dirtied.

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Rule 3: Wash smarter, not harder

Rules one and two will only get you so far. As things come up (and dishes pile up), try these tricks and hacks for making the workload seem a little less daunting.

  • Don’t waste a second with a towel and let everything air-dry. If you don’t have a drying rack, you can use a clean oven rack as a drying rack by placing it over the sink.
  • Quick-clean your blender and food processor. As you’re making frozen margaritas and salsa all summer, clean your gear without taking it apart by running it one last time with soapy water inside.
  • Keep a dish pan by the sink with soapy water inside. Instead of tossing dirty dishes into the sink—cluttering up your workspace before it even begins—toss everything into a dish pan to soak until the night or morning. You can buy something just for this, or just make use of a plastic storage bin you already have.
  • Make dish time go by with the one soapy sponge trick. When the dishes pile up, commit to cleaning as much as you can with one soapy sponge, then give yourself permission to stop.

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