My Life Without a Dishwasher

updated Mar 11, 2020
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

My current flat has a dishwasher, which, after 5+ years of living in London without one, felt like a huge luxury when I moved in a year ago. In my naivety, I thought I’d become so used to and efficient at washing my own dishes that I’d barely use the thing. Yeah, you can guess how long that attitude lasted.

The following statement pretty much sums up how my flatmate and I view doing the dishes: if something fits into the dishwasher, it’s going into the dishwasher. When we occasionally run out of tablets and neither of us remember to pick them up for a few days, the dirty dishes stay in the dishwasher, and pile up on the countertop, too (because clearly there is
no other way of cleaning them… don’t you think we’d do it if it was at all possible?!). Basically, we’re both exceedingly lazy, utterly reliant on our good friend Frank (yes, our dishwasher has a name), and recoil in abject horror at the thought of cleaning our dishes in any other way.

Despite my current entitled attitude, however, I
did manage to survive without a dishwasher for years, and I’m pretty sure that if faced with the same situation (gulp) again, I could make it work. Here are a few tips for tackling life without a dishwasher.

Get a Routine

This is the “when” of it, and it’s pretty important in making you feel in control of your kitchen mess, and not the other way around. Conventional wisdom says cleaning as you go, or at the very least immediately after dinner, is the right way to go about it, but I’m not gonna judge if you’d rather wait until the next day. The point is to find a dishwashing time that works for you, when it feels the least like work and fits into your schedule.

Get Smart

If you’re going to be hand-washing dishes every day, you might as well get organized about it. This means starting with a clean kitchen every time you cook, having a designated space to pile the dirty dishes (a bucket on the floor works if counter space is at a premium), and remembering to soak baking dishes or things that are likely to make tough scrubbing. If I’m doing a big meal, I find filling the sink with hot, soapy water  beforehand and adding dishes as I go helps with this, as well as forces me to actually clean the darn things, post-dinner.

Other things to keep in mind include having the right tools for the job at hand (I like an old-fashioned sponge but there are lots of options) and ample drying space (get yourself a good dish rack).

Get Into It

When faced with a huge sink of dirty dishes, sometimes there’s nothing to be done but tackle it head-on. Sure, there are things you’d rather be doing (getting a teeth cleaning, doing your tax return, etc.), but putting it off will only make the situation worse. So put on some music or an audiobook, find a nice-smelling dish soap, gaze absentmindedly out the window, and try to derive what pleasure you can from the situation. Think of it as your daily meditation, and it won’t feel so bad at all.

What are your tips for living without a dishwasher? If you’ve got one, are you as reliant on it as I am?

(Image: Leela Cyd Ross for The Kitchn)