How to Wash Dishes by Hand in an Eco-Friendly Way
It's become a well-established fact that hand-washing your dishes isn't the most eco-friendly approach to cleaning your dinnerware. Unfortunately, it's your only option if you don't have a dishwasher—but this doesn't mean that you can't hand-wash in an environmentally conscious way. Marilee Nelson, an environmental consultant and the co-founder of Branch Basics, explains that, with the right approach, you can do just that.
Soak your dishes first.
To limit your consumption of finite resources—like running water, and the electricity or oil used to heat that water—soak your dishes first; this ultimately translates into less time at the sink, says Nelson. "After eating, wipe and scrape dishes of excess food as soon as possible to keep food from drying on dishes," she says. From there, fill up a large bowl with hot, soapy water to pre-soak before you hand-wash the dishes. "This avoids using running water to rinse off any remaining food on the dishes," she notes.
Start with the least soiled dishes.
You can refresh your bowl with soapy water as needed, but you should focus on cleaning the least dirty dishes first and the greasier pots and pans last. If you are worried about your water's potential effects on the environment once it goes down the drain, Nelson suggests using an all silicone or plant-based cleaning sponge to reduce microplastic pollution.
Fill your sink.
If you have a double sink (two sinks side-by-side with a drain in each) Nelson suggests filling the left one with the hottest water you can and a bit of soap. "Fill the second sink with hot water and one cup of white vinegar," she says. "Wash dishes in the soapy water, then dip them in the vinegar rinse water, and then place them on a drying rack." You can still attempt this method if you have a single sink—just use a tub or bucket for your vinegar rinse (and your sink for the suds). This will give you more room to power through dirtier dishes that require extra elbow grease.
Evaluate your soaps and scrubbers.
Carry this mindfulness into all parts of the dishwashing process, says Nelson, who says to think about what you are "putting down the sink and into our waterways." She advises swapping regular dish soap for a nontoxic, plant-based cleaning concentrate such as Branch Basics' iteration ($49, branchbasics.com) or a natural Castile soap, such Dr. Bronner's unscented option for cleaning ($15.99, target.com), and consider your cleaning tools, as well. "Sponges and scrubbers made from plastics eventually contribute to microplastic pollution in our water supply," explains Nelson. To mitigate this, she suggests switching to natural brushes, sponges, or silicone scrubbers, instead.