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washing dishes: by hand vs. dishwasher

 
Posts: 35
Location: Norman, OK
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I wash by hand, and do it in a medium or large sized pot set into the sink, with a separate pot for rinse water set into the other basin, saving all wash and rinse water.  I use Oasis Bio Pac brand dish soap, which is specifically formulated to be graywater safe, (and not made for dishwashers).  I use about a quart of water letting the water heat and set the water aside for garden use.  Then I use about a half gallon roughly every two days to wash our dishes.  Each person who lives here tends to use only one dish which prevents multiple used dishes from piling up, so most of our dishes piled up to wash at the end of the day are silverware and cookware.  I use about a quart of rinse water or less that goes into the second pot.  This is all eyeballed measurements, btw.  The initial run and the rinse water go immediately out to the garden.  The soapy wash water ends up on the compost pile.  I doubt a dishwasher can compete with that.  Perhaps it would take all week, or even two weeks to fill at the rate we generate dishes, but who wants to leave dirty dishes to sit two weeks?  Furthermore I wonder if there is any dishwasher detergent that is greywater compatible.  The water I use gets used twice and ends up in the soil, so can hardly be considered wasted, in my mind.
 
                                    
Posts: 32
Location: Ishpeming, Michigan
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I'm a scratch cook and use quite a few measure cups, spoons, bowls spatulas pots and pans.I clean as I go and do dishes pretty much the same way as Paul.It's convenient and takes less time than the dishwasher not to mention the dishwasher detergent or rinse agent, not sure which, left my glass items scratched looking and my metal and plastic items with a white deposit on it that I needed to take of with brillow pads and a lot of elbow grease. I have to LOL because my dear husband delivers and installs appliances but I choose to wash dishes by hand
 
                                
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I kind of have to lol because it is hand washing dishes that has scratched my dishes. I am sure I am phobic about it but it takes me forever, includes lots of abrasion and requires lots of rinsing because I keep seeing "things" on the theoretically clean stuff.

So for me the dishwasher saves on water and time.

Oddly enough my boyfriend just rinses dishes and calls them clean. I haven't really watched to see if this is a speedy quick rinse or water intensive. (basically I do not want to know) On the other hand he considers cloth napkins unsanitary.
 
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I have to concur with bruc33ef, dogs are great for prewashing dishes, especially when you don't have running water.  As for what they cleaned before the dishes, dog saliva is naturally antiseptic and contains less pathogens than human saliva.  I think the main debate here is between cleaning dishes and sterilizing dishes.  If you need sterile dishes, a machine obviously wins.  If saving water is your primary concern, use the camp-fire method: keep a small pot of water boiling to keep a cleaning rag clean which you may use to wipe dishes out with.  You can do a whole sink full with a pint or two.
 
                            
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Hand washing CAN use less water, however, when done in a far more typical manner, it is a much closer race.

Automatic washers get more of a bad rap because a large portion of folks wash the dishes before they put them in the automatic washer.

The key to saving water is to get others to care about it.
 
master steward
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I think that if folks live somewhere that saving water is a big deal, maybe those folks should move.

I think it would be awesome to live somewhere where you have so much water you can just run the sink non-stop. 

I kinda get the impression that folks are bonkers about saving water because they live in los angeles, and then people freaking out about water usage in los angeles are in the media - so then somebody living next to a big, clean river is all worried about a bit of water.  And then when you try to talk about how you might go about washing dishes, folks are hysterical about water usage and won't allow a guy to talk about other aspects.  So then that guy has to make a video so that he can get a word in edgewise about stuff other than water usage.




 
                                                      
Posts: 18
Location: Portland, Oregon
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Who would have known dishwashing would be such a devisive issue.

I'm with Bruce as to the dog prewash as dog saliva contain natural germicide I consider it a bonus as to the overall health of the household. I've never fallen into the camp of the frentic american attitude over germs today. My thinking is if you go so far to destroy germs that would enter your body you degrade the ones already present in your body and thus when a germ does get in you've no natural protection and thus fall ill. What my two furry prewashers don't get to I scrape off in the wet garbage bin which goes to the chickens.

I do dishes once a day unless i'm doing a lot of cooking or baking then I wash when the sink is filled. Usually dishes get washed first thing in the morning. Water as hot as i can stand. I let my dishes presoak for a few minutes and the water cools a little but not by much. Washing first thing in the morning allows my hands to get warmed up after a day of hard work followed by a night of sleep. It's part of my wake up to the day. I leave heavily soiled pots and such to the very last and let these soak for several hours coming back later to find things sluff off easily and as the water is now cold it goes out to the herb bed (i use grey water safe soap). Then a quick rinse of said pot or pan and i'm done.
Basically, washing dishes is a personal preference dish washer or hand washer it's a choice.

 
                                                
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wombat wrote:
Emerson:  Aren't the staph bacteria killed at the temperatures of the dishwasher  (dishwasher machine)  not the dishwasher washing by hand?



I've worked on large resturant Clippers and you have to have 180' rinse water for health department sanatation laws. I've also done a stint as a journeyman plumber.

At home the only person concerned with germs and bugs is the person who worries about it.

I live 7 miles south of Lake Ontario, the over inflated fees of the water  bill is my moving factor not the amount used to wash dishes. If I lived in Arizona and was on a well I'd use less water.

What the greenies fail to mention is all these green appliance's are junk! Motors and compressors are smaller requiring longer run times.
If they really wanted to start saving the greenis would demand to get rid of a clock on every appliance & to have them shut off when turned off, instead of idling in the back ground.
 
Posts: 1114
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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We do dishes by hand. It takes only a gallon and a half or so. Not much. We have a small sink. It fits our small house. Just five people so no more is needed. Dishwashing machine would be a waste of space and children need something to do. Even a five year old can learn to wash dishes. Besides, it is a coveted task in the winter cold. Ah, to get to soak one's hands in warm water...
 
steward
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My only experience with dish washers was in my bachelor days.  I moved into an apartment that had one, and I had a couple of boxes of pots/pans/dishes that had been open in a garage for months.  I loaded it up and did a wash, and everything looked spotted or streaked, so I hand washed them afterwords.  I realized that cooking for one would take the better part of the week to make a full load, and the apartment's kitchen was short on cupboard space.  The cupboards became my larder, and the dishwasher was where I stored my (hand washed) dishes, pots/pans.


My bigger concern is with "Water Saver" toilets.  Mine proudly states (imprinted in the ceramic glaze) that it only uses 1.28 gallons per flush.  What they don't tell you is that it will take 2-3 flushes each time to actually "flush" it.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Get a zero-gallon flush toilet. Compost bucket.
 
pollinator
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I'm not for or against dishwashers but I just got this e-mail news update about dishwashers today from the environmental news network:

http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/42839

They claim some sort of fungus in most dishwashers.

I don't currently have one but after I get to the 'debt free' mark I'm not against getting one either.  I wonder how much of this fungus comes from the garbage in the municiple water supply.  I personally would like to get off that water supply - one thing at a time.
 
pollinator
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South Carolina wrote:
They claim some sort of fungus in most dishwashers.



The average kitchen sink has lots too..... Oh, and just for fun the average healthy adult gut has 5-6lbs and 500 kinds of fungus/bacteria.... cell count is about the same as all the cells in your body. A few thousand cells of stuff here and there shouldn't hurt a healthy adult. I guess we could eat with fingers off a leaf... I wonder how many ways there are to create less dishes in the first place. Cast iron only needs a scrape most of the time. soup/porridge/stew can be left cooking for days in the winter... just keep adding stuff. Some things rinse clean if it is done right after using.
 
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The only good thing I can say about a dishwasher is that they can be made into pretty good smokers.  I bought a house back in the late 80 when I was married and we went on vacation only to return to a house that smelled like there had been a fire.  Somehow that brand new dishwasher began running all by itself and the plastic spray arm had melted onto the heating element.  The insurance bought us a new dishwasher, plus I made a smoker with the old one.  I hated that thing though.  I always wash by hand and never use the sink plug but use a dish pan instead.  It is much easier to keep clean.  I even wash my clothes by hand and have ever since I got divorced back in 94.  Oh yeah I also use a clothesline to dry them. 
 
                      
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Guys in the restaurant business (olden days before mechanical dishwashers) the dishwasher washed all the dishes by hand. However, to keep down the germs they had a three tub system. The first tub was the wash water. The second tub contained a solution of bleach and warm water. The third tub was for the final rinse of the dishes.

I'm sure there wasn't much concern over water wastage however, it did get the dishes clean and sanitized. So one could utilize a similar solution if one was concerned about sanitation using the hand wash method. Water consumption could be held to a minimum. A third tub could contain the bleach water. Then allowing the dishes to air dry would kill off many of those bad germs.

Just a thought.....

BTW I'll stick with my old dishwasher thank you.
 
Len Ovens
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timby wrote:
Guys in the restaurant business (olden days before mechanical dishwashers) the dishwasher washed all the dishes by hand. However, to keep down the germs they had a three tub system. The first tub was the wash water. The second tub contained a solution of bleach and warm water. The third tub was for the final rinse of the dishes.

I'm sure there wasn't much concern over water wastage however, it did get the dishes clean and sanitized. So one could utilize a similar solution if one was concerned about sanitation using the hand wash method. Water consumption could be held to a minimum. A third tub could contain the bleach water. Then allowing the dishes to air dry would kill off many of those bad germs.

Just a thought.....

BTW I'll stick with my old dishwasher thank you.



Actually, I think the last tub had a fire under it to keep it close to boiling.
 
Dave Bennett
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180 degree water in the final rinse sink.  I washed dishes in my youth at a restaurant that did not have a dish machine.  I did flush the flatware in a pot of boiling water and everything was air dried completely before being stacked and put back in service.  I worked as a commercial appliance service tech from 89-99 and repaired hundreds of commercial dish machines.  Even though the final rinse water from the booster heater was maintained at 180.  It is my opinion that in a commercial environment, dishes washed by hand correctly are much cleaner than those washed in a machine unless they are rinsed thoroughly before they are washed.  That practice is very wasteful of water.  In the home such sanitation is overkill because if the water you are rinsing with isn't clean enough to rinse off the soap product then it isn't clean enough to drink.  I use what I consider to be a minimum amount of water to wash dishes.  I rinse them twice.  Once in a 13 quart stainless steel bowl and then a final rinse with a spray of water because the rinse water does have a tiny bit of soap in it.  Just a thought.....home dishwashers do make great smokers.
 
                      
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Dave Bennett wrote:
180 degree water in the final rinse sink.  I washed dishes in my youth at a restaurant that did not have a dish machine.  I did flush the flatware in a pot of boiling water and everything was air dried completely before being stacked and put back in service.  I worked as a commercial appliance service tech from 89-99 and repaired hundreds of commercial dish machines.  Even though the final rinse water from the booster heater was maintained at 180.  It is my opinion that in a commercial environment, dishes washed by hand correctly are much cleaner than those washed in a machine unless they are rinsed thoroughly before they are washed.  That practice is very wasteful of water.  In the home such sanitation is overkill because if the water you are rinsing with isn't clean enough to rinse off the soap product then it isn't clean enough to drink.  I use what I consider to be a minimum amount of water to wash dishes.  I rinse them twice.  Once in a 13 quart stainless steel bowl and then a final rinse with a spray of water because the rinse water does have a tiny bit of soap in it.  Just a thought.....home dishwashers do make great smokers.



I beg to differ on the cleanliness of the final rinse. Well it may appear to be clean, it doesn't pass the germ test. As I remember, the family had a lot of colds and flu before we got a dishwasher. I have to believe it was because of the chemicals contained in Dishwasher detergent. Also, the water was warmer and killed off some of the nasty bugs. However, this is from my observations and may not be typical of all. I for one will stick with the DW. We only wash dishes (typically) once a week. We don't run the dishwasher with partial loads and we never use the heat dry cycle (use air dry). So we get the benefits of the the dishwasher and don't upset those that feel we aren't doing our part to conserve.

Again this is just for me and mine. This is not meant to tell other what they can or can't do.
 
paul wheaton
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I got featured in lifehacker!

http://lifehacker.com/5824344/washing-dishes-by-hand-can-use-less-water-than-a-dishwasher

 
Posts: 257
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
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I'm guilty of speaking without having read the whole thread, but I just watched the video. I was watching it in disbelief thinking: "Isn't that a given?" or as we say in Italy "This guy has just made the discovery of hot water..."
But then Paul said that many people actually think a dishwasher is better. That's crazy... The media and their persuasive power...
 
Posts: 700
Location: rainier OR
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funny Paul I watched your video on life hacker, and when it was done the thing cues up a 30 second commercial telling us that the average person uses 5 gallons of water a minute to hand wash
 
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Brice Moss wrote:
funny Paul I watched your video on life hacker, and when it was done the thing cues up a 30 second commercial telling us that the average person uses 5 gallons of water a minute to hand wash



I've seen some wash and rinse dishes with the hot water full blast. The person that does this usually is NOT the one who owns the hot water heater nor pays for the water or to heat the water.

So is the "average person" who washes dishes, NOT the one who cares about the bills or about conservation?
 
Brice Moss
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I don't think my tap will flow 5 gallons a minute
 
ronie dean
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When I was growing up we didn't have running water. We had a wash water pan and a rinse water pan. It took around 3 gallons to wash and rinse the dishes for a family of 4. Both wash and rinse water could be used for other things.
 
paul wheaton
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I made this video because in one week I had five different people say to me that a dishwasher uses less water than washing dishes by hand.  And in all five cases, I tried to explain how I think I use less water than dishwasher.  And, in all five cases, it was made clear to me that I was wrong.  

So this video had to be made.

 
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Seems more a personal choice than a technical 'mine is better than yours' method.  I've seen several ICs wash by hand and use a steam sterilizer.  Seems like a good compromise.

I think it all depends on whether you're cleaning dishes for yourself/family or for a community, and what your cleanliness/germ phobe standards are - a personal and community choice.

From a sustainability standpoint: washing a ceramic coffee mug in hot water uses more embodied energy than a single use paper cup.
 
Mother Tree
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winsol3 wrote:

From a sustainability standpoint: washing a ceramic coffee mug in hot water uses more embodied energy than a single use paper cup.



I guess that depends on how you heat your water.  This time of year,  I have a trigger hose attached to a  hose-pipe, let it loop around on the back yard, and wash up with that.  The water is as hot as I can bear and it uses very little water and no extra energy. 
 
                              
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As for germs - not a problem, all this time and I've never had a germ related issue.  I also fall into the camp that believes in mild exposure offers long term resilience.  I am more concerned about soap residue, rather err on the side of germs than soap/chemical residue, but that's just me.



Precisely! If you never use your immune system, you'll simply weaken it. I've eaten fresh food off of a dirty floor right in front of people to simply prove this point. However, I would still stay away from rotten or moldy food.   

Also, it shocks me to see so many people on this forum worry about germs, and not give a single thought to the amount of soap and detergent that your dousing your dishes with.

Here is an experiment you can try to discover the toxicity of soap: 
Take a container of dish soap, and find a group of ants or bugs. Put 1 drop on top of an ant. Observe how long it takes for the ant to die. I'll go ahead and give you the answer: Less than 3 seconds. 
Then, make your solution 1 part water, 1 part soap and repeat the experiment.
Followed by 2:1 water to soap, 4:1, 8:1, etc. etc. until the ant does not die or is able to flee before the soap kills him.

Try another experiment: Take a small potted plant which is very healthy, and water it with 99% water with 1 drop of dish soap added. See how long it takes for the plant to die.


From my personal experience, dish soap is highly toxic to ALL living creatures...even more than specifically developed poisons such as RAID or poisonous sprays for fleas. In fact, I once had a rather serious flea problem in my basement, and after spending $50+ dollars on deadly poisons, I ended up easily killing all of them with a gallon of 25% dish soap, 75% hot water solution. The fleas sensed the heat and jumped into the solution, then died before they could swim out. Keep in mind, we humans are often releasing massive amounts of this very same solution into the ground water...DAILY.


When I wash my dishes, I don't use any soap or detergent at all! After nearly two years of doing this, some of my plastic dishes have a thin oily film on them, but it doesn't really bother me. The ceramic and glass dishes are perfectly clean.
 
paul wheaton
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winsol3 wrote:
Seems more a personal choice than a technical 'mine is better than yours' method. 



I agree.

I made the video because five times in one week I was told "all dishwashers use less water than washing dishes by hand, therefore using a dishwasher is more eco than washing dishes by hand."  and these same folks would not allow me to present any alternative. 

I once lived in a community where two people in the community were so convinced of this, that they hid all of the stuff for washing dishes by hand to force everybody to use the dishwasher. 

I think that there is room for debate for different scenarios where one is better than the other.  But overall, it is my obnoxious opinion that washing dishes by hand is almost always a better choice.


 
Fred Winsol
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paul wheaton wrote:
washing dishes by hand is almost always a better choice.



Long live the 'Zen of dishwashing' . 

Next time you give your obnoxious  opinion on this, just add that you don't care to wash dishes using nuclear and coal power.  (if dishwasher is tied to main grid)
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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I just don't want another appliance that can break and has to be repaired.

  Oh, and the electricity to run it - I'm pretty miserly about plugging things into outlets.

 
                                      
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Thanks for the video. Just saw it imbedded in an email I got from Janglo (who knew?)

The website below states that my dishwasher, a Bosch, uses about 4 gallons of water per load. It heats up the water with it's own internal heater, so less hot water is needed from the hot water heater. I agree that at 4 gallons, it uses 4 times as much water as you used to wash the dishes in the sink. Although I do my best to be energy efficient, for convenience sake, I believe hands down that using my dishwasher is worth the added water usage. I always fill up my dishwasher completely, I do not rinse my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, and I use non-phosphate Method dishwasher detergent. My dishes come out spotless, even knives used for peanut butter.

I was wondering though...could we save water by washing our clothes by hand?

http://www.greenbuildingsupply.com/utility/showArticle/?objectID=145
 
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A point that no one has mentioned, which I consider important, involves the embodied energy in the machine's manufacture, transportation, installation, and so on. It's outrageous, using massive amounts of oil. I have decided to follow a path that I call "voluntary environmental sustainability" (VES), a term that I coined about a half-year ago. Over time I am working to live in more environmentally sustainable ways. To do this, I ask myself Richard Heinberg's four questions: (1) Will it work without oil and electricity? (2) Is it [environmentally] sustainable? (3) Does it build resilience? (4) Does it build community? I also ask myself, "If I answered no to one or more of these questions, why am I doing this? How can I do this in an environmentally sustainable way?" Obviously, dishwashers don't even BEGIN to pass the VES test.
 
Dave Bennett
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A point to consider is that far too much "worry" about sterility.  Much of the regulation regarding the sterilization of dishes and flatware grew out of  restaurant/institutional food service which is understandable.  To think that a family of a few people represents a gigantic pool of diverse pathogenic bacteria is absurd.  One of the problems that has developed especially in the United States is the prevalence of "food sterility."  Immune systems develop from bacteriological response.  Newborn mammals are sterile at birth.  They get their first dose of bacteria in the birth canal which are the very "seeds" that propagate the immune system.  I am not advocating eating off dirty dishes but am suggesting that "our" obsession with a bacteria free environment is a learned response that is not necessarily healthy for a strong properly functioning immune system.  Carefully washing your dishes at home by hand is sufficient for a majority of people to prevent food born disease without rinsing them with 180 degree F water.  My point is that the more small doses of bacteria that enter your body the stronger your immune system becomes which in my opinion is a good thing.
 
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The dog doesn't get to lick my dish -- I do!  You can find me at potlucks grossing out the fastidious by licking my plate, and encouraging children to tell their parents that licking your plate is environmentally responsible. 
Plate licking saves work and water. If I can't lick my plate, it is because the food on it was too something. Too salty or greasy usually, or the salad was overdressed.
By the way, a hot water rinse is not necessary -- it does seem to help the dishes dry faster, but rinsing with cold will save on heating the water.
I remember reading that the most important thing in dish cleanup is to allow them to air dry, as a towel will be a ready source of bacterial contamination.
 
Dave Bennett
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I too am a plate licker although my full beard is getting quite long which has made it a tricky job. LOL.
 
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I find this a very intriguing topic and felt compelled to offer my view/experience. My wife falls in with the "axis of dishwashers" side of the arguement, and i've never really felt the need to argue (choose my battles) but now I have some good fodder.

We live on a well that has hard water. Our softener is not working presently as it leaves a calcium film all over dishes, so its out of the question anyway, which I like as I fall into the crowd that enjoys hand washing. I've always taken pride in being efficient, be it moving things or building or driving or using water. Ok, I do sometimes take long showers, sue me, I'm a cancer. =)

I live with my wife and 2 kids and mother in law. Usually by the end of the day the counters around the sink are full of the days dishes. They are always at least scraped clean into the compost, so there's not gnarly food chunkies. Also, we are a totally vegetarian household, so grease is not something we are dealing with.

I start out washing dishes by stacking them in one side of our 2 sided sink, with attentino to how they fit together and how water gets to the surfaces. Basically, plates go on the bottom, then smaller plates, then bowls, then cups. We're talking say 3 of each in a stack, with one cup.I run hot water down my stack, but because each item fits into the next or takes up space, there is very little water used to saturate all the surfaces. So I have one side of the sink stacked with standing water on all eating surfaces. Total water is about 2 or 3 cups. I let that sit for 5 minutes while I put food away, wipe counters, etc. I come back, make another couple dry stacks in the other sink. I then squirt a small amount of concentrated natural bio soap that is in a squirt bottle and diluted about 1 part in 5 parts water on my clean sponge, run that in hot water to suds it up, and proceed to wipe the surfaces of the first sinks' stacks. Then, I rinse off the clean, soapy and still warm dishes OVER the second sink with the dry stacks, so that the rinse water of one round becomes the soak water of the second round. The finished clean rinsed dishes are hot from using the hot water, are put in a rack to dry (we too use the dishwasher as a drying rack). The ceramic dishes are literally totally dry in less than 10 minutes.

Presoaking dishes, like was mentioned before, does 90% of the "cleaning". After that, even using a quick wipe with a soapy sponge is probably overkill, but of course its what 99% of us have and will do. In my opinion, if something doesn't loosen up off your plate after being soaked for 5 to 10 minutes, it shouldn't be in you're digestive tract. Even melted cheese comes up. Peanut butter might be the one exception. =)

I probably use more water then I need, but I think i use much less then my auto dishwasher, and personally I find it fun. I would love to put a bucket under my drain and truly determine exactly how much I use (very easy experiment).

Last thing I will say, if you are on a greywater recycling system all this is exactly moot.
 
Dave Bennett
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They are always amazed at how little water I use when I go to the county clerks office to pay my water bill every 3 months.  They let me slide because my monthly bill for water use is usually around 5 or 6 dollars.   This has been the case for the last 18 years.  Water conservation has been on my "agenda" since I became aware of the poisoning of aquifers back in the 1970's caused by fossil fuel drilling.  Living in California for 10 years really drove home the limited fresh water issues that we all are facing.  Using water in an efficient manner is certainly an important aspect of a "permaculture philosophy."  When the major aquifers in the US become permanently poisoned by the seemingly endless quest for fossil fuel energy the limited amount of available fresh water on the earth will become glaringly apparent.  Then it will be too late to rectify the lack of water available to use for sustaining life. 
 
gani et se
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Location: Douglas County OR
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Dave Bennett wrote:
I too am a plate licker although my full beard is getting quite long which has made it a tricky job. LOL.


Made me think about what the Magic Dave beard community would be -- the crumbs go into the beard, the bugs come to feast, birds come for the bugs and fluff up the beard in the process. Or maybe monkeys come to eat the bugs and groom Dave's beard for him?...

 
Dave Bennett
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hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  My beard is much like an extra long version of "Grizzly Adams."  I don't have much hair left on the top of my head so I balanced it out with lots of it on my face.    I have never liked to shave.  I used to shave it down from below my cheekbones but for the last several years I have just it "go wild."   No crumbs though LOL. No monkeys in the neighborhood but my rabbits seem to like it
 
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