8 Tips for Hand Washing Dishes (& Keeping Them Done)

Are you washing dishes by hand and trying to stay on top of them? Here are 8 tips for hand washing dishes that will help.

Not everyone has the luxury of a dishwasher. If your only option is doing dishes by hand, it can be challenging at times to keep up with them. 

This is especially the case if you are also busy with your kids/work/family responsibilities. And of course, the more people there are in your family, the more dishes your family is going to use.

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Trust me, I get it. We have a family of 5 and another baby on the way, and we do not have a dishwasher, (although full disclosure: I do plan on getting one eventually.)

I used to be absolutely horrible at staying even remotely on top of our dishes, but I found some things that make it easier.

I’m actually busier now than I used to be, but our dishes are under control thanks to the tips I’m about to share.

Update 09/20/2020: We recently got this countertop dishwasher, (it was a more affordable option than a regular one and takes up less space.) I also have an updated Podcast or Post about how dirty dishes & laundry can clutter up your home, but I share tips and methods for keeping them done daily.

I still stand by the tips I share in this post for keeping dishes done when you don’t have a dishwasher.

1.) Make sure all the dishes make it to the sink.

dishes were put in sink after a meal so they could be handwashed, and the faucet is on with water running over them

Put simply, you cannot wash dishes that are in another room or not at the sink.

If you’re frustrated because you seem to be the only one bringing your dishes to the sink, I get it.

I may (cough, cough) have some family members who don’t have the best of habits with doing this and yes, it’s not fair to have to clean up after other people, especially if you are already the one doing most of the dishes.

We have a rule for the kids to bring their dishes to the sink when they’re done eating. However, there are times when they don’t do this, which I don’t always notice at a great time (like they’re already in school or sleeping in bed.)

In this case, I will take the dishes myself and bring them to the sink that time.

Worst case scenario, I find it’s better for me to just do it if the alternative is it’s not done.

However, I’ll remind the kids next time I see them, and when they neglect to do something that’s their responsibility, I’ll have them make up for it with other household chores.

2.) Have other family members help out when possible.

a mother and daughter are shown doing dishes together and smiling

My husband will sometimes help out with dishes, although I am definitely the main dishwasher of the house. I simply say thank you when he does them and don’t pester him for more help. (I don’t recommend trying to force other adults to help you, as it can strain your relationship with them, and you may still be stuck with dirty dishes.)

I will also have our older kids help rinse dishes and sometimes wash their own after meals. Any time I do dishes when the school-age kids are home, I will have one of them help, and they help on my time-table, not theirs.

I’ve found that when I have them help around the house consistently, they have a better attitude about it.

They have a small allowance they earn- some of which comes from doing dishes, and this is written visibly on the magnetic dry erase boards I keep on the fridge.

Even Younger Kids Can ‘Help’

Out of the 3 kids, my 1 1/2 year old is the only one who actually enjoys doing dishes. Thanks to my mom who has taught her the joy of doing dishes, she likes to ‘help,’ standing on a chair next to me (which I have positioned so she won’t fall.)

She plays with this pink pig scrub brush (shown in my pic below) and with some of her bath toys in the water.

8 Tips for Doing Dishes by Hand When You Don't Have a Dishwasher
You can make doing dishes fun for younger kids and keep them occupied next to you.

My toddler will hand me dishes as I’m doing them, and she beams every time I tell her she’s a good helper.

This keeps her happy, safe, and occupied when I need to get dishes done.

So even if your kids are too young to do dishes themselves, you may be able to include them/keep them occupied next to you, so you can at least get them done. This also gets them in the mindset of helping around the house, and they’re happy to do it with you.

Note: Make sure you keep sharp objects such as knives, blender blades, peelers, or dishes that break easily out of reach. You also want to make sure the water is not too warm/hot.

For younger babies/toddlers: you may be able to have them sit down in a high chair next to you and keep them occupied with a few non-breakable dishes/containers/toys, or even wear them in a wrap or baby carrier as you’re doing dishes.

3.) Wash dishes right away when possible.

an asian woman is hand washing dishes right after she ate

Unless it’s one of those days where you have to ‘eat and run,’ cleaning dishes right away is the best way to stay on top of them. It usually takes less time, as you can often do them before remnants of food harden on.

For example, I make fruit and yogurt smoothies almost every day with my Ninja blender (which I love,) but it will take longer to clean if I don’t wash it out immediately, so I try to always rinse and wash it right out after every use.

If you take a lunch to work, try to wash out any containers right after you eat. You can also use the dishwasher at your job if they have one, so you bring clean dishes home.

4.) If you can’t wash dishes right away, soak them right away.

white plates are soaking in bubbly water in the sink

This way when you wash them later, you usually won’t have to take extra time to scrub them.

Note: There are exceptions when there are dishes that are real sticklers with food hardened on, or some types of dishes that shouldn’t be soaked for too long because of what they’re made of. But most of the time this is the next ideal solution to washing them immediately.

5.) Don’t keep more dishes than you need (or pack away the extra.)

extra dishes are put away in a drawer

If you have a plethora of dishes, it may be tempting to use clean dishes instead of washing the already dirty ones.

You can either get rid of dishes you don’t need, or you can pack them away/store them separately. We have extra dishes stored high in the cupboard where I can’t reach them, (I’m really short- so that helps.) We don’t need to touch them unless we have company.

The less dishes you have, the less dishes you will have to wash.

6.) Keep up on dishes daily and get into the habit of doing them at a certain time/times.

Having the habit of doing dishes daily means that you will never get too behind. (Once you get behind, it can seem overwhelming to try to catch up.)

Try to do dishes at the same time or times every day, such as in the morning, at night, or immediately following meals. The more consistent you are, the easier it will be to stay in the habit of keeping your dishes done.

I personally will do dishes in the afternoon and/or in the morning. I would love to do them at night, but it’s hard with getting the kids to bed.

And I’m not gonna lie, by the end of every day I just about crash in bed, because I’m exhausted. But if you have energy at night, then you can totally go for it. 🙂

You may also want to schedule ‘dish time’ when others in the family (like the kids) can help.

Update 09/20/2020: One of the things that helped me stay consistent with dishes even before we had a dishwasher, was doing a daily cleaning routine.

Click here to download my free printable daily cleaning routine checklists.

7.) Use extra ‘kitchen time’ to do dishes.

There are different occasions where you can catch up on cleaning up the kitchen- including dishes- while waiting for other things that take time.

Do you find yourself waiting for water to boil or need to cook something for several minutes before proceeding with a recipe? You can easily clean up the dishes you’ve already used making the recipe, or other dishes in the sink.

A word of caution, though: make sure you don’t get so involved with dishes that you burn your food. 🙂

8.) Use dish-washing cleaning supplies that work well for you.

dish detergent, sponges, and a dish cloth for hand washing dishes

*I use this teal splash dish drainer, which makes me happy to put my clean dishes in because I love the pretty color. 🙂

*Pick a dish detergent that gets the job done and doesn’t irritate you (either your skin or with the smell.) Some people may want to opt for something that’s good with removing grease, whereas others may just want something gentle on their hands.

I like this dish detergent (you can order this in bulk here on Amazon) because it is natural and gentle on my skin. (It’s also unscented which I found to be a complete necessity while being pregnant and having smell aversions.)

This specific brand works well for me. However, full disclosure: I personally don’t have many issues with greasy dishes to begin with, just because of what/how I cook. So I personally cannot say how effective it is on grease in comparison to other dish detergents.

*Some people also wear rubber gloves while washing dishes to keep their skin from drying out. This is something I used to do years ago, but I find it’s not necessary for myself personally now. However, gloves seem to work for some people, so I’m just throwing it out there!

So those are 8 tips for doing dishes by hand and keeping them done. It can be challenging while you’re busy with everything else in your life, but you can do this!

Doing dishes is one of the things I recommend doing in your daily cleaning routine.

Grab our free printable daily cleaning checklist here before you go!

Thanks for reading and have a great day!


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  1. Shari | 27th Dec 17

    Great tips, Ellie! That reminds me- I need to do some dishes, lol! Sooo cute that your toddler likes to help!! ☺

  2. Ellie | 28th Dec 17

    Hi Shari, she sure does! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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