It’s been over five years since I picked up the green scotch brite pad in my kitchen and started washing dishes. In my house, I have been the designated ‘dishwasher’, and it's become a position and task that I guard religiously. If someone else washes the dishes, I am prone to examine them to see if they have done a good enough job (according to my standards, of course).
So how did it come about, and why don’t we employ a maid to do the washing up? Well, we did, when I was still a child. We always left the washing to the maids, and I did not pay much attention to household chores, being the usual kid who wanted to go out, play with friends and do homework at the last minute. Now that I think about it, none of the maids really cared much about the state of the dishes. I knew this as our non-stick pans would always get worn out within 6 months, which should not have happened. I guess maids have only one way of washing dishes, hard and fast. And I don’t blame them. After all, when you have 3-4 houses to cover in a morning, you want to finish the task as fast as possible.
I first started washing dishes when we were in Delhi, and I distinctly remember the tap water being boiling hot during summer and ice cold during winter. Hence I would only wash the dishes once or maybe twice a day, when it was required. Things are much better in Bangalore. The only time the water gets cold enough to be unpleasant is when it rains and the weather gets cold.
People who visit home are always surprised when they see me do the dishes. It’s like they can’t imagine a man washing dishes.But they also always praise me for it. But I don’t see it as anything special, since it really isn’t. In the neighbours’ houses, they call the maids to wash the dishes once or twice a day, and otherwise leave the dishes dirty in the sink. I cannot let that be for some reason, leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Maybe it’s my OCD or something else, but the sight of dirty dishes really rankles me. Hence the washing up after every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I always make it a point to keep the sink clean. An empty clean sink is a welcoming cheerful sight when you go in to do the days cooking. It makes for a nice and sharp contrast to the chaotic and messy space the kitchen countertop becomes while the peeling, cutting, kneading, cooking is going on, and I like that.
So, assuming you are a newbie to washing dishes or a seasoned pro, what would I recommend equipping your dish washing arsenal with? Well, first is the detergent, and a choice to make:
Dishwash soap or Dishwashing Liquid?
For many years I always used soap. Vim, Pril it doesn’t matter, they all clean with equal effectiveness. Soap is pretty straightforward, you take a bit on your scrub pad, run some water over the plate or pan, and scrub away till you get rid of the dirt. Then rinse and keep aside to dry.
I never really understood Dishwashing liquid. To me they were like Shower Gels, hard to use, expensive and no better than soap in cleaning effectiveness. But the past few months I have started using liquids, and I realised the reason I didn’t like them earlier was user error. In the past, I would squeeze a bit of liquid concentrate onto my scrub pad and wash away. That would result in too much soap for the first plate, and too little for the fifth. Plus the Vim dishwash liquid would leave an oily residue that was difficult to rinse and consumed too much water.
Now however, I discovered that you should squeeze a few ml. of dishwashing liquid into a bowl or similar container and dilute it with 30-50ml of water. That makes the liquid more consistent and you can get far more dishes out of the same quantity of liquid used. However, this mixture is too weak to be effective against stubborn stains, and for them you need to use a direct application of the liquid. As to which dishwashing liquid I recommend? Well, Pril works pretty well for me.
But your soap is just one half of the cleaning equation. The other, equally important instrument is the scrubber. For me, the scotch brite standard green scrubber works well for most stains. It is tough enough to scrub harder stains, yet with light pressure, gentle enough to be used for non-stick pans and expensive bone-china cutlery. The first few times you use a new one, it is stiff and not pliable, but within a day or two it softens and achieves good results. After around 40 to 50 days you will find it losing its effectiveness. It becomes soft and doesn't feel abrasive anymore, becoming more like a washcloth than a scrub pad. It’s then that it needs to be replaced. Also, after you have finished using it, never place it in a wet container, as that will allow bacteria to grow and make it also smell like a wet dog the next morning.
The other scrubber is what I call a heavy duty specialist: the steel wool. Definitely not to be used for anything but the harder stains, the steel wool is something I pull out for food that is stuck or burnt. It is definitely not to be used with non-stick vessels, ceramic, glass, or any serving containers. It works well mainly on steel or aluminium vessels that are used for cooking or baking. One issue I have with the steel wool is that particles of food do get stuck in the crevices and you need to rinse it out well unless you want it to start smelling.
So, how do I handle a wash load of dishes? Well, I divide them into two categories, the easy ones and the hard ones. The easy dishes include any serving or eating dishes, namely plates, spoons, cups, casseroles etc. I normally cover them first as they are more numerous and also do not need too much scrubbing.
The second category are the hard dishes, which for the most part includes the vessels and spoons used in the actual cooking process. When fire and heat is applied, oil and masalas tend to get sticky and hold on to the sides of vessels like a cat clinging tenaciously to a tree. These vessels are bigger and larger in size, but also smaller in number. I normally leave the stubborn stains in water for a while to loosen them up. One tip: be careful when you first pour water into these vessels, as it can splashback and stain our clothes. Also another tip, white is a terrible colour to wear when washing dishes.
My ultimate nemesis comes in the form of the milk vessel, in which milk is boiled and sometimes reboiled. Milk fat is a tough and rather disgusting type of stain. When the vessel is heated, it sticks to the side and hardens as the vessel cools. This makes it impossible to scrub with a normal green scrubber. I always have to use a steel wool scrubber and pieces of milk fat inevitably get stuck in between the wool strands. I do not mind washing any of the other dishes, but I detest this one with an extreme passion.
But enough of my ranting about the difficulties of washing up. Why do I still keep doing it every day? Well, as I stated earlier, I really do not like seeing a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Also, it is rather a good workout for my forearms, especially with the more stubborn stains. It is a way to sort of meditate as well. When I am washing up I am always locked in, and the world around me dissolves away, and for those few moments I forget my worries. And if something irritates me, I can always take out my frustration on the unfortunate dish with the tough stain by scrubbing it till it begs for mercy.
This has been a strange and somehow fascinating write up for me. An activity which we all take for granted and pay no attention to, has been a source of stability and satisfaction for me the past few years, one thing I knew I was always good at even if the day was not going well. And so I scrub away, one plate at a time, each day.