Germaphobes and Cleanfreaks! Look Away Now!

Remember when I discovered that I didn’t really need soap for most of my dishes? Here’s how far my dish-washing habits have sunk since.

I wash lately in tepid, soap-less water, with a diaper insert wrapped in a piece of onion bag for a sponge!

do you still respect me?

The tepid water because it got hot again. And I mean Hot. I started using tepid water during the heat of last fall, and was surprised how perfectly fine it worked. Reminded me that the reason I had started heating water to wash dishes in the first place, back in our Tipi Days, was not because cold didn’t work. It was because dish washing is just not that pleasant with cold water. And it’s a chore that deserves whatever it takes to make less unpleasant.

Put the heat up to 85 degrees in your kitchen, and suddenly tepid water starts to sound lovely.

But that was with Joy. Now that I wash sans soap, I wondered if I’d be able to get away with the double whammy.


I have to admit, even though I consider myself so relatively unscathed by the advertising industry, I have been shocked to find soap unnecessary in all but the dirtiest dishes. And now hot water?!?!?

So, you’re thinking what kind of slob must I be, and what kind of horror must my dish rack look, right? You’re thinking if you came over for dinner, you’d get a plate with a greasy shmear of yesterday’s dinner. And just about retch.

Au contrair, mon frier!

I challenge you skeptics out there to try it just once, just once! For a reasonable sized load of regularly dirty dishes. Fill your sink with room temperature water. Leave the soap in the bottle. Just you see how it works.

An oily plastic container like this one that had muffins in it, is about as hard as it gets to wash without soap. And on these items, I do turn a bit of a blind eye. There is a cloudy sheen, as you can see. But, honestly I picked out my dirtiest dish to show you. The china and glasses, which do not attract oils like plastic does, are literally squeaky clean.

not the sparkle you'd get with soap for sure, but clean enough I say. And I picked out my dirtiest dish to show you, scout's honor.

This does take a bit more water than I would normally use. ie: I can’t just keep washing more and more dishes in the same warn out water. And there’s no suds to hide the murk. But considering the water used to produce even the “green” materials used in home soap making, I have no doubt I’m coming out on top.

And there is a cat ring. Though, honestly, I think it’s not as bad as when I was using my homemade dish soap….? Does the homemade soap actually make washing dishes worse? I can’t quite tell. Or am I just using more water/dishes now? Anyway, the cat ring truly does take soap to clean. Which somehow makes me glad. Phew! There is a place and time for soap! I have a special sink scrubbie. I rub it around on a bar of homemade soap, then scrub the sinks and my washtubs, and rinse thoroughly. See? I’m not all gross and delinquent hygiene.

I’m curious about the science behind the cat ring. Obviously commercial soap has some kind of dispersant in it. (Which I ought to have known since fishermen in the Cordova harbor are famous for squirting Joy on their little engine leaks and then pretending they aren’t miniature oil spills.) But how could you get something to produce that effect in homemade soap?

Why go to so much trouble, you might ask. Didn’t I already say how I don’t think commercial dish soap is top on any Evil Deeds list? Well, I think mostly I’ve persisted in this whole dish-washing experiment simply for the fun of experimentation. Dish-washing is a bore, when you have to do as much as I do. Why not stir it up with a little “Why in the hell is that happening?”, “How does this work?” and, especially interesting, “Can I figure out how to improve the situation?”

Oh, speaking of improvements. Normally I would be grossed out by tepid soap-less washing partly because I have this feeling like sponges are nasty, and make things dirtier, and I kind of hate rubbing them all over my dishes. But I’d never found a reasonable substitute (except dirt, but that’s another story). Wash cloths are too big and floppy-all-over-the-placey, and don’t have any bite.

Much to my good luck, recently My Man got disgusted by the worn out sponge  and threw it out, not realizing the 6-pack under the sink had run out. And I was suddenly stuck with a pile of dishes and no sponge.

[Could anyone possibly care about this story? It’s hard to imagine. But that’s what the beautiful WWW is all about, eh?]

At any rate, a friend had just dropped off some cloth diaper inserts. Made from extra thick white terry cloth, and still in very clean, nice condition. When my eyes roamed the kitchen looking for inspiration they lit on these little gems. Just like a thick wash cloth, but about half the width. I folded one in thirds. Voila! Perfect sponge size! But still not scratchy. I took an old onion bag from under the sink where I stock pile them for just such occasions, and folded it around the cloth.


I can hardly wait to borrow my friend’s sewing machine to sew those puppies together in Holy Matrimony till death do they part. I have 6 of ’em, so I can use one for just one or two loads of dishes, and then toss it in the wash! And of course, they dry quite nicely between uses on the towel dowel behind my sink, so no funk can grow.

[After all this, guess what? My MIL has offered to buy me an “independent” dishwasher for my birthday. As in, not plumbed in, you just put the drain hose in your sink when you run it. And considering the full six months of wicked heat we are facing, I might just take her up on it.

Who wants to see me try to spit in the face of “green detergent” by running my dishwasher with straight water?]

15 thoughts on “Germaphobes and Cleanfreaks! Look Away Now!

  1. We have a portable dishwasher that hooks to the faucet and love it. Let the MIL buy it. I love the noise it makes (really!). We put it to run before bed and the white noise lulls me to sleep like a baby.

  2. i am *so* going to try this. also—yer humor and worldview (from the little i’ve read) make me go “oh, SO right on!!” even though i am sitting at my job and my co-workers are looking at me funny.
    nice to have made yer acquaintance, ma’am.

  3. HIya CJ,

    I too have had a dishcloth epiphany… in the shape of a loofa (loopha?). My big 6 boy kindly grew them last season and he proudly brought some home to use in the bath. One year later and they’re still as scratchy springy as ever…(picture a light bulb flash at this point). So i have germinated the seeds he also brought home, and am planning to plant them over the kids tipee cubby. So i’ll get compostable scratchy things for the dishes and they’ll get shade from our desert sun in their tipee. I love two for one!

    So yes, we do care about your story! (We always do).

    Hooroo for now – Katja

  4. (waving hands) !me! !I’m disgusted!

    what about viruses? (like when your whole family got the stomach bug) or bacteria? does soap/hot water do something for that? if not, why are we supposed to wash our hands?

    and, are you really going to get on your hands and knees inside of the portable dishwasher (ohhhhhhh so envious…) and scrub out that cat ring? just sayin’

    p.s. i clarified what “cleaning the kitchen” means to d (for me: dishes PLUS clearing and wiping counters, etc.) and he did it! yay!

    1. hey, did i not say germaphobes look away?! i considered putting “that means you AD!” in the title, but saved you the glory.
      oh, do other families who use soap never get the stomach flu?
      soap is for grease. only antibacterial soap kills stuff, and even many “normal” health professionals think that antibacterial soap is a bad idea.
      hot water for grease too. if water were hot enough to kill buggies, it would burn you. in fact, the pleasantly warm water we use for dishes is a delicious bug breeding temperature.

  5. (p.p.s. could you please post about the tylenol recall and why drugs are bad and the FDA sucks?)

  6. Friction. that’s about all I have to say. That and that living in buggy, warm places with tropical diseases made me realize why Latin cultures value Clean so much, and Alaskans really can afford not to. Culturally-evolutionarily speaking, i mean.

  7. I applaude you, but I just couldn’t do it! Everything we use (‘cept the pots and pans) goes in the dishwasher, and I get coldsores that easily that I find if I handwash glasses I get them within about 2 hours of drinking out of one of the handwashed ones.

    1. wow! coldsores! now there is a perfect demonstration of how everybody needs to find their own way, for their own reasons!
      i go back and forth about dishwashers. but really i think they’re not so bad as my “forth” self proclaims…. which is why i’m about to get one!

      1. CJ, you’ll never look back! I have about 1-2hours a day more in time, because I just get to stack my dishes away and then when it’s full turn it on! Best Invention Ever (that I’ve owned, anyhow)!!!

  8. I couldn’t agree more. Divorcing ourselves from germs may really bite us in the ass in the long run. Of course, people look at me funny sometimes too, but like you said, try it. It’s liberating. Find that balance of middle ground. I will admit though, washing with cold creek water does sound pretty unpleasant. It’s cold enough in the tipi that I think I’ll keep heating it, at least a little bit. That said, the number of times that I reuse dishes before washing would merit a post with the same title! It is the chore that I put off the very most!! I go a lot longer between laundry days but don’t find that chore anywhere near as repugnant as doing dishes. I try to do dishes when I’m on the phone so I don’t have to think about them and then they just magically get done…

    1. You guys are right though, climate makes all the difference. I can see how hot water would be super valuable in a climate where bacteria grows. I don’t even have to refrigerate stuff here.

  9. Wow, really brave post and certainly one to pull people out of the cupboard for a discussion. Firstly I have to tell you, I didn’t realize it got so hot in Alaska. I think you are right about detergents and hot water and their role in dissolving grease. You are definitely right about the brainwashing of marketing. For years we have been sold a story that it’s not clean and effective if it hasn’t got lots of bubbles and scent. I love my Enjo cloths that let me use mostly plain cold water for ALL my cleaning. Kitchen, bathroom, windows, floors….in fact everywhere. I feel confident with the research that backs up how the fibres “remove” the bacteria not just “kill it and leave it behind trapped in a chemical film” like chemicals do. So maybe the true hero in your sink, like you say, is your cleaning cloth that you have devised. I really admire you for your “down to earth” attitude and being real enough to post a photo of a sink in action.

    1. we’re from alaska, but living in new orleans for three years. there are parts of alaska that make it up into the 90s once in awhile, but we’re from a place where the average summer temp is about 54! (farenheit)

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