The Art of Hand Washing Dishes

I am utterly saddened by the number of people who rely on an electric dishwashing appliance to clean their dishes on a daily basis.  This trend is causing the art of hand washing to quickly fade and it is in danger of being completely forgotten.  Soon to be lost are the nuances that are paramount to the art.  In the following paragraphs I will attempt to log these details in hopes that some record of the hand washing art will survive.

I shall begin with the detergent that is required.  For without the proper detergent the entire process is diminished to the level of a rank amateur.  The proper detergent for hand washing dishes is lye soap.  But not just any lye soap will do and it must be manufactured from the proper ingredients.  The base ingredients for genuine hand washing lye soap are as follows.  Fat rendered from hogs that are more than twelve months, but less than fourteen months of age.  These hogs must also have only been fed a mixture of yellow corn mash and egg shells.  The fat from these animals will be of the highest quality and essential for making the proper lye soap.  The wood ashes for the soap should be obtained by burning only red oak timber that has been air dried for at a minimum of three years.  Care must be exercised so that no knots are burnt in the process.  For the knots will foul the ash mixture and render the resulting soap all but useless for hand washing.  If none of the soap making artisans in your area are capable or willing to meet these requirements, then you must resort to mail order or self-manufacture.  Self-manufacturing being far too involved for the scope of this article.

The required cloth for both the washing and the drying of dishes is best obtained from antique pre-WWII flour sacks.  These are becoming exceeding rare, but the expense for this cloth is a small price to pay for the art.  These cloths are 100% cotton and were made on looms that are no longer in service.  It is also speculated that the flour once stored in these sacks imparted a particular quality to the cloth that there is no way of replicating with modern manufacturing techniques.

A scouring brush will prove useful from time to time.  As with the other items, the type of brush employed will either elevate or completely destroy the quality of the artistic process. The proper brush can no longer be obtained from any known source and therefore must be fabricated by the artist.  The dried roots of a three year old wild dogwood tree are required for the manufacture of this brush.  There are several opinions as to the correct number of dried roots that should be bound to create the brush.  Generally the number of roots required ranges from one hundred to one hundred twelve.  I  favor a brush made with exactly one hundred and seven roots that are all of the exact same diameter bound with sisal twine.

This brings me to the water.  Two basins will be required.  One for the washing and another for the rinsing.  The former needs to be brought to exactly 150deg.  At this temperature the lye soap is added and allowed to dissolve.  The water then must be cooled to, and maintained at, 120deg before any washing can begin.  The rinse water is equally important and must be maintained at exactly 170deg.  It is important to obtain a minimum of two quality thermometers in order to monitor and adjust the water temperature.

Now that I have listed the proper implements and supplies I will describe the actual hand washing art.  Only one item should be in the soap and water mixture at any time.  For all pots, pans and circular dishes a clockwise scrubbing motion must be utilized.  Many amateurs will use all manner of scrubbing strokes and as such destroy that art form.  For utensils the proper stroke is away from your body working from the handle of the utensil to it’s tip.  It is also very important that the utensil be completely submerged in the wash water during the entire process.

The items are then fully immersed into the rinse water for exactly 6.5 seconds.  Then removed from the water and held above the rinse basin for a further 2 seconds.  The item is then immediately dried with the aforementioned cloth.  Many an amateur will employ drying racks.  Please do not follow this poor example.  Endeavor to maintain the artistic process.

I hope that you have found the above information both informative and inspiring.  At the very least, I hope that it has encouraged you to abandon the use of the electric dishwashing machine.  The art of hand washing dishes is something that is far too valuable to let slip away into the annuls of time and must be preserved.  I encourage you to take up this highly rewarding and useful art form so that you too will have clean dishes.

The preceding is complete and utter nonsense and I hope that you recognize it as such.  Any similarity to the woodworking world is intentional and meant to provoke thought.  While I understand the value in preserving traditional methods, they are not always the be all to end all.  I also believe that some woodworking can transcend the common and become art.  That being said, creating and making are what I find more important.  I approach woodworking with practicality.  Using the tools that I have and exploring techniques to find what works for me.  As budget or necessity dictate, I’ll further explore tools and materials.  Sometimes my tools and methods are in-line with “expert” opinion but, more often than not, they are not.  Even so, somehow I still manage to build things from wood.

I’ll bet you can do the same.

Greg Merritt

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23 Responses to The Art of Hand Washing Dishes

  1. BrianJ says:

    sure Greg….. Now the prices of dogwood, flour sacks, hogs, red oak……. Allllll goin up on commercial websites……. Lol.

  2. ctregan says:

    Around here we debate over “air dry” vs “towel dry”. I am in the air dry camp. More efficient and does not transfer germs like a towel can.

  3. I employ what I would call a folk approach to woodworking. I rarely use measuring tools unless you count body parts and tools don’t always find their proper place. I feel embarrassed and a little ashamed when reading articles on good shop habits and technique. Sometimes its hard to remember that there is no “best” way to work wood.

    • Greg Merritt says:

      Same here. Tools strung all over the bench and shavings ankle deep on the floor. I always seem to work this way no matter how good my intentions are of cleaning up as I go.

  4. Spooky! I was having a conversation with another woodworker the other day about power tools and I explained that I likened then to kitchen appliances. Sure you could wash your dishes and do your laundry by hand, as well as barbeque your food every day, but not everyone fancies that.

    Just make sure that when you barbeque your food, use coal and not wood, mkay?

    Great post!


    • Greg Merritt says:

      Thanks George! I have read too many dogmatic and condescending posts/comments this week and had to poke a little fun at them. The term “art” seems be employed as justification for the their stances. Find what works for and go for it.

      Coal? There is a mine less than an hour away. I’ll have to keep that in mind. 😉

  5. DC says:

    Had me going for a minute, there. In my house a dishwasher is a requirement, not an option, not a luxury, not even a question…. Lol

  6. Not knowing that dishwashin’ was an art form, we’ve just been letting the dog lick them clean. I’m gonna have to change my whole attitude about this stuff. thanks…

    • Greg Merritt says:

      No, no, no…you have inadvertently stumbled upon the medieval form of the dishwashing art. There are only two known, rumored really, references to this form. Both appear in illuminated texts. One is believed to be locked away in the Vatican and the other in a French monastery. You may be able to lead a revival of this ancient art form.

  7. Dave G says:

    Hi Greg
    I was glad to get to your final paragraph , reading through I thought you must have been spending too long in the sun .

  8. Dan says:

    This so funny!! The other day a buddy of mine and I were talking about the “old ways” of doing stuff is sometimes better than the new ways. I recently switched to using a safety razor for shaving and I have to say its better than and 4 or 5 blade razor that you have to take out a small loan to purchase. Also, lye based soaps are second to none. I have yet to find a bar of soap that cleans better than a bar of lye soap. I’m not suggesting we should unplug our dishwashers or even spend all day rendering fat, bit if you have a chance to purchase lye based soap from a farmer’s market, you will not be disappointed.

    As far as woodworking goes, I won’t give up my table saw or router. I’m just less dependent on them.

  9. Siavosh says:

    Great analogy, will be mulling this over whenever I feel a bit judgmental 🙂

  10. Deniseg says:

    I’m loading the dishwasher, thickness planing a few boards and off to the shop to had fit some dovetails.

  11. Bob Easton says:

    A modern Miguel Cervantes in the making! Keep writing young lad.

    • Greg Merritt says:

      LOL…don’t expect any epic tails of a deranged Spaniard on a woodworking quest. Plus I’m long past the “sell by” date for being considered a “young lad”.

  12. Dave G says:

    Great looking finished box, amongst other things I am impressed with the accuracy and quality of the drilled and chamfered holes,which really sets the box off. How do you get the spacing so accurate and what type of drill bits and chamfer chamfer tools do you use

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