How to Wash Dishes the Eco-Conscious Way

7 minute read

Swapping disposable water bottles for a chic reusable one. Tossing your old coffee grounds and banana peels into a compost bin instead of the trash. Opting for public transit instead of a solo ride to work—yes, there are so many small ways every day we can support the wellness of our planet.

But did you know that you can give Mother Nature a helping hand right from your kitchen sink? 

The way you wash your dishes can make an environmental impact—and no, it’s definitely not just a drop in the bucket. Whether you’re using plant-powered liquid dish soap or being mindful of the running water while hand-washing dishes, there are simple ways to have an impact. Follow along for a step-by-step guide on hand-washing dishes the eco-conscious way.

Step 1: Don’t Wait Too Long to Wash

We realize this first step to dishwashing success may be the hardest one. After a rich, hearty meal, the sofa might be calling your name more than ever. But if you want your dishwashing to be Mother Earth-approved, it’s important not to wait too long.

Wondering why? It’s pretty simple—all the leftovers from the delicious foods you just enjoyed can start to dry, leaving crusty, hardened residue behind. That means you’ll have to use even more water to make those plates squeaky clean and you might be scrubbing hard to get dried food particles off the cooking pot and utensils. By working quickly, you’ll be able to conserve this precious resource and enjoy sparkling plates.

Step 2: Assemble Your Eco-Conscious Dishwashing Supplies

You’ll need to prepare some supplies to make your dishwashing go smoothly. Here are a few things to have on hand before you start:

  • An plant-powered dish soap – Your liquid dish soap comes in contact with your plates, your skin, and the environment, so why not choose one that’s good for all three? ECOS dish soap uses a readily biodegradable formula that won’t harm water systems. It’s also hypoallergenic and pH balanced, so it won’t dry out your skin.
  • A scrubbing tool – Instead of disposable plastic sponges and scrubbers, look for eco-conscious options made from natural, plant-based, and biodegradable materials. A compostable or plant-derived dish sponge is a great alternative.
  • Two dishwashing tubs for washing and rinsing – These will help you save both time and running water during the washing process. If you have a double-sided sink, this supply is optional. However, having an extra tub on hand can allow you to keep one side of the sink open.
  • A drying rack – A drying rack can help keep your dishes from slipping and sliding all over the counter in between washing and drying. It can also come in handy if you simply don’t have time to dry by hand.
  • A few towels – You’ll need a clean towel or two to dry and polish up your dishes when the washing’s all done. We suggest reusable dish cloths rather than paper towels. Not only will they soak up much more moisture, but you’ll be able to save a few trees in the process.

Step 3: Fill Your Tubs of Water

Once you’ve assembled your supplies, fill your two tubs (or your double-sided sink) with warm water. In one tub, include a small squeeze of your dish soap. The other should only include clean water. 

Our goal is to use those two tubs as our washing and rinsing water, rather than continuously running our plates under a sink. The reason? Keeping that faucet on uses up a lot of H2O. According to the United States Geological Survey, washing dishes by hand can use 9–27 gallons of water every time1. Using the tubs instead allows you to stretch your water supply much further and potentially save gallons.

Step 4: Scrape Your Plates

You know how you use a spoon to get every last bit of ice cream out of the tub? The same energy applies here.

Before you dunk your plates in the water, scrape off any remaining bits of food and sauces into the trash or compost bin. This scraping will make your dishes easier to wash, but they’ll also help you keep the washing and rinsing water as clean as possible.

We’ll emphasize that scraping over your trash or compost bin, and not your sink, is a crucial step. Even if you have a garbage disposal, it’s a good idea to keep the majority of food waste out of your sink. The reason? According to Consumer Reports, certain foods will not only gunk up the drain but can also cause clogs in your water system.2

Step 5: Soak the Hard-to-Remove Residue

If any foods have dried faster than you can get to them, don’t worry. We can work this into our dishwashing strategy just as easily. 

After scraping as much as you can, slide the tough-to-clean dishes into the tub of soapy water first. We’ll wait to work on these until all the others are clean, allowing time for the soap and water to soften the tough stuff.

A tip to make the process even more efficient: if you used a cooking pot or deep pan to cook with, this can serve as an extra soaking tub. Simply fill it with a dab of soap and warm water, and pop in any smaller dishes and utensils that need some extra TLC.

Step 6: Wash and Rinse Your Dishes

At last, it’s time to begin washing. Remember that tub of soapy water you filled up earlier? Now is its time to shine. Here’s how it works:

  1. Place your dishes into the tub of soapy water.
  2. Using your scrubber or dish sponge, scrub and wipe down each item one at a time.
  3. Dip the item back into the soapy water once more to remove any remaining bits of food.
  4. Once only suds remain, dip the dish in your tub of clean water to rinse.
  5. Finally, set the clean dishes to the side or in your drying rack.

If you have a large stack of dishes to wash, you may need to complete this process in several rounds. Our tip? Start with the least dirty dishes before you move on to the rest. Using this order can help you keep the washing tub from becoming dirty too quickly. 

The foods and drinks you used with those dishes might affect your order, but here’s a helpful guide to keep in mind—from cleanest to dirtiest:

  1. Glasses, cups, and silverware
  2. Plates and bowls
  3. Pots, pans, and cooking utensils
  4. Any dishes you’ve soaked

Step 7: Dry Your Dishes

Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like you’re done when the dishes are in the drying rack. But taking an extra minute to towel-dry your dishes has a few benefits:

  • You can put them away immediately, clearing up counter space.
  • It helps you avoid water spots, especially on glass and metal dishes.
  • You can wipe away any remaining residue that could leave your dishes cloudy.

If you’d rather let the dishes drip dry on a dish rack, feel free. But to achieve that extra sparkling shine, your best bet is to dry them with a soft, absorbent dish towel.

What about wine glasses or other clear-glass dishes? These can be more challenging to dry by hand, but there’s an easy trick: use two towels. The first towel is your “damp towel,” which you’ll use to remove any water droplets and moisture. The second is your “dry towel.” Use this to gently polish the glassware (and take a moment to admire the resulting sparkle).

Tips to Ensure Your Dishwashing Is Good for Your Plates and the Planet

Once your dishes are glittering clean, all that remains is to dump those tubs and give the sink a quick wipe-down. But how do you ensure that what you send down the drain won’t cause any damage?

In truth, some of the products used to give cleaning power a boost can end up harming the precious ecosystems of our planet. A few smart strategies and some eco-conscious products can help you save the earth and your skin.

Here are a few tips to keep your dishwashing eco-conscious: 

  • Use dish soap without toxins or harmful ingredients. Chemicals like phosphates, synthetic polymers, and ethanolamines can negatively affect our health and our planet. Opt instead for a dish soap made from plant-derived ingredients like ECOS dish soap.
  • Use biodegradable sponges or scrubbers. Plastic options can end up sending microplastics down the drain and pile up in landfills when we’re done using them.
  • Don’t leave the water running. This one’s worth repeating, as it’s one of the major ways you can make your dishwashing routine less wasteful. Using tubs to wash and rinse instead can help you save gallons every day.3

Whether you’re hand washing your dishes or using a dishwasher, simple changes can make a great impact on the environment. Understanding the water usage of a dishwasher vs hand washing is a great first step in cleaning in a more sustainable way. 

Asian baby boy learn to washing dish with his mother in kitchen.

Our kitchen successes can bring a whole lot of delight, and at ECOS, we believe dishwashing should feel the same way.  Just learning how to wash dishes can bring a whole lot of ease to your post-dinner routine. But knowing where to find products that help more than harm can be a challenge.

That’s where ECOS can help. Our plant-powered dish soap is gentle on the skin and kind to Mother Nature. It’s also made in Climate Positive facilities using 100% renewable energy—so you can start washing knowing we mean “clean” in every way.

For a cleaning solution that helps your plates and planet shine, shop with ECOS.

1 United States Geological Survey. Per capita water use: How much water do you use at home?
2 Consumer Reports. Foods You Can & Can’t Put Down a Garbage Disposal.
3 United States Geological Survey. Per capita water use: How much water do you use at home?