Off Grid Dishes.

What is one thing we all have in common? Dirty dishes. And while washing dishes is probably the easiest and most self-explanatory of chores, I wanted to do a little post about how I am washing my dishes in an off-off-grid cabin in the wilderness.

I have been washing my dishes "the old-fashioned way" since I was 12 years old. Even when I am in someone else's home, I distrust dishwashers and will wash their dishes by hand to avoid them. I actually kind of enjoy doing dishes. I am not saying I skip and sing Cinderella-style on my way to wash a mountain of dirty dishes, but it is slightly therapeutic and satisfying to me.


My current dishwashing situation involves two plastic basins I bought from Walmart, and a small dishrack with an absorbent pad beneath it. It all sits on a shelf near my kitchen, as keeping a designated dish area helps me keep on top of things. I keep the water dispenser under it for easy access and I stack the dishes on the shelf beneath as they get dirty. When we get the kitchen closer to being finished, I hope to go back to having large enamel dishpans and sustainable running water like we have back in my family's home in Texas.

Washing dishes by hand and with no running water seems pretty straight-forward and no-nonsense (and it is!) - nevertheless here are some little tips that I have learned over the years that may be helpful to someone, somewhere.

1. Don't own too many dishes. By this I mean don't own more dishes than you need. This may also be because I live minimally and in a small home, but I have found that keeping the base amount of dishes in the cupboard means you wash smaller loads of dishes more often, instead of creating a huge pile that causes you to dread and avoid the task of washing them. I have two frying pans - one big, one small. I have two sauce pans - one big, one small. I have six plates, and six of each utensil (fork, spoon, knife). Etc, etc. This obviously isn't feasible for big families or if you like to entertain, but for our simple life it makes my job so much easier. It means neater shelves and cupboards, and it makes me do dishes at least once every two days, if not every day. (I use this same concept for our laundry, actually. Small amounts of clothing for each family member means one doable load every week, which keeps things easy and predictable.)

2. When washing your dishes, change your water frequently. Washing dishes without running water is just less sanitary than doing it with running water. That's the truth. I am the farthest thing from a germophobe, but I know that running water is better - but in an off-grid situation, it's not always an option. This means that if you are doing very many dishes in sitting pans of water, you need to flush that water out once or twice during the process. I have a small dish rack, so after one or two dish racks full are done, I usually dump my wash water out and clean the basin. I then pour my rinse water into the wash basin, clean the rinse basin, and fill it with clean rinsing water. Also, in an off-grid situation where you are dumping your water outside on the ground or on plants or gardens, remember to choose a biodegradable and naturally made dish soap, or make your own.

3. Wash your dishes in batches. This has always helped me. I try to wash my dishes from least dirty to most dirty - meaning I will wash things with less food and mess on them first, like drinkware and silverware, and then slowly work my way up to the pots and pans and things that require more scrubbing. This keeps your water cleaner for as long as possible, and your dishes will be cleaner.

4. Wash your glass first. So, this is something my mother taught me. Always wash your glass first. This means you will have sparkling clean glassware and it's more sanitary for drinkware to be washed first. Pretty straightforward. It also means that you get the glass done and put away safely on shelves to avoid breakage when being stacked in the rack with other dishes.

5. Wash your dish sponge or rag obsessively. This may be a no-brainer, but it bears mentioning that without running water, your sponge or rag that you wash your dishes with will retain more bacteria than it would if it was rinsed with running water more often. For this reason, I have two sponges (I hate washing dishes with a rag. I hate it.) and I toss one in the laundry or boil it whenever I can.

Living in a tiny home means that most likely, people will see my pile of dirty dishes the minute they walk in. That's fun. For that reason, I have to do small loads of dishes pretty frequently, and that's what makes my system more doable. For families with a lot of children or more space, obviously my micro-managing style of dishwashing isn't realistic or necessary, but for now it's what works for me in my small space with my small family.

How does your family do dishes off-grid? What tips would you add to my list?

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