100-Year-Old Directions for Washing Dishes

washing dishes

Here are some hundred-year-old directions for how to wash dishes:

It is not difficult to wash dishes although many people make it a very disagreeable process. The necessary apparatus include a plentiful supply of hot water, a good soap, ammonia or borax to soften the water, a gritty soap or powder. Have a pan for washing and another for rinsing, and a tray for draining if there is no drainer attached to the sink.

Prepare the dishes by scraping and neatly piling articles of a kind together. Wash the cleanest dishes first, usually the glasses, next the cups and saucers, and the silver next.

Have the soiled dishes near the pan, and put in only one or two articles at a time. To pile in a number means the nicking of china, and scratching of silver.

Dip each dish in the rinsing water and then put in the drainer. Be careful not to use too hot water for delicate china and glass. Change the soapy water when it becomes in the least greasy.

Use dry towels to wipe the dishes dry.

Wash pots, pans, and utensils while they are still warm. Heavy pots and pans can be dried without wiping by placing on or near the stove. Do not put away until they are perfectly dry

When finished, wash out the towels and dish pan, and leave the sink and drain-board perfectly clean

Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1915)

55 thoughts on “100-Year-Old Directions for Washing Dishes

    1. I’m not very systematic about how I wash dishes–but I think that I also generally follow them. My general guiding principle is to wash the less dirty items first.

    1. When I first read this, I was struck by the statement that when you wash dishes you need “a good soap, ammonia or borax to soften the water. . . ” I’ve never used soap to wash dishes–and never heard of adding ammonia or borax to the water.

    1. Wow, I can’t even imagine how many dishes you must have washed at the restaurant. I can understand why you were glad when they got dishwashers.

  1. Reading this brought back memories of washing dishes by hand with my grandmother when I was a child. She loved doing the dishes! She told me her mother never allowed her to do the dishes so she couldn’t wait until she left home and had her own to wash. As for me, I had to do them every other night when I was growing up and am now very grateful to have a dishwasher. (But it was fun doing them with Grandmother in her kitchen!)

  2. Doing dishes was a social occasion as well as a household chore. And there were different towels for drying different objects: glassware and other delicate items required what we called tea towels. Right now, I should go practice the art in my kitchen, where a bit of yesterday is waiting to be dealt with!

    1. Your comment about how doing dishes used to be a social occasion reminded me that my mother used to say that when she was a child, the children in her family had to do the dishes. Each day one child got to be the reader. This child read a book or story aloud while the others washed and dried the dishes.

    1. I’m glad you like it. We probably wash dishes by hand about half of the time. If we just have a few, we hand wash them; but when there are a lot, we use the dishwasher. Even when we use the dishwasher, we often have pots and pans that we wash by hand.

  3. How little we appreciate things like detergent. At one point many years ago when our children were little, I tried to spare the environment by using soap rather than detergent to wash the dishes. It was awful. Not only was it hard to get the dishes clean, it was difficult to clean off the counters satisfactorily. I gave it up and returned to detergent.

    And by the way, I don’t know what my father used, but dishwashing time used to be family time when I was growing up, the youngest — by far — of three. My father washed, my mother cleared and put away, and I dried. We spent a lot of time singing as well as talking. A nice memory evoked by an earlier comment.

    1. What a lovely memory! It sounds wonderful to sing while washing and drying the dishes. I hadn’t realized until I read the description in the old book about how to wash dishes that people once used soap. I’m guessing the detergents must have been invented less than a hundred years ago.

      1. Detergents were invented during the War, since soap was rationed. Housewives found that they much preferred detergents, anyway (anybody remember the Rinso “crud”) so soap died a quick death.

        1. Thanks for the info. I learned something new. I have a vague memory that I once heard that plastics were invented during WWII, but I had no idea that detergents were something that didn’t exist until the 1940s.

          1. The idea was that fats were used in the manufacture of soap, and fats were needed for the War effort. If I recall correctly, they needed them to oil the guns. Interesting stuff, huh?

  4. I grinned on this, I wonder what ever inspired someone to write an article on dishing washing!Then I tried to remember how young I was when Mom had my brother and I do the dishes. I honestly don’t know how old I was… I do remember my brother and l had some good times doing dishes together,with a few squabbles happening.;) and I’m still doing dishes, which I enjoy. More now than in the growing up years.

    1. I got this out of a hundred-year-old home economics textbook. The early 1900s was the era when home economics was a very popular subject for women. People believed that men should learn how to scientifically manage businesses–and that the scientific management of their homes could be equally rewarding for women.

  5. Washing dishes by hand – a lost art? I love these instructions from the past. When the lights go out this winter and my dishwasher is useless, I will hit the suds again.

    1. On days when I don’t have very many dishes, I still wash them by hand. But it’s awfully nice to use the dishwasher when I have a lot. πŸ™‚

  6. Yes, I miss the chatting time I associate with paired washing up. Lots of major conversations in my life were had to the feel of tea towels and the steam rising from drying pots and pans.

  7. I enjoyed the story! When I was in South Africa, I learned they do not rinse the dishes. They wash, stack on a drainboard, and then dry the soapy water and put them away. I always had to rinse when I washed, and if no one was in the kitchen, I always rewashed and rinsed my glass when it had been put away after just drying off the soapy water. We are culture-bound often, aren’t we?

    1. Yes, I guess we are. I never would have thought something like dish washing practices would vary from country to country. Somehow it just doesn’t seem right not to rinse dishes.

  8. My mom’s friends, when in their 70s and 80s, wintered on a small island in the Caribbean; they rented a small house across the street from the ocean and were mildly concerned about the safety of the water, so they always washed their dishes with Borax. I remember visiting them and how they asked my mom if she remembered the good old days of using Borax.

      1. 20 Mule Team Borax was for the laundry, and then came Boraxo. 20 Mule Team is back (picture wise) and is definitely a cleaning/deodorizing agent in the laundry.

  9. This is basically how I wash dishes, except I leave my pots soaking for a bit in the water while I clean up the rest of the kitchen and while still hot I fill with hot soapy water for easy clean up. Mom used borax too for clothes too if I remember correctly. I still see it on shelves, maybe I should try some.

    1. I never paid any attention to whether they sell borax at the supermarket where I shop. Now I’m curious. If they do, I might have to try it, too.

  10. Hello Sheryl,
    Because of he drought in California, we have reverted to washing dishes in a bucket and using the gray water for plants in the garden. So we have reverted to back 100 years with doing what comes naturally!

    1. Whew, the drought sure sounds bad in California – though I guess that it does provide an opportunity for doing some things the “old” way. πŸ™‚

  11. I washed and dried dishes a lot when I was younger. It was always a family activity. I think my formal dish washing training came from Brownies. They taught us the rules!

  12. It’s interesting to see the rules all written down like this–it seems odd at first but then I can understand how some of this wouldn’t be common sense to the uninitiated. Like others, I learned dishwashing in my grandmother’s kitchen so reading your post brought back nice memories!

    1. I’m glad this post brought back some nice memories. A hundred years ago there was a push for women to “scientifically manage” their homes–and my sense is that home economists tried to develop processes and procedures that would help women do it better.

    1. I never thought about it quite this way, but you may be right. Home economists definitely were trying to “scientifically” describe how to do various household tasks in the early 1900s. Is putting dishes, glasses, and silverware into the dishwater in no specific order an art? If so, that may be how I wash dishes. I generally try to wash the “cleanest” items first–but which specific items I wash first varies from one meal to the next.

      1. I see putting dishes in the dishwasher like a jigsaw puzzle — I try to maximize my utilization of the space. I also wash dishes with soap and borax acid and soak the cutlery in soapy water so that they are easier to clean. I want my dishes clean, but I also want to conserve water. What can I say? I take washing dishes very seriously!

      2. I also wanted to add that I use ammonia too, but not together with the borax. Ammonia is good for cutting grease and I believe extends the soap’s cleaning ability. It took me a while to figure out a good routine for doing dishes. I think I would have benefited from such an article earlier.

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