11 Ways to Make Washing Dishes More Cheery and Less Dreary

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Earlier this week we asked our readers a very important question: How do you make washing dishes less awful? Some of you reacted philosophically, asking what’s so bad about this little chore? We salute you. But others of you confessed to lifelong dread and hatred of the never-ending task of washing dishes.

But nearly all of our commenters also offered a tip or two that makes dishwashing less burdensome. Here are 11 of the most talked-about (and helpful!) ideas for making your dishwashing reality more cheery and less dreary.

I have to confess I’m on the same page with Cyclokitty, who says: “By the gods, I hate washing dishes. Not once in my dishwashing chore career have I ever liked washing glasses, flatware, pots, pans, not one thing. It is a chore.” Amen, Cyclokitty. Schwed followed on with, “I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate doing dishes. With a fiery passion.” I hear your pain.

The reality of dishes is that as long as you cook, there will be dishes, and someone’s gotta do them. How do you fit them into your evening (or morning) with cheer? Here is lots of good advice, from the obvious to the new.

Read the whole thread of comments: How Do You Make Washing Dishes Less Awful?

1. Wash (and rinse) as you go

This was clearly the most prevalent advice from our readers. Wash your dishes before they have a chance to get crusty; try to wash the pan as soon as you use it.

I try to wash as I go. I fill the sink with soapy water and chuck in the dishes as I am done with them. Then when I have a few minutes while something is cooking, I wash them. – heather_anne

2. Learn to reuse tools and bowls as you cook

This is a smart tip that I don’t think everyone thinks of. You can stack measuring spoons or measuring cups off the to the side and reuse them as you cook, or wipe a mixing bowl out and use it twice, so things don’t pile up quite so badly.

I definitely clean as I go and I learned that you can easily wipe out bowls with a paper towel without having to wash them if the ingredients are dry or not overly gooey if you are going to use them again during the cooking session (learned this in culinary school). – ChefEllen
And never under-estimate the value of re-using measuring cups and spoons for the same dish. If I have a recipe that calls for a third of a cup of this and a whole cup of that, I’ll use the third cup measure for both just so I don’t have to wash an extra cup. – Triptik

3. Share the duties

Dishwashing is better when it’s done by a team! When I lived alone with approximately two square feet of counter space (and stacked pots on the floor out of sheer necessity) my dating fantasies sometimes revolved around finding someone to share the dish duties. Those of you lucky enough to have a roommate or partner to help out know the beauty of this arrangement.

Teamwork (I swear my husband and I can take care of the kitchen in less than half the time). – CatherineJop
My plan is to just marry someone who hates cooking – I’ll cook, you do dishes, always. – Schwed

4. Listen to podcasts, audiobooks, or music

Podcasts have enjoyed a renaissance of both quantity and quality the last year or two, and many of you like to listen to something entertaining or educational while you do dishes. And of course a good playlist, like our own Playlist for Cleaning the Kitchen, is always welcome.

I can make myself do just about anything as long as I have a good podcast to focus on. – hitch
…while I waited for our new washer to come in, I managed to brush up on my French and Spanish, and I even learned some basic Mandarin Chinese. I’d say this is the key, download a podcast you like or one that will teach you a skill and some days I’d almost be disappointed when the entire sink was empty and the dishes were done. – Emma of the barberry

5. Watch TV or the iPad

I was surprised at how many people say they watch TV while doing dishes — and not just with an old-school TV, but with an iPad propped up the sink! This is so smart!

I have discovered I can prop my iPad up on the window sill in front of my sink and I watch TV so I don’t tend to notice I’m doing dishes anymore! – Kathy Hawkes
A BIG selling point of my current apartment was that I can see the TV from the kitchen sink, so I often put on shows that don’t require rapt attention while washing dishes. – loubeelou

6. Always start the evening with an empty dishwasher (or dish rack)

Give yourself somewhere to start, and an easy way to make a difference in the dishes by beginning with an empty dishwasher or drying rack. This lets you get going speedily. This is one of my own personal best motivations too!

An empty drying rack is really the best motivation for me! I never want to wash dishes if the drying rack is full, and usually I have just washed something little and added it to a mostly full rack, so everything is a little wet, but I’m not about to dry it so I let it sit. And then I let the dirty dishes sit too. So if I can remember to empty the drying rack before I even consider starting to wash things, I’m good to go! – caralovesyou
I have a dishwasher but to me the secret of keeping dishes in check is in emptying the dishwasher promptly after it’s done running. If I do that it’s not much trouble to rinse and stash things in there as I go. – adamwa

7. Gather and contain dishes somewhere other than the sink.

When the sink is cluttered and full of dishes, it’s harder to get going. So keep the sink empty and clean, and put the dishes elsewhere. Some of you use tubs of hot soapy water; others stack neatly to the side.

I also use a walled tray to gather dishwasher items, rather than putting them in the sink. It keeps them contained and off our marble countertops, and I can’t use the sink to clean up if it’s full of dishes. – CatherineJop

8. Set a timer

This is such a smart trick! If you’ve fallen behind, or have a big mess to clean up, set a timer for just 15 minutes and do as much as you can in that time. You’ll probably get further than you think you will, and it cuts through the overwhelm.

Sometimes when it’s really bad (especially if I’m alone), I just set a timer and promise myself I only have to do it for 15 minutes. Usually I’ll be surprised how much I’ve gotten done in that time and the finish line is near. – CatherineJop

9. Motivate yourself with small luxuries

Keep the atmosphere smelling nice with a dishwashing soap you love (or even a candle).

I agree that nice smelling dish soap is helpful, I also burn a nice candle when I do the dishes. – Shelf81
I put on hand cream and then my rubber gloves and load the dishwasher with everything that can go in it, then wash my knives and pots and pans by hand prior to turning on the dishwasher. This way I’m not at the sink for terribly long, my hands get a nice intense moisturizing (aided by the heat from the water through the gloves)… – Wendy A

10. Buy the right kinds of tools and dishware.

This is a more long-term solution, but several readers pointed out that they prefer to buy only dishes that can go in the dishwasher, or tools that are easy to clean.

I’ve gotten to where I balance the convenience of a tool or container against the difficulty getting it clean. I’ve ditched a lot of stuff, like a garlic press and my Foreman grill and an apple corer, because the convenience offered was less than the effort of getting them clean again. – Triptik

11. Change the way you think about washing dishes

This is a slightly more controversial point, but quite a few of our readers urged us all to, in the immortal words of Nike, “Just do it,” and accept the reality of dishwashing with Zen-like abandon. There are plenty of us who just hate washing dishes no matter what, but perhaps some of you more contemplative types will find inspiration in this advice.

I’ve never disliked washing dishes. It’s a nice meditative task after the excitement of cooking and sharing the meal with my husband. Plus, if you have a dish soap you really like (Mrs. Meyers and the new Seventh Generation Lemon & Tea Tree are my favorites) you can just focus on how good it smells 🙂 – esposetta
Without sounding self-righteous (hopefully), I think that washing dishes is a great opportunity to meditate and practice gratitude. When you think about it, washing dishes is really a blessing because of what it says about you (enough food to eat, dishes to eat it off of). – Anna_K.

Any more tips to add? Smart routines or kitchen design choices that have helped make dishes less onerous?

If you are in a place to design your kitchen around better dishwashing flow, I love this tip:

I also love this tip about adding a foot pedal; that was something I wanted to do in our kitchen (and just ran out of budget, at the end).

This is sort of weird and definitely not an option for everyone, but the thing that made dishes faster and easier for us was installing foot pedal valves for the faucet. You can use both hands to hold dishes while turning the water on with your toes. It also helps prevent cross contamination from icky hands and saves a ton of water, which is important in our desert climate. – Katlian