Doing dishes without running water : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

Somehow, (I'm not sure how this came about) I promised my ten year old son that I'd submit a countryside Article if he would do an extra credit essay at school. Anyway,I'm writing on doing dishes without running water-I know some of you don't have running water-and I'd love to hear your comments. The slant of this article will be for those of us that do usually have this utility and for some reason its been turned off-often people lose water during storms, or in Kentucky, we've often had problems with drought or questionable water quality. The other day a chemical truck crashed at another town and residents were advised not to use the water til it could be inspected. Maybe your without water while moving or remodeling? Any way, any thoughts, suggestions or comments would be appreciated. Thanks.

-- Kelly (, January 15, 2002


Hmmm! I usually keep several plastic jugs of water in my basement just for this reason. I have on done dishes while camping and used lake water, river water, melted snow or broken through the ice to get water. My firends grandparents and many of the old Norwedgen, Finn, Swedish homesteaders in this area used snow and lake/river water year round. Campfire to make it hot or a propane burner do the trick. Two dishpans or some other divise for holding dish water and rinse water. It isn't a very difficult thing. Getting a body clean is a little more difficult but also possible using the same water sources. Hope this is the sort of thing you are looking for. I am blesses to live in an state where we have abundant water.

-- Susan northern MN (, January 15, 2002.

Don't know if this will help but while growing up at the foot of the Sierra our cistern would sometimes not be filled if the pump" turned belly up and floated to the surface". Mom would have my brother and dad bring water from the creek. She told me to ALWAYS boil the water first, put chlorox in the wash water along with the soap, rinse with clear chlorox water and do a final rinse with clear, boiled water. We were taught that there is no such thing as "clean" water in nature and to be careful of bacteria and parasites. Sounds like a fun project. I bet the really fun part will be reading the suggestions. LQ

-- Little Quacker (, January 15, 2002.

You only need one dishpan, really. You can always rinse the dishes by pouring water over them all after you're done. You don't even need hot water, tho the grease comes off much better with it - unless someone has a cold, then you'd want it to help kill germs. Scape all dishes with a rubber spatula or scaper to get food residue off. NO FOOD IN DISHWATER!! Sorry - major gripe at my house; hard to get dishes clean and bad for drains as well. The important thing is to wash your dishes in a certain order. Start with the glasses, then plates and cups etc... Then add a bit more hot water if you're using hot; and do the silverware and then cassaroles and pots and pans last. If you have really burned on stuff; put the pan on the stove with water covering the burned on portion; add a heaping serving spoon of baking soda and simmer it for a short while - the food will scrape off easily. I've heard that it's healthier to let dishes air dry rather than drying them with a towel; but I would think it would be okay to dry them if you used a clean towel each time you did dishes.

-- Polly (, January 15, 2002.

Kelly, I live in rain central, but we do have droughts here occasionally, and all the usually full shallow wells go dry. living on the beach in a communal set up back in 95 we made a solar still. There are numerous styles of them, but they encorporate a pit, covered by plastic on which water condenses that had evaporated from the earth. A weight (a stone perhaps) holds the plastic down in the center providing a place for the water to drip down to. A receptical is placed under the stone in the pit. In the receptical is some tube or hose that can be used for siphoning or sipping. Besides that I agree with Polly on most of the points that she brought up. In the beach commune, we washed are dishes in ocean water, sometimes right on the beach, and sometimes boiled on the woodstove, propane stove, or open fire. Beach sand works as a good pot scrubber, as do horsetails. I've 'washed' dishes with straight sand, and boiled water later when I was cooking again to rinse them. If someone is really sick, wash their dishes seperately in a bowl of very hot water, and pour boiling water over them to rinse. Making sure the sick person washes their hands, face, and rinsing the mouth with a salt gargle before eating will help decrease infectious activity. Boiling water for at least 5 minutes, 10 minutes to be sure, will kill most micro-critters, and eggs. Swamp, and bog areas are natural water purifiers, water may not taste good, but it's probably safer boiled then the chemical slurry that's in most ditches. Cistern your rainwater, so that it is around when other functions are not. I plan to recycle bathtubs from the landfill to use as cisterns in the yard. Limit your need for dishes in a time of crisis. eat off shakes of wood, using fresh chopsticks that you feed to the fire, or on newsprint for that matter. Improvise. Save most of your water for drinking. Go survival, and primitive, but be safe, and make it fun. You can also make an evaporating still using non poisonous plants in a plastic bag in the sun. The leaves will sweat out thier water, and it has nutrients in it for soup or drink. You'd probably not get enough to wash dishes with. Anyway I hope some of this helps.

-- roberto pokachinni on B.C. N.Coast (, January 15, 2002.

You could always pack the snow like a snowball and use clean snow for the scrubbie (grin).

Although if I were without water I would probably change my eating habits somewhat (eat fruit, for example, or other finger foods) and eliminate the need for dishes.

-- GT (, January 15, 2002.

I fold mine in half and throw them in the fire :-}

-- Laura (, January 15, 2002.

We lived without running water for years. We had to haul the water in barrels at one place, at another cabin the water came in buckets from an open well.

Assuming you don't have plumbing, and that you can't let the water go down a drain, here is how we did it. We had two dishpans, one for washing one for rinsing, this makes the most of the water beacuase you can do a lot more dishes. There was always at least one pot (it held a gallon or two) of water heating on the stove. When it gets really hot, almost boiling, fill one dishpan with the dishes you are going to do first. I liked to do glasses, cups, and silverware first, these are usually not very grimy and the glasses are hard to get clean if the water gets greasy. Add dishsoap to the washing dishpan. Pour the hot water into both dishpans, do not fill them all the way up,give the rinse pan more hot water than the washing pan. Add a little cold water as necessary til you can just barely put your hand in the water. It will cool off quickly enough. Fish the glasses out and wash them, drop them into the rinsewater, then when the rinse pan is full, take all those out and put them on the drying rack or dishtowel or whatever. After glasses and cups, bowls, and plates. Then plastic tupperware type things and pots and pans. If you have a really big load of dishes, The wash water will cool off. Pour it out into a bucket (to be dumped in the garden or flowerbed) pour the rinsewater into the wash pan and put new hot water in the rinsing side.

My husband wonders why I still hate doing dishes!!

-- Rebekah (, January 15, 2002.

I have never been without running water, but I visited with one of the students I tutor at the local college who had returned from visiting relatives in Mexico and she said they had no running water. They would haul water in and she said it really wasn't too bad because they were used to it and knew what to do. It is difficult for us because we are used to running water. I didn't ask many details, but she did saw that when they washed their hair, they would just pour pitchers of water over it to wet and rinse it.

-- connie in nm (, January 15, 2002.

Thought about this some more...

Since you're going at this from the perspective of someone who usually has running water and is without temporarily, here are a few other tips to consider.

Cut down on the amount of dishes you use. Assign everyone a drinking utensil and make them use it, and only it during the day. We did this when we were kids and it didn't kill us. We each had a differnt color of one of those metal glasses - remember them?! A quick rinse will get out most residue like from milk for instance, then that water could be tossed in the pet/stock bucket for the critters. You also don't need a knife, fork and spoon at every meal - get along with a fork and share the butter knife or cut everyones meat in bite size pieces before putting it on their plates.

If you don't happen to have a dishpan on hand when this hits, try using your canner, or biggest cookpot. Heat the water and wash the dishes (and the dishpan) in one pan. If you do use a dishpan, fill it half full of cold water, then add hot til it's the right temp - you'll save hot water.

Make more one dish meals. There are lots of things you can make in a dutch oven and have only the dutch oven and knife and wooden spoon to clean later. Soups, stews, cassaroles...

I have propane so I have an oven and stove top available even when I don't have electricity for the water pump; but I have, when out camping, cooked stew in my dutch oven, put canned biscuts on the lid of the dutch oven and then covered it with another skillet to bake them over an open fire. Using a grill, or foods that can be cooked over a fire (hot dogs?) will cut down on dishes too.

If you feel you must wash dishes after every meal, at least save the rinse water to heat to use for the dishwater after the next meal.

-- Polly (, January 15, 2002.

Hello Kelly,

First let me say that there are a lot of people, especially "out here"; who live without running water. I myself would qualify as one of them, and it is my choice. It has been almost 60 years now since I was born in a real hospital, and came home to a real house with running water and a public sewer system. I just don't have to live like that anymore. Now for more than 14 years we have lived "off the sidewalks", with among other things no "public" running water. We do have a capped spring for a drinking water system. There is no need for chlorine, because the system is pure. Also I have built a rainwater catchment system, that catches rainwater from the roof and stores it in a tank until it is needed for things like washing, dishes, clothing, or even me. All of this is done without a monthly bill, and without the oversight of a system of government employees. In other words after the beginning investment the system is free.

Now I think that we as a people are sometimes victims of over education, or the wrong kind of education. As an example I often have problems setting a digital clock, but most 9 year olds can program a VCR... So you need to know how to wash dishes without running water.

The first thing you will need is a "dishpan". No small problem all by itself. The other day we needed to repalce our "dishpan". So we went to our local Wal-Mart. My wife went in to look for a "dishpan", and could not find one. Then she found a friendly clerk, a young woman of about 19 or 20 years of age (my guess), and asked her where to find a "dishpan". The clerk asked "what is that"? After some 20 minutes of conversation it was determined that the clerk did not know what a "dishpan" was. She did know what a dishwasher was, and it was determined that Wal-Mart did not have a "dishpan". The operation Then moved to Dollar General Store, where they had a dishpan, and an older (still younger than me) clerk who knew what a "dishpan' was.

A "dishpan" is a large pan that is used to wash dishes in, and is good for other things too. Just look at it as if your kitchen sink (for the folks with plumbing in the house) is a built in "dishpan".

O.K. Now we can start. First we need some dirty dishes. No real problem, we usually keep them in the "dishpan". After the meal is finished we just put them in the "dishpan" until time to wash them. The dishes are washed the same way they would be washed in a sink. We just get some hot water, off or the wood burning stove (we have to heat it up manually), and put it into the "dishpan" along with the dirty dishes and some soap. It is usually too hot to put your hands in, and we let it sit and soak the dishes until it cools off. This helps get the dishes clean as well. Now we set up a second "dishpan" with the rinse water in it. All this is set up on the kitchen table, or a countertop. We wash the dishes by hand, and then put them in the rinse pan. We then take them out and put them in a "dish drainer". This is something like the rack inside a dishwasher. We let the dishes air dry and put them away. You could wipe them dry with a dish towel, and put them away but this seems like added work.

When the job is done we put the "grey water" on our garden, or down our "grey water" drain. Either way the water is placed back into nature and does not ever leave the property. We require no sewage treatment plant to take care of the water, and no government employees will be needed to oversee this operation. It is also noteworthy that we have not gotten a water bill, or sewage bill in the 14 years we have lived here. This works pretty well for us.

-- Ed Copp (OH) (, January 16, 2002.

Put them on the floor where your dog can reach them! :)

-- john hill (, January 16, 2002.

Ed, that discertation was great! You wash dishes the same way I do, except I hand pump my water. I still cannot figure why people think it's a big mystery how to wash dishes without running water. --Happy trails, CAbin Fever (getting off the floor from laughing so hard!)

-- Cabin Fever (, January 17, 2002.

Ed: What do you use for soap/detergent that is ok for putting the water in the garden?

-- Ann Markson (, January 17, 2002.

The kind of soap...

That does not do harm to the garden is plain old Ivory hand soap. Just drop the bar in when adding the hot water, and take it out when the water cools a bit; set it aside and use when necessary. You will never see this advertised on T.V. but then again you would have to go elswhere to watch T.V. anyway. This works quite well. Three bars for a dollar (U.S.), up from four bars for a dollar a year or so ago. We don't have any hidden inflation (HA HA), but that is another post.

-- Ed Copp (OH) (, January 17, 2002.

I've found the best "dishpan" for use on a woodstove was a large pan that Walmart sells in their canning section. It it the same speckled color as a canner except it has a baling handle on it. I put it on the woodstove with water and dishes when the water is the temp. that I like to wash dishes I just start and use a second one for rinse water. I believe they are less than $10.00. I also use it for so many things, snapping beans, heating canning jars, even a bathtub for my 15 mos. old, however not on the woodstove.

-- (, January 17, 2002.

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