The Reality of Handwashing Dishes for a Family of Five


I am one dedicated slob blogger, y’all.

Unless you’re brand spankin’ new around here, you know how I feel about doing the dishes. I don’t love it and never will, but I know for a fact (from experience) that doing the dishes is THE thing that will get any house going on its deslobification process.

And NOT doing the dishes is (logically) the very best way to produce the opposite effect on a home. The re-slobification or continued slobification of a home.

But I know that not every person in the world has an automatic dishwasher. I also know that people who don’t have dishwashers don’t like listening to people who do have dishwashers. I’ve written about that before here: 5 Truths about a Clean Kitchen that Are Still True if You Don’t Have a Dishwasher.

I based that previous post on my own week-at-a-time experiences cooking daily but not having an automatic dishwasher at my parents’ place where we stay at “the lake.”

But last summer (I do NOT know why it took me so long to write this post!), I went further and did some official research. Like, science project type research. Like, take pictures and write-down-data-after-every-meal-for-the-entire-time-we-were-there research.

I was all in.

Partly it was for y’all. Mostly, though, I just need (again and again and again) to eliminate my own excuses. I am awesome at coming up with amazing excuses, even when I know exactly what needs to be done.

And being on vacation is the very best excuse ever (ever, ever) for not doing the dishes. And being on vacation without a dishwasher (other than my own two hands) is even better than the very best excuse.

What I did:

I wrote down the meals we ate and the time it took to handwash the dishes we used for each meal. Occasionally, I also wrote down how I felt about it.


I recorded what we ate so you can get a real idea of the time required for the type of cooking. They’re all simple meals, but I don’t get very fancy at home anyway. (See my recipes here.)

Timing myself doing tasks I dislike is my very best strategy for combating my T.P.A.D. problem. Time Passage Awareness Disorder. I talk about that here.

We used paper plates and cups. I don’t use paper products at home, but we were on vacation. And I’m not that dedicated.

How Long Does It Take to Handwash Dishes?

Day 1:


Meal: Ribs and Chicken Breasts on the grill, fruit and buttered noodles.

Dishwashing time: 9 minutes (for real)

Day 2:


Meal: Pancakes and Bacon (bacon was cooked in the oven on a cookie sheet covered in foil)

Dishwashing Time: Less than 10 minutes, including drying and putting away the griddle and the cookie sheet because I couldn’t balance them on the drying rack.

Includes time spent trying desperately to balance the griddle and cookie sheet on the drying rack to avoid having to dry and put them away immediately. Also included wiping down the counters.

Note from myself: “It turned 9:30 as I looked at the clock.” I assume this means I started at 9:20. And was intent on being clear that this took LESS than ten minutes. Including wiping down counters.

Did you catch that I also wiped down counters? OK. Good.


Day 2, Meal 2 (I assume we picnicked for lunch like usual): lasagna, salad

Time: 13 Minutes. This included putting away breakfast dishes and drying and putting away two cookie sheets.

Notes to myself: I was excited about the disposable pan for the lasagna. I did NOT want to do the dishes. I wanted to go to bed.

Day 3:


Meal 1: Biscuits, bacon, and eggs

Time: 6 Dread-Free Minutes including wiping down cabinets and drying and putting away the large skillet.

Notes: “No dread, 6 easy minutes.”

Meal 2: OUT TO EAT Wahooooo!!!

Day 4:


Meal 1: Waffles and bacon

Time: 10 minutes “including washing a tray from the ‘island.'”

Thoughts: Obviously, I felt quite the martyr washing that tray. That extra tray. That tray we technically didn’t eat off or serve from. Rude tray. Dared to get dirty.


Meal 2: French Dip Sandwiches, Salad

Time: 9 minutes with help (from my kids), “including wiping up of splashed counters/floors from overzealous washing”

Thoughts: I wrote down that this dishwashing included 5 mugs which we used for the “dip” part of the French Dip Sandwiches. I assume (months later) that I had someone dry those mugs and put them away since they aren’t in the photo.

Day 5:

Biscuits, eggs, leftover sausage.

Notes: forgot to time or take photo.

But I did clean it up. And even without knowing exactly how long it took to clean up that particular meal’s dishes, I know for a fact it was way (WAY, way) less time than I’d have needed if I hadn’t done the dishes after each  meal for the previous four days.


Clarification #1: Yes, I noticed (while writing this post, obviously not before taking pictures) that the cabinet door is open behind the dish drainer in some of the photos. It happens in my world.

Clarification #2: I’d normally pull the family in on these dishwashing sessions, but I was so focused on timing things that I guess I forgot. They didn’t complain one bit about being forgotten. And honestly, it would have probably taken longer to have them help since we weren’t in “our” kitchen.

Clarification #3: We do not eat such huge breakfasts every day in our normal lives, but while on vacation at the lake, Hubby makes big breakfasts. It’s his thing, and we all love it.


I have preached the “One Day’s Worth of Dishes Takes Ten Minutes” thing so much (do you have my book?) so it was gratifying (and told-ya-so smirk-producing) to prove that the concept is still true when handwashing. Obviously, using non-disposable cups and plates would add time.

I would LOVE for you to time yourself doing one day’s worth of dishes today (however you do them) and report your time here in the comments.








  1. 1

    We have a dishwasher, but do the dishes by hand. It takes almost a week to fill the dishwasher when it’s just two peeps, so I prefer to just wash them and put them away. Done!

  2. 3

    I hand-wash the day’s dishes most evenings, and it rarely takes more than 15 minutes. And that’s with non-disposable plates and cups. When I leave them for 2 days, I end up with more than will fit in the dish drainer and I have to hand dry some too. Doing them after dinner every day means I have a clean counter for most of the day, too.

  3. 5

    When I would hand wash dishes the absolute key was washing from least to most dirty. Glasses first, pans last.

    A larger pile of dishes meant changing the water and that added to the time, but the time for each given pan of water was right about 10 minutes.

    (Random scary fact of the day, some people don’t rinse their dishes when they wash. They just wash and dry.

    Random fun fact of the day, in Finland they’ve got a cupboard for drying dishes. A whole cupboard! I’d handwash so much if I had one of those.)

  4. 6
    Martha Ramirez says:

    I washed my dishes by hand today because I didn’t unload the dishwasher on FRIDAY morning -__- since I didn’t do dishes Friday Saturday or Sunday (because I figured I’d give myself the weekend off for doing the dishes 3 days in a row last week, and we ate out with relatives and such, against Nony’s little voice in my head about dishes math). I don’t want to do them because it would take forever, since I’d be washing them by hand! Took me 27 minutes (I was distracted by a fashion q&a, and I was purposely not trying to rush against time so as to get real results). I wish I could post the pics because I took them!

  5. 8
    RedheadedCyclone says:

    It doesn’t take me any longer than 10 or 15 seconds… ’cause that’s how long it takes me to say ‘Thanks for doing the dishes!’ to my hubby! hahahaha…. um…. oh…

    Yeah, I go by songs when I do the dishes (my most despised would-rather-clean-the-whole-house-and toilets-every-day job) and it’s usually just short of 3 songs… unless I’m listening to Rush and then it’s about 2/3s of one song… which is about 10 minutes, but feels like it’s less time ’cause it’s just 3 songs or less!

  6. 9

    This was the exact message I needed to read today.I was boycotting my kitchen because I just came back from four days out of the house, to a dishwasher full of dishes that I didn’t know if they were clean or dirty and counter tops overflowing with four days worth of dirty dishes. I couldn’t justify just re running the load in the dishwasher with so many dishes needing to be washed, but I obviously couldn’t empty dirty dishes to refill the dishwasher. I had apparently conveniently forgotten handwashing dishes was possible. So i timed myself, four days worth of gross dried on food dishes took 37 minutes. Plus 10 minutes to clear off and wipe up the counters. Thanks for this.

  7. 10

    I cook dinner, Hubby does the dishes. I used to feel guilty that he had chores to do after work, when I’d been around the house (with the kids) all day. Then I realised he spent less than 10 minutes in the kitchen each evening – including wiping the counters down! Guilt gone 😉

  8. 11

    I hand wash all of our dishes, with a brand new, not-yet-hooked-up dishwasher that has been staring mockingly at me for almost a year. Sigh. I have four children who insist upon eating multiple times per day. My answer: it is never quick. I feel like it could be quicker, but it never is.

  9. 12

    Used to spend summers at camp. Cow camp. No electricity and no running water. My aunt, a fabulous cook, had full stove run by propane and fridge also converted to propane. Dishes were washed with water from the cistern heated on stove. Labor provided by grandkids and me (we were of like ages) I appreciate my running hot water and dishwasher.

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