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.

  10. 13

    With 8 people in the family it takes about 20-25 minutes per supper and maybe 10-15 per breakfast/dinner (aka lunch) to hand wash dishes. We don’t own a dishwasher so I don’t even have the option if I wanted to.

  11. 14

    This is great! At first I thought “But wait, she says they used paper plates and cups.” But I really don’t think those would have added more than three minutes or so, per wash, even for a largish group of people. Thanks for reminding us that it really doesn’t take as long as we think it’s going to. It’s the visual of THE STACK that’s intimidating!

  12. 16
    Jolynn Haymaker says:

    I use to use a dishwasher. I got so tired of unloading it. When I constantly lost things because of too many things, I stripped down everything. I wash by hand now and wash and put away dishes as I cook. I just automatically start a sink of sudsy water as I cook. There are 4 of us and I have enough dishes for one meal in my cabinet. I have donated most except for a matching set( put away.) I try to prepare most of the meal early in the day. It would be rough trying to do this on an 8 to 5 job. I think RESET. I try now to keep my sink clean and empty all day long. It has so worked for me. I also do laundry every day. I need less of everything this way.

  13. 17
    LISA DUGGAN says:

    I had a brand new dishwasher with a big family and i would rather do by hand then load the dishwasher any day I hated unloading the dishwasher and my kids would rather put away a few then a whole load in dishwasher anyday My daughter made a good point it took a hour to run the dishwasher and 5 minutes to do a load by hand and i still get them sterilize because i use the hottest water possible to do them. I soak the bad ones for about 5 minutes before i wash and i change the water a few times with super big loads just to keep everything clean.

  14. 18

    Hmm,…maybe I need to do some “research” over here. I manage to dirty half the kitchen at dinner time around here, because I have to cook it all from scratch. I feel like it would take me over 30 minutes to wash, dry and put away one dinner load.

  15. 20

    I am learning the realities of hand-washing. I’ve had a dishwasher since I was 6. Now, I am without one while my house is being rebuilt. I skipped the dishes a couple of days in a row and now I have a sink full. Last night, even though I didn’t wash all the dishes, I made myself wash a few so it would be better. This is the message I needed to remind me that staying on top of it would make the job easier. Thanks!

  16. 21

    Hi Dana, I had a good belly laugh when I read your clarification #1- I hadn’t even noticed the cupboard doors either!
    When I had a dishwasher, I dreaded loading it, and unloading it just as bad as I do hand washing! And it was so annoying to sit there and hear that noise all night! Ok, maybe it was only an hour- whatever.
    Now that I have no dish washer, and I make myself just wash them already, it only takes 8 minutes or so, on a day with guests! And then all’s quiet! And I can totally forget that dishes exist!! After breakfast, when it’s just me, no grands, it takes about 90 seconds to wash my bowl, cup, and spoon.
    Liz- Who doesn’t rinse??? ICK!

  17. 22
    JulieBaby says:

    I have a dishwasher and use it to store some of my clean, empty canning jars. When I want to do a big canning project I just run the dishwasher and everything is clean and hot.

    A couple of years ago I realized that, although I did not like washing dishes, I hated unloading the dishwasher even more. I hated the way it tricked me: I’d clean up after supper and fill the dishwasher and feel like I was done. Only I wasn’t done. The next morning I still had to unload the thing, and if I didn’t get to it right away we’d have a full dishwasher AND dirty dishes in the sink. I realized I’d rather just wash them by hand and get it done with.

  18. 23

    I have to share a funny story… When I was a teenager, I was at a friend’s house for lunch. She had to finish her chores before we could go play on the trampoline in the backyard. Her chore was to wash all of the dishes by hand. I’m a nice friend, so I hopped up there and helped her with these dishes. I was appalled at how poorly she was washing and rinsing them…food and suds left on EVERYTHING! I called her out on it, and she just laughed and told me that she rarely got assigned to wash dishes, because she intentionally did a crappy job of it. Her strategy worked well for her. Before long, she wasn’t allowed near the dirty dishes.

    My mom, on the other hand, would have stood there watching while forcing me to rewash every single thing until it passed her inspection. And it would be my only chore until I could whip out a sparkling batch of hand washed dishes. I’m grateful for my mom! (…now)

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