How to Wash the Dishes - Peter Miller Book Excerpt

Cleaning

11 Unexpected Things I Learned From the Marie Kondo of Dishwashing

There's an art (and joy) to preparing a meal, but also to putting it all away.

March 12, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

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I never thought I needed a book to teach me how to wash dishes. How to sous vide? Yes. How to realize my storage goals? Perhaps. But to wash dishes, that most quotidian of household tasks?

Yet...here it is.

When it arrived on my desk a few months ago, a jewel-box of a book, I couldn’t put it down. Because while I am no dishwashing enthusiast, who doesn't love a writer who can take the prosaic and turn it into poetry? And that’s exactly what Peter Miller does with How to Wash the Dishes.

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Top Comment:
“I also love washing the dishes, and really enjoyed watching Peter Miller here. So good. Interestingly, I have developed the same style and pattern as he demonstrates here. It's a really good time for thinking. ”
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Miller popped into the Food52 kitchen the other day—a rare bird among our guests, not here to sauté or roast or bake, but to offer to wash the dishes after us! We had to ask him: Why a book on dishwashing? “It’s simple,” he says, “Washing dishes is the one act in the kitchen that gets the least amount of attention.”

I’ve always been discomfited by the sight of a sink full of dishes. Look, I don’t shy away from messy tasks: I’ll repot a plant with glee, even scrub down a drippy bath fan grill. But the chaos that is a pile of dirty dishes? “You’ll know your state of mind as soon as you start to wash the dishes. Are you impatient? Or distracted?” says Miller. Both, I think.

How to Wash the Dishes is smart, funny, and packed with idiosyncratic observations. There’s also more than a touch of the romantic: dishwashers, for instance, aren’t totally ignored, but are definitely relegated to supporting act. By page 70, I—aforementioned non-fan of dishwashing—may have been itching to tackle a sinkful.

“I love the grace and clarity Peter Miller helps us see in seemingly mundane bits of life,” says Kristen Miglore, creative director of Genius. She’s referring to two other quixotic odes that Miller—who has run a bookstore in Seattle for over 35 years—has dedicated to the subjects of midday meals and cooking asparagus, five ways. "I need his next book to be about taking out the trash," she adds.

One doesn’t necessarily need to agree with Miller’s methods to enjoy the book, because, obviously, there’s more than one way to wash dishes. And if you have no interest whatsoever in dishwashing, there are also three recipes included—including one for a very good omelet.


How to wash the dishes, and wash them well

  1. Think of dishwashing as an opportunity for review: Do you need better pasta bowls? Was the broccoli poorly received? You will literally see how the meal fared and take note for future meals.

  2. A bowl filled with hot soapy water is your best piece of equipment: Use it to soak small items and silverware before they’re rinsed off, or to repeatedly dip your sponge into (and save both soap and water in the bargain!).

  3. Always, always rinse: Rinsing allows you to prioritize dishes, pots and pans. Also, un-rinsed plates take double the labor—not good—and destroy the strength of the bowl of soapy water (see above)—also, not good.

  4. Have a process that runs as smooth as water: Get the smaller pieces out of the way first; start with the glasses, the smaller plates and cups, and then tackle the larger plates and platters. When those are washed and cleared, take on the cookware.

  5. Except, when you have a Big Bertha on your hands: Giant bowls that fill the sink and don’t sit flat within are the troublemakers in the plot-line. “That extra-large bowl, we call ours 'Big Bertha,' is always there at the most inconvenient moment. Give it your full attention and get it dispatched,” says Miller.

  6. Consider using a natural sea sponge: It's better for the environment, but remember to rinse it out with cold water and wring it out every time, or it will smell sour—and sour is not a smell you want in the kitchen.

  7. Don’t put “key tools” like your spatula in the dishwasher: A wooden spoon can go from mixing dressing to stirring a sauce. Wash it in a bowl of soapy water and dry with a ready towel, and it’s good to go—again.

  8. Dishcloths are not the same as dish towels: Dishcloths are great for wiping counters and backsplashes, but they’re also great for washing tighter corners of colanders and mixers.

  9. “A beautiful dish towel, on the other hand, is literally the scarf of the kitchen: ” Consider having two piles of towels: the hardworking ones, distinguished by their war wounds, and the favorites—decorated and treasured. It’s the difference between your dungarees and a wedding shirt!

  10. “A dish rack takes too much space.”: If you have a dishwasher, use it as a drying rack to dry dishes for about 20 seconds. Then take 'em out and wipe 'em down. If you must use a dishwasher, remember it’s for multiples (of plates, bowls), not the singles (peelers and whisks). Singles must be hand-washed and accounted for, one by one.

  11. Give thanks: When all is done, survey your countertops laid out with all the things you just washed. These are the vignettes of a successful meal—it’s time for appreciation and respect.

What's your favorite dishwashing trick? Tell us in the comments below!
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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.

30 Comments

Charlene V. February 20, 2021
Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes (framed in my kitchen): “When you wash the dishes, the dishes also wash you.” Get into the Zen of it! However many or few dishes you need to hand wash, it’s part of the process of cooking.
 
SandyDeeOH February 20, 2021
If he is so enamored of washing dishes, I have a sink full right now that he is more than welcome to come and do. No matter how you dress it up, it's just an annoying chore. Generally I set a timer and make it into a game to see if I can beat the buzzer and get it over with. Needless to say, I don't have a dishwasher in my house. If I did I might be a little more excited about the whole thing.
 
ortolan February 20, 2021
Thank you for emphasizing the distinction between a dish cloth and a dish towel. I am sending this article to my husband, who maintains there is no difference and that I’m making dishwashing “too complex” for our household. 🤗
 
Cindy S. February 20, 2021
When I don't use the dishwasher, which is rarely, I put my silverware in the sink first and let it soak while I wash everything else in the suggested manner. By the time I get to the silverware, it requires little more than a rinse.
 
Rik December 25, 2020
Old Royal Navy trick: uric acid is excellent for decalcifying dishwashers. Ratings were required to urinate into the dishwashers before a rince cycle. Two considerations: 1. Navy machines operated at above pasteurization temperature so there were no pathogens to worry about - domestics top out at 70C so some limited risk there. 3. Ratings were all male in my day so, no doubt, the PC brigade have halted the practice in favour of damaging phosphoric acid out of a bottle. Just saying. ( My Bosch gets the wee-wee treatment daily and it just had its 28th birthday. )
 
Pat T. September 10, 2020
Watched the video, he runs the faucet too much, you're wasting water. Also, if you have a bowl left to wash and the bowl from the Kitchen Aid is full, dump the water from the KA into the other bowl....saving water.
 
Rik December 25, 2020
Damned right. New Zealand (most environmentally switched-on country?) REQUIRES all homes to have a dishwasher on water savings alone. He used a hideous volume of hot water here.
 
teaafternoons August 21, 2020
Absolutely love Peter Miller....brilliant! Thank you for a beautiful video. And huge yes to the spirit of enjoying all aspects of a well run kitchen. One that pleases you very personally in how it feels (and looks) to cook there, how your favorite foods taste each time, how people gather, and how the constant cleaning process can be an integral part of its pleasure. Love this, thank you.
 
Julie July 30, 2020
Anyone knows what is that great pasta pot he is mentioning?
 
G June 24, 2020
Marie Kondo teaching Dishwashing? Really! Didn’t they learn anything from their Mothers?


 
Megan June 24, 2020
Dishwasher as drying rack?! Mind. Blown. Never occurred to me, but a brilliant (and now, seemingly obvious) solution.
 
SandyDeeOH February 20, 2021
If I had a dishwasher, I'd just stick the dirty dishes in it and let it do the work.
 
I absolutely LOVED this video. I also love washing the dishes, and really enjoyed watching Peter Miller here. So good. Interestingly, I have developed the same style and pattern as he demonstrates here. It's a really good time for thinking.
 
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Arati M. May 6, 2020
So glad you enjoyed this, Zara! There's such commonsense to his method (and a lovely rhythm)...
 
Yes, so enjoyable. Big thank you. I'd actually heard Peter on the Good Food podcast and it was such a joy to find a video here.
 
Helen M. March 22, 2020
Dishes that have been washed should be left to air dry. Dish towels have bacteria on them that you them transfer to your clean dishes. Restaurant dish washing 101
 
Susan March 21, 2020
I really enjoyed this video. I do the same things with my dishes. I found the video fun and a common sense approach to dishes.
 
jude1 March 15, 2020
Only one basin! I will never understand that trend. One to fill with soapy water (things can soak in there as you cook) and one to rinse. Or put your dish drainer in the second one.
 
silentlyfree March 19, 2020
I prefer one large basin because I can always use a bowl or a basin as in the video to soak things in soapy water, while still being able to fit large pots and pans completely in the sink for scrubbing or soaking. My previous sink was divided into two and I hated it because my pots and pans would not go in the sink all the way and made it so difficult for scrubbing..
 
Lenna March 13, 2020
I watched this dishwashing video on YouTube, and if my old home economics teacher had seen this guy throw a towel over his shoulder, she would have chopped him off at the knees! She said your hair and neck were the dirtiest places for your dish towel. To this day, I cannot throw a towel over my shoulder! Just thought I’d share.
 
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Arati M. March 13, 2020
:) To be honest, I don’t think I have ever worn my kitchen towel around my neck either, but he makes it look so natural!
 
Peter M. March 14, 2020
Good point. It was a new kitchen for me, I did not know any of the surfaces and the closest place I could think of was my shoulder, which I rarely use for a dishtowel. Typically, the towel is tucked in the apron ties or on the clever Swedish hooks i have all over the kitchen.
 
Peter Miller, thanks so much. Super enjoyable video. I was looking for places to purchase your book and then saw this. I also love washing the dishes.
 
Urvi October 28, 2020
I had no idea!
 
David R. March 12, 2020
What, and nothing on the Tetris-style strategizing of how to fit a million things into a single small dish rack such that nothing breaks from a sudden shift and there's still enough air flow for things to dry? I haven't had a dishwasher for about 15 years and appreciate the logistical challenge of getting everything clean and positioned to air dry effectively in very limited space (knives aside, who has time to towel dry everything?).
 
Brandon March 12, 2020
I love how he loves washing dishes. I found that I do the things he suggested already; like getting knives done and out of the way, using a bowl for warm water and soap and soaking silverware in its own bowl or jar. Common sense really if you wash dishes regularly..
 
Brandon, yes! Hello fellow dish washing compatriot!
 
M March 12, 2020
Using a dishwasher sounds like a great idea to get rid of the space-hogging drying rack ... unless you actually use the dishwasher to collect soiled dishes for cleaning.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. March 12, 2020
:) :) What can I say, Peter Miller finds great joy in the handwashing! He did add that given a choice, his wife would throw everything in the dishwasher! Not him, though...
 
Peter M. March 14, 2020
If ever there was a dishwasher / stove combination that allowed the stove door to go in the dishwasher, my wife would stand and cheer and do her best to have that chance.