Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Confessions of a Cold-Water Dish-Washer

Fridays are a good time for making confessions. So here's one of mine: When I started college, I didn't know that you needed to wash dishes in hot water.

All my life, we had had a dishwasher. My mother put everything she could in it--even crystal and china, much to my father's chagrin. I suppose that is what happens when you give a dishwasher to a woman who grew up in a family of nine where everything had to be done by hand. In any case, we very rarely washed anything by hand, and if we had to, my parents did it. They both hated drying, so that was my job. I'd never stuck my hands in a sink of dirty dishes to realize that the soapy water was actually quite hot.

Well, my freshman year of college, I worked at the campus Hillel center. Among my many jobs as the resident Gentile was the washing up of the dishes from Shabbat dinner on Saturday morning, since none of my Jewish coworkers was permitted to work that day. Every week, I would go with a Dave Matthew's album to listen to on my headphones and spend a couple of hours washing all the dishes and putting them neatly away. Every week, my supervisor would ask me if I had actually been in to do the work. I'm sure she was wondering whether I was lying to her, and I became increasingly distressed that she didn't seem to believe me when I told her the truth--that I'd spent two hours every Saturday morning scrubbing those dishes. Of course, what she didn't know--and what I didn't realize was a problem--was that I'd been doing all that scrubbing in a sink of lukewarm water. The greasy dishes, which had been filled with kugels and roast chicken thighs, were still oily, and though they looked clean, they certainly didn't feel it.

Well, after several weeks, I discovered my mistake, and the Shabbat dishes were squeaky clean after that, but I never did confess to my supervisor what the problem had been. I was too embarassed. I was a capable, talented, intelligent 18-year-old, and I had been unable to successfully clean a sinkful of dishes!

I offer this tidbit of embarassing information for two reasons.

First, to let those of you who read this blog of mine know how far I have come as a homemaker in recent years. What I share with you of my housekeeping discoveries and tricks and tips are hard-won and humbly offered.

Secondly, I would encourage my younger and unmarried readers to start getting their hands dirty now! Don't put housekeeping off until after college or until you're married. Keep your things neat and organized. Clean the toilet. Do the laundry, and the ironing, too. Wash the dishes. Do these things regularly and not just when it's piled up to the breaking point. Do them properly and with care. Your family, roommates, or whoever you live with will thank you now, and you'll keep yourself out of hot water later when you have a husband and children who are relying on you to keep them safe, healthy, and comfortable in the home you're building together.


  1. Great story! I found out recently how important hot water is for washing dishes when the hot water heater went out at our cabin up north over spring break. The dishes just would not get clean, so I had to keep boiling water on the stove and pouring it into the sink. Kind of a pain, but necessary!

    I was alright in the cleaning department when I got married, but I wish I had known more about cooking. As it turns out I started my married life in Japan, cooking things very differently from what I would have learned back in the US. However, I think many basic cooking skills could only be helpful in spite of where one finds herself making a home right after marriage.

  2. Sue- Now, cooking and baking I could actually do. That's something my parents loved and we all did it together regularly. But, as for the other stuff--boy, was I clueless!

  3. I am just experiencing living away from my parents. I am close to your age actually but because I went to the university in my hometown I got to stay at home all this time.
    I helped with dishes but I think that's where it ended. However I did pick up a lot of things and when I had to live on my own it was quite easy. I can clean the toilet just fine or do my own laundry! It sounds crazy but I was really proud of myself to get a grease stain out of a white blouse :)

    My mom often told me that I will have a hard time on my own because I rarely did anything around the house. I know it's not something I am proud of but I can at least say that my parents raised me in a way that allows me to take care of myself... A lot of my friends turn to me for advice on cooking or cleaning. ;)

  4. I absolutely agree! When I came into my marriage, I knew how to clean, but I did then--and still do--leave things to the "breaking point." I am trying so hard to reform myself! I had no idea how to cook--but I can do that reasonably well, now. At least, I have the reassurance that, when away from home for a few days, my husband starts telling me that he only likes to eat 'our foods.' It's things like that that keep me going. :)

  5. Oh this sounds like me. When I got married, I didn't have a clue how to cook, clean, do laundry or anything of the sort.

    The thing that I remember the most was the first time I tried to make gravy from scratch. I slaved over the stove for half an hour, but after all that stressing out, I was left with a floury "gravy" ball in the pan. Hubbie and I still get a laugh at that one.

  6. Oh I wish I had known even a tiny bit of the things I know now when I got married a year and a half ago! And, oh how I wish I knew now the things I'll know in 10 years. I grew up in a non-cooking, non-cleaning house and my dear patient husband has humored me while I've learned. Your blog has helped more than you know -- precisely because I can tell you've had to work hard for your discoveries!

  7. I sometimes wash dishes in hot water if I haven't had the heater on to get hot water. Either I've been gone and haven't turned it on or else no electricity to run the water heater. When that's the case, I add a bit of vinegar to the soapy water. It seems to help. And I use a sponge with a good scrubber side so that I can use a bit of elbow grease. I prefer hot water, but sometimes you gotta make due with cold or lukewarm.

  8. Thanks for posting this! My roommates and I are so busy with schoolwork, work, and all the great activities our college offers...It's sometimes difficult to get around to cleaning! Life will still be busy when I have a family, so I need to start preparing now by keeping the apartment clean even when things are busy.

  9. Every time I am blessed to read one of your "homemaking" entries, I am inclined to *wish* that I had met other women who wanted to be homemakers when I was a young girl. :) I'm (sadly) trying to figure this out on my own in my early thirties.


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