Close-up of woman's hands washing dishes in kitchen sink

Sometimes I wish that I had deep, double porcelain kitchen sinks like those we had in the house where I grew up. It was great for washing dishes. The drainboard top slid to cover one of the sinks or the other so that you could use one side while dishes and pots were soaking on the other side. It was big enough to soak large pans and the many dishes that a family would use during the day. And soaking the dishes and pots reduced the amount of water and time needed to scrub and rinse them off.

It is a little challenging to try to conserve water that way in the little kitchen sink in my apartment. Not many items will fit in there at once. But I can use a few old tricks and techniques to help me use less water when I wash the dishes.

The first thing that I do is to scrape off as much food as I can from the plates. Then I can stack items in the sink with the dirtiest on the bottom. As a result, the water I use to wash lightly soiled items, like a coffee cup, can serve as a pre-wash for heavily soiled items, like a frying pan.

I also place recyclables on the bottom of the sink so they can benefit from this pre-wash — no need to turn on the water just to wash out a mayonnaise jar.

Mom had a great technique for messy jobs, like a roasting pan with burnt-on food. She would put the pan on the stove with just enough water to cover the residue, add a tiny drop of dish detergent, and then set it to simmer. After she turned it off and the water had cooled, the stuck-on food cleaned off easily.

I used to waste a lot of water by running it until it was warm enough to wash the dishes. Nowadays, I catch the water in bottles while it’s running and use it to water my houseplants or the street tree or to presoak a stain.

Since I wash dishes every day, it’s a daily reminder of how precious clean water is, and why I don’t ever want to just let it run down the drain.

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.