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Can you wash dishes without soap?

 
master gardener
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As with so many things, there isn't one right answer.
1. In areas with very high environmental costs to heating water, cold water solutions are necessary. (And hopefully, people will plant coppicing  trees/shrubs and build a rocket stove to heat a pot of water on, for the future.)
2. In areas where drought is a severe issue, people may have no choice but to use a low water, higher soap approach to the problem of getting things clean. (and hopefully plant tree/shrubs to help reverse desertification.)
3. In places where people cannot use greywater systems and know that their water is going straight into streams and rivers, avoiding soaps/detergents that contribute to algae formation is *really* important for the environment as a whole, but many people are not so good at looking past their own front door without nudges from people higher up Paul's eco scale. In those situations, high water/low detergent/soap are likely the best compromise.
4. Within all of these options, "reduce" is step one. For example, we use colour-coded cups for family members and mostly drink straight water. I'll easily use the same cup repeatedly for 1-3 days before I consider it dirty enough to be washed. If I have just a sandwich for lunch, I'll often use the same plate for dinner by just wiping the crumbs into the compost with my hand. I *hang* my bath-towel after use - after all it got used on a "clean me", but I know people who wash their towels after every use - letting something air-dry kills the vast majority of micros without any soap or water getting involved, leave a towel in a damp heap and laundering becomes necessary.

It all comes down to the basic principles of Permaculture: observe, adapt to your situation, identify a problem and work towards solutions!
 
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When it comes to dish without soap I spontanouesly come to think of an Autoklav like they use in hospitals to clean instruments.
 
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Soap can be made in a low tech, traditional, eco friendly way. They make olive oil soap in the middle of North African desert countries. Soap should not be our enemy, I think..

Making soap requires energy, but burning a bit of kindling for a batch of soap that will last you a year isn't that bad, I think.

Dish washing without soap really needs old fashioned scalding hot water and scrubbing. Boil water pour over greasy dishes in a tub, let sit a bit, and scrub away.

Here's how artisans make olive oil soap in North Africa. You CAN use this stuff to wash dishes, hands, everything. My wife refuses to wash lingerie or socks with anything other than either French Savon de Marseilles, or a traditional Olive Oil soap like this...  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KZn31wB1FY

 
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I didn't read the whole thread yet; sorry if this was already posted.

The Viking system might be good for you. I learned it when I stayed at the Viking Village at  Lejre Land of Legends:

We passed the dishes through 3 basins of water in order: (1) a warm water basin with a scrubber, to remove the food stuck on; (2) a cold water basin where you rinse off the rest; (3)  a hot water basin to disinfect it. Then we let them drip-dry on a rack.
The dishes and spoones were all wooden, so maybe this method only works for wooden items.
The stew was cooked in a big metal cauldron hung below a tripod over a fire, and I didn't see how they cleaned that.

For dessert we ate raspberries with cream (which had been hand-churned). The dish washing system cleaned the grease off perfectly.

Oh, and before going into the first basin, I would try to scrub off stuck food particles with a handful of plants (such as a comfrey leaf).  
 
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i notice some mentioning the use of hot/boiling water in lieu of soap — while this may be effective, is it really anymore eco-friendly?

the amount of energy used to heat that much water seems more eco-destructive than a very mild castile soap
 
pollinator
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I  notice some mentioning the use of hot/boiling water in lieu of soap — while this may be effective, is it really anymore eco-friendly?

the amount of energy used to heat that much water seems more eco-destructive than a very mild castile soap



Horses for courses as they say in the UK.  It depends on your situation.  For instance, in rural France at the turn of the nineteen hundreds and well into the sixties, my grandma used to pour boiling water over the dishes inside a large recipient and when cooled enough to touch, she would then wipe the dishes and put them away.  That water was used to feed the pigs by adding old potatoes, wheat germ, beets or whatever was around at the time.  Of course the only source of heat they had was a big fire place with a cauldron always simmering near by.  I understand that living in the city is a different story and that boiling an electric kettle is energy hungry and not a very eco friendly way to wash dishes.

My situation is similar to my grandma's -  by choice. I have a wood burning range that is more or less in use all the time (it has a winter/summer setting) and a kettle is simmering constantly on the side, push it to the other side and water boils in 5 seconds flat.  Mind you, that's only good for tea, because that range also does my hot water and sometimes it comes out of the tap literally scalding. Unfortunately, that is not an option for my children who live in London.

In Burma (Myanmar) they used to use some earth to clean pots and pans, same as very poor, rural India, and I quite often do that also. it cleanses remarkably well, especially burnt pots!  But then again, my kitchen door opens up unto a garden not a city street.

At the end of the day, one can only adapt the method that is best suited to one's environment/situation and do the best that is possible.

By the way, I apologise, I did not read all the posts, so maybe I am repeating what somebody might have already said.
 
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I no longer have dogs to clean my greasy pots, but I do have chickens.  They don't lick pans clean, but they do clean my pans.  I use oatmeal.  
A bit of uncooked oatmeal stirred into the grease and left a bit to absorb the oils is an awesome treat, according to my chickens.
 
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One day when I was out camping and forgot to bring soap, I discovered a highly scientific and neurologically advanced method for cleaning my dishes.

The first step is to grab a nice handful of clean dirt (dirty dirt wont work!). I prefer dry dirt for this initial dish wipe but if only wet dirt is available, skip to step five.
Step two. Place the clean dirt on dirty dish and rub it around.
Step three. Brush the soiled dirt off.
Step four. Rinse with water.
Step five. Grab more clean dirt. Throw it on your dish. Wet your dirt to taste. Rub the dirt slurry around. Rinse with clean water.
Step six. Repeat step five as necessary untill dish appears clean.


There's all kinds of other things that work when clean dirt is not available: sand, hummus\wood duff, dry leaves, moss, ashes+charcoal, coffee grounds, cat litter, rice crispies ... Be creative!

This method works great to clean all kinds of things! It's my go to hand washing method when I'm outdoors, particularly when my hands are covered in nasty crud from working on my truck or chainsaw.

Seriously! Don't knock it till you tried it!

Lets talk dirty. How does this seemingly counterintuitive process work you ask? It's not magic, it's science (unless you don't believe in science, then it's magic). This process acts on Muffery's 3rd law. In case you don't know, Muffery is Murphy's lesser known but equally brilliant cousin. The law states: In order for one thing to become clean, something else must first become dirty. Once you understand Muffery's simple logic, you're well on your way to cleaning all kinds of stuff. Warning: Keep this law in mind as your dishes are becoming gloriously spotless ... remember that you're rinsing these soiled materials into your delicate home plumbing systems! Without a proper strainer, the larger and heavier abrasive materials (though 100% natural, sustainable, vegan and biodegradable) may settle out in the trap under your sink and cause some problems. With that in mind, strain your tailings before they go down the drain.

There you have it folks! A modern miracle.
 
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Keep in mind that commercial dish "soaps" are really chemical detergents.
I don't see how natural soaps could hurt anything, but detergents sure do.
 
pollinator
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Just want to add that sponges and dish clothes are the dirtiest things in a house. Seriously look it up.

To reduce this boil them often and replace regularly.
 
gardener
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My hot water is from a solar water heater on the roof. My greywater goes right to a little canal to trees. I like to rinse the dish first with a sponge and hot water, then use as little detergent as is needed.
 
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Soap nuts. I have several trees and use them for washing clothes and dishes. Water can go right into the garden.
 
pollinator
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Back to the 2013 post about mustard powder!!!  What kind of mustard powder?  Do your hands turn yellow?  I want to try this more than all the other brilliant suggestions.  😂😂😂
 
master steward
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Cris Fellows said, "Back to the 2013 post about mustard powder!!!  What kind of mustard powder?  Do your hands turn yellow?  I want to try this more than all the other brilliant suggestions.



audrey ellen cook wrote:   I use a paste made from mustard powder and water. Mustard powder has antibacterial properties and will also act as a fertilizer and pest repellent so I think it would be great for greywater systems! It's the best degreaser I have ever used for dishes. Scrape/wipe debris, then I put the paste onto a scrubby sponge and rub all the dishes with it, then rinse them all at once. It's great for deodorizing too, I love it for water bottles etc, put some in with warm water and swish, or rub hands with the paste to deodorize after handling garlic, peppers, etc. If you have a particularly greasy pan, sprinkle the powder on and let it sit while you do the other dishes. You can use it to clean wool and silk too. I sprinkled some on an oil spill on my car upholstery and them vacuumed it up, worked better than baking soda!



I doubt that Audrey is still on the forum though if this person is still around I hope they will speak up for sure!

I feel what Audrey is talking about is mustard powder that is bought in the spice department at the grocery store.

This is also called ground mustard or dry mustard and is made by grinding mustard seeds. I have used it to make prepared mustard like you buy in jars at the store when I have been out. I keep dry mustard powder because it is sometimes in recipes.

To me, this is an expensive way to wash dishes.  Though if a person has mustard plants they could grind their own then it might be a cheap way to wash dishes.

I have started using just really hot water for utensils used for cooking, like serving spoons. Even some pots and pans.
 
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The active surfactant (detergent) in most commercial products is sodium lauryl sulfate. It is made from palm or coconut oils, and is completely biodegradable. My mostly conventional family buys the unscented minimalist kind of dish soap, like Seventh Generation, Planet, or even Palmolive Pure&Clear. Ingredient wise, there's really no difference between these products. We get whatever's on sale. To reduce plastic use, large tubs of pure SLS can be bought from a dyehouse and diluted. It's very alkaline on its own so would have to be neutralized. I've used dish detergent for many years to make soap sprays for my plants. I don't spray my garden much, but I do drench plants that I bring inside to overwinter, to prevent the importation of insects. They get so soapy they look like snowmen instead of plants! Other than losing the waxy layer on the leaves, I've never seen any ill effects from using dish detergent for this. Some plants may be sensitive to losing the waxy layer, probably ones with thin, sun scald prone leaves, but for all the vegetables and fruit trees I've grown, I've never seen any ill effects. As far as the health of your garden, I wouldn't worry about a little detergent or soap in the gray water.  

As far as self sufficiency, a local handmade soap is perfect for dishes.

I tried washing my plates with nothing but hot water, and I got food poisoning within a few weeks. So I always use a little detergent or soap. You don't need much.

I like the idea of boiling with baking soda. In the old days, white sheets and underclothes were preferred because on washing day, the laundry would all be scoured. Meaning, they would combine washing soda and soap flakes in a large pot of water, add the whites, and boil it all. This will tend to strip dyes, hence the preference for white. When I was cloth diapering, sometimes the diapers would get stinky from the buildup of urine, rash cream, and the bacteria that love to grow on them. Regular washing wasn't doing anything, but scouring took care of it all and removed stains too. I also use this method to make dish cloths properly absorbent. A lot faster and water efficient than washing them 10 times.

For clothes, I tried Dr. Bronners for a while, but my clothes got a buildup of soap scum on them and started mildewing horribly. One wash with regular detergent fixed that. These days, I use a homemade concoction of washing soda with just a drop or two of dish soap. I suppose a regular scouring every so often would also work, with plain soap in between. This is how they did it in the old days. Wouldn't work for wool, but then that gets less stinky and needs less washing anyway.
 
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We wash dishes traditionally.

I wanted to add though just recently watched a gal on YouTube using Ivy for dish soap. Looked neat.
 
pollinator
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Lots of intriguing ideas on this thread.  The mustard one is completely new to me - I'm definitely going to try it.  

Here's another option:

For greasy dishes you can use wood ash to make a rough but natural "soap" as you go.  

Sprinkle a couple of handfuls of wood ash on the greasiest pan and rub it in with a little hot water to make a paste. The hot water activates the chemical reaction to make the soap.  You can then use this to clean all the dishes fairly easily with just more hot water. Survival blogs talk about using a couple of hot coals from the fire dropped in water to make it hot which is a neat idea.    

If the wood ash has a little bit of charcoal in it, that is OK too as it acts as a scrubber.

If you don't have any greasy pans, you can just add a drop or two of butter, olive oil etc to make the soap paste with the ash and hot water.

I've used this camping and cooking outdoors but not at home yet although I have a tub of sifted wood ash just in case.  

The only downside is that as this makes a form of lye, it can make your hands really dry so wash them right after in pure water or use gloves.  

The "soap" is natural and eco so it should be fine for septic tanks.  I would want to experiment more before using grey water with this in but as I use olive oil/castile soap without a problem,  it is probably fine.      
 
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How about "No Dish Meals"? I make lots of One Pot Dinners (or brunches), bring the pot right to the table, set it on a woven reed trivet, and we all gather 'round with forks, sitting closer together than is typical and eating from the pot. It's great for strengthening our family/community microbiome. There's something different about the meals shared this way: a bonding experience. I didn't realize how much this was so until I moved and then began making & eating one of the dishes I'd only ever eaten shared (carmelized Brussels sprouts with eggs)... I'm a good cook and it's a simple dish, but every time I eat this dish alone, it's lackluster. I finally realized it was missing the people I most often shared it with...

Our favorite meals to eat this way are done in cast iron pans. Cleaning cast iron never requires water: just add 1-2 TBSP coffee grounds, scrub until grease and food residue is lifted. Use a cotton or linen cloth to brush out the coffee grounds and "feed" them to the worm bin. Often there's a couple of coffee grounds left in the pan. Let them sit overnight to dry out, and then just use a hand to brush off any remaning grounds. Ashes works really well on cast iron too and I prefer them when camping or cooking outdoors.

Think also meals served in edible wrappers (no dishes needed) —nori sheets, pumpkin-seed tortillas, steamed grape leaves, the outer leaves of a cabbage (or other cruciferous veggies), dock/spinach/kale/squash leaves etc. In Autumn, I often try to use a part of a plant as the dish: soup served in a hollowed out pumpkin or acorn squash shell; dip served in a bell pepper; stuffed potato or akebia jackets, etc.

We have a good stand of cattails in the pond and plenty of willow. It's fun to weave a quick, rustic plate to use for a couple of weeks, and when it begins to get a little raggedy, I feed to the rabbits or goats and fashion a new plate. Sorta like disposable "paper" plates, but DIY.
 
pollinator
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Hey,

Yes, Many plants act as disinfectants,
Eucalyptus sap for one, is great best is Ghost gum, this you simply mix the gum with water and boil it into dishwashing liquid or disinfectant!

Regards,
Alex
 
pollinator
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As the OP spoke of safety/cleanliness, at the beginning of this thread, I respond, returning to this root.

"No Dish Meals"? I make lots of One Pot Dinners (or brunches), bring the pot right to the table, set it on a woven reed trivet, and we all gather 'round with forks, sitting closer together than is typical and eating from the pot."

Great idea for a couple, those who never leave a homestead, or pre-covid; now this "method of eating with others" sadly, horrifies me. I cannot conceive of a situation I would/could ever be comfortable having mine or others saliva soaked fork plunging into a shared plate, bowl or platter of food with others I do not reside with 24/7.

To me it would be like voluntarily drinking unclean water - unthinkable, the risk is too high with outsiders (to me this is anyone who leaves the property for school, work, shopping etc.; they are potentially bringing in, from off site, viral or bacterial entities not normally present) potentially spreading contagious viral or bacterial pathogens into the dish.

When the meal is over the risk continues to increase, exponentially. Those same contaminants are now inoculated into the leftovers that would provide an exceptional host for breeding and spreading pathogens to the next person(s) who consumed it.

I get that there continues to be some sharp division on the "Covid" issue; and that those same folks, or others may consider this a form of "boosting" ones immune systems by exposure to bacteria, viruses etc.  In this instance, I am speaking much more simply - food spoilage.

I have seen the results when eating yogurt from the container, not finishing the container, sealing it, and returning it to the fridge - nasty, horrific black and green rafts of mold! Most likely due to my personal mouth bacteria that causes me no illness in MY mouth, but certainly grows to impressive lengths in that forgotten yogurt I opened and did not finish last week...and is certainly no longer safe for human consumption.

Yes, perhaps had it been eaten more quickly the "rafts of mold" would not have grown with such proliferation - but that is almost WORSE, as the growth is simply not yet visible to the naked eye.  In the early days it is STILL present, but in "stealth mode"!

So great idea, in the proper context, but not suitable, in my opinion, for most situations, especially NOW with Covid.
 
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If you have a medical grade water ionizer (such as Enagic’s Kangen water machine) that makes strong alkaline water (11.5 pH for degreasing - essentially the same properties as baking soda would have) and strong acidic water (2.5 pH - hypochlorous acid for disinfecting) - the only additive you would actually use is salt (in the form of saline solution added to the machine) and electricity to make the machine run. And of course you get incredible antioxidant, nutrient-rich, microclustered, alkalized drinking water out of it too!
 
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