IMG_1506 (Large)You know that routine you go through doing the dishes, scrubbing them hard with hot water and smelly antibacterial soap? Stop doing it. It’s totally irrelevant. You’re wasting your time. I’m about to tell you why.

As I adapted to a nomadic existence, some of my routines had to change. I began van life clinging to standard rituals I learned indoors, like washing dishes. Washing dishes was especially challenging in the van with no running water and I couldn’t think of a way to do it that didn’t require carrying an extra container of water and a wash tub. So I got creative. I put my dirty dishes in my gym bag and after working out I would take them into the shower at the gym and wash them!

The showers were private and I never got caught doing this. I also never washed off large pieces of food into the shower at Gold’s Gym. That would be gross. I just did a quick soak, scrub, rinse as I was washing myself and then put the dishes right back in my gym bag before anyone could see what I had been doing. Easy solution.

I know, I probably just lost some of my blog readers. So uncouth, these things van vagabond does. Forgive me, dear readers, for I was just trying to keep my dishes clean and avoid getting sick. I truly believed something terrible would happen to me if I ate from a dirty dish.

During the next few years living in a van I evolved more and so did my dish washing routine. Every now and then I would just have to eat from a dirty dish because I hadn’t been to the gym in a couple days. Each time I ate from a crusty dish I was sure I would get sick. It was like eating from a petri dish, right? The bacteria were sitting there multiplying as the dirty dish sat in my van.

But you know what? I never, ever got sick from doing this. I never got any sort of food poisoning or intestinal distress from eating off dirty dishes. Due to circumstances and just a change of priorities that is bound to happen with such a drastic lifestyle change, I started eating from dirty dishes more and more often. My confidence grew and I realized this wasn’t going to make me sick.

Of course, whenever I would deal with raw meat (which was very rare) I would go through the proper washing procedures and then sterilize the dishes with alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel. I never wanted to test the limits of consuming raw chicken juice. I’m daring, not stupid.

Once I realized a dirty dish probably wouldn’t make me sick, dish washing became merely a matter of aesthetics. I didn’t want little pieces of granola intermingling with my salad so I would give the bowl a good wipe with a wet paper towel between uses. Still, no sickness, so I took it up a notch. I got even lazier.

I stopped washing dishes completely. Now I will only wipe a dish between uses if flavors are strong and will ruin the taste of the next food to go on the dish. For example, a dish must be wiped between a curry stir fry and a bowl of cereal. However, I do no cleaning whatsoever between two savory meals, such as a salad and a stir-fry.

This has been going on for years with no adverse effects. I have tested the limits of crusty dishes, and can assert that you all can safely re-allocate your dish-scrubbing, hot-water-wasting, rubber-glove-wearing time to more important activities.

Lisa Hackett

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, drive from Idaho to Alaska solo, live and work in a van in the wilderness and dodge encounters with wolves and bears. Seriously. More

12 Responses to Stop Washing Your Dishes

  1. raz says:

    i have not washed a dish in years. more than you are old. i simply wipe them with a dry paper towel while they are fresh. when i had dogs i let them wash the dishes. then i wiped them.

    refreshing to find someone else that does this.

    ice cream. raz

    • Lucy. says:

      MY STYLE is a it follows:

      1) Spray the dirty dishes with white vinegar.

      2) Let the vinegar sit for 2-3 minutes.

      3) Wipe the dishes with a paper towel.

      The high acidity of the vinegar will kill many microrganisms, besides who want to eat from a crusty dish anyway.

  2. Maggie Joy says:

    My Welsh grandfather (exceptional human, artist, physician, gardener…) said that there was entirely too much washing and sanitizing in people’s homes and on their persons. He said that he would do impeccable sanitation measures when doing surgery, but not dishes. He and my grandma made a huge garden salad every evening, and would just wipe out the bowl and set it aside for the next night’s salad. He often reminded me that I was made mostly of bacteria, “10 to 1, my girl- you can’t scrub them all away, or you’ll fall apart at the seams!” (10 bacteria cells to every 1 human cell) and that nothing from the mouth to the anus was sterile anyway. My granddad would be proud of you!

    • Lisa Hackett Lisa Hackett says:

      Maggie, It sounds like your grandfather was a wise man and being a physician he would know! Haha, “you can’t scrub them all away or you’ll fall apart at the seams”. What a great saying! You won’t be hearing that in any dishsoap commercials! 😉

  3. JJ says:

    I’m not doing the same type of living that you are yet but I’ve planned out a lot for when I am and I also thought doing dishes and even hand washing clothes at the gym would be one thing I could do. I often rinse in a creek or lake and then wipe them down without any issues. I don’t know about eating on the dirty dish as I haven’t gotten to that stage yet but it’s nice to know you haven’t gotten sick from it.

    • Lisa Hackett Lisa Hackett says:

      Hi JJ, yes, planning is good. There will be many new challenges to navigate at once when you start living in a van. Anticipating and planning for as many of these ahead of time as possible will make your experience all the more pleasant. Please let us know how it goes for you! And don’t be afraid to eat off those dirty dishes. 😉

  4. Tina says:

    I love this post, got a good laugh as I live in a house and do this. There is a drought in CA and trying to save water and I’d rather to other things than wash dishes.


    • Lisa Hackett Lisa Hackett says:

      Hi Tina, nice to hear from you! Yes, that’s a good way to save water. I hope California’s drought is over soon, what a difficult year it has been for your state.

  5. Bacawind says:

    Love hearing others thoughts on this! Especially the “fall apart at the seams” TOO funny! I love it!

    Well, I’ve also pushed the limits, and lived to tell the tale. Soap is ridiculously over-rated, last winter we shut off our water heater, heated all water on a stove top/solar/or a propane tank. Oh we “have a hot water heater,” we just don’t use it. So any hot water dish washing (or any type of washing) had to be heated in some way that did NOT come from a faucet.

    We are vegan, and 90%+ whole foods, so we just don’t have that much oily foods. We also use greywater for gardening, so soaps are very minimal, and biocompatible. Mostly dishes are done with cold water and no soap, if they’re washed at all. When I pressure cook beans I use a dab of olive oil, and (as Raz touched on) the dogs get dishes detail! lol

    It’s great to hear others are questioning these things that we have been taught to do!

  6. William says:

    We used to wash our dishes, but now we let Bella lick them clean. Hannah thought it was gross at first, but now she licks the dishes clean even before they get to Bella. Now the dishes are double washed.

  7. Tabitha says:

    Its a good idea to use vinegar. You should never, not wash your dishes, you diddn’t get sick because you got lucky. And washing your dishes in a lake, isn’t the best idea but better than letting your dog lick them. The best idea would to wash them when in a public shower with hot water and soap or a sink with hot water and soap, i’m sure you could find one at a gym, gas station, camp ground, store, restaurant ext. . Again, wash your dishes and if needed please use vinegar. Sanitizers don’t kill ecoli btw, which can be deadly and other germs. Dishwashing. Clean dishes and utensils are important to family health. Bacteria grow on dishes and utensils that have not been thoroughly cleaned, rinsed, and dried. Dirty dishes, utensils, and food scraps left sitting in the kitchen can attract cockroaches, mice, or other pests.

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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